Biotech education in India

Biotech education in India

Since the scope in biotechnology has been recognised by students and parents, many colleges have started courses in this field without proper infrastructure and teachers, feels Dr Kshitish Acharya K

‘‘She has completed her 12th with PCMB this year, she is very bright and you just tell us what should be her next step in education; which degree, stream and college?’’

This was almost how Bindu’s (name changed) father sounded when he interrupted my attempts to explain why the student’s interest, awareness and efforts are more important and why I can’t just state one particular college/subject. That morning I had received an email from another student which read something like this:

‘‘(subject: URGENT) hi, I’m interested to know the courses across India in biotech field, also interested in microbiology or forensic science/criminology. Please guide through the various modular programmes and PG programmes. Please guide ASAP, waiting for your reply eagerly.’’

The email nor the attitude of the parent was surprising because I had encountered worst cases!

Students/parents awareness

There are efforts by the media to provide information which include different kinds of surveys of educational institutes. However, in general, there does not seem to be enough efforts being made to use best this type of information. Many times, the information needs to be searched and even studied further! It might particularly help the students, if they have a broad and basic but clear idea of the options early during their education. It will help them to know different areas like bioinformatics, biotechnology etc and the type of jobs and corresponding skills required. This can eventually help them to be in a better position to choose the right institute to obtain the right skills.

Contrary to what the above statements might indicate, my impression is that the newer generations of students are becoming increasingly aware of career and study options. Many students seek information and, while doing so, quite a few of them seem to take the right approach!

In fact, I sometimes feel that the efforts by the media and educational institutes may not be up to the mark! For example, it would definitely help the students if every educational institute puts all relevant (true and correct) information on their website. It might be more meaningful to let the students actually see the facilities when they seek admissions. In any case, however, lack of enough information should be the reason for more efforts to get the same!

Recent trends in educational institutes may have diluted the quality of human resources created but this can change. Since the scope in biotechnology has been recognised by students and parents, many colleges have started courses in this field without proper infrastructure and teachers. Strong conceptual understanding of the subject and self-learning ability can only be imparted by qualified and motivated team of teachers and the management.

In many cities, it is possible to network and outsource the best teaching on certain advanced and specialised topics. The good news is that many eminent scientists are happy to do this! For example, the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB) uses such help from prestigious institutes and companies in Bangalore to get the best education to the students! Such special guest talks can also help the teachers to enhance their capacities!

Biotechnology education particularly requires significant amount of laboratory practice and a good number of laboratory instructors/teachers. The significance of in-house research activities is also not realised in many organisations.

Inclusion of external research projects or internships can definitely help provide, (a) internships are of at least six months durations, (b) the students have had enough basic training to make most of the project work opportunity and (c) institutes establish network with other academic and industrial organisations to ensure the internship to students. Related topics of industrial relevance like IPR issues, confidentiality in research, thrust areas in applied research, GMP, ethics, FDA regulations etc are also being included in many syllabi.

Many of the post graduate courses in biotechnology cannot focus on hands-on training of students in laboratory bio-techniques to the required extent. This is usually because of lack of good infrastructure, insufficient manpower for training or lack of time in view of a theory-biased curriculum.

As a result, while there are several hundreds of biotechnology degree-holders emerging every year in India, there seems to be an unfulfilled requirement of ‘reliable’ technical expertise, in the area of molecular biology/biotechnology. Courses that aim at filling this gap in the human resources have to be designed.

While academicians involved in education could be clear about the basic research requirements, the industrial needs are not always well understood. Educational institutes need to interact more with the industry around them to finetune the specifics of skill-training.

A six month ‘laboratory course in biotechniques’ (LCBT) at IBAB, (http://www.ibab.ac.in-/biotechnique.htm) is a good example for this type of efforts. IBAB is completing the training for the second batch of students this year. The course intends to further mold talented post graduate students into highly dependable laboratory professionals so that minimum training is required in the laboratories they join later.

Apart from rigorous laboratory exercises aimed at elucidation of factors affecting variations in the results of different experiments, the curriculum also includes relevant bioinformatics components, basic related aspects of computers, mathematics and statistics, and awareness of safety and statutory regulatory aspects.

Such efforts need to increase and more importantly, they need to be promoted both by corporate world and the governments equally.

Many industries have realised that they can only gain from close interaction with training organisations and even the educational institutes have begun to realise the need for such interactions.

The writer is faculty scientist, Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB), Bangalore