• 5 August 2009
  • News
  • By Jahanara Parveen

Biotech Education BOOMS

Biotech Education BOOMS Biotech Education BOOMS

Over 400 colleges are churning out nearly 15,000 students every year. But how employable are they? A special report from BioSpectrum.

The rapid growth of the biotechnology industry has resulted in students taking up biotech courses en masse. The number of biotech graduates in India have gone up from 1,000 in 2003 to over 15,000 in 2009. The demand for manpower in biotech ranges from scientists, researchers and technicians to the sales personnel, legal teams and teachers. There are over 100 public colleges supervised by the Ministry of  Science and Technology. And 300 or so privately run colleges offering biotech courses in the country. These 400 colleges produce an output of over 14,000—15,000 students every year at various undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels.
In the last five years, capacity addition in the form of new colleges being opened and increased intake in the existing universities has been occurring at the rate of about 20 percent year-on-year and the trend is expected to continue for the years to come. 
The prospects and opportunities offered by the industry to students has been a major factor driving this trend. There has been an increase in Indian homegrown companies as well as reputed MNC companies (most recently Genzyme and Merck in New Delhi) making India their base.
Back in 2003-2004, India’s biotechnology industry registered a 39 percent growth in revenues in 2003-04 to reach Rs 3,265 crore ( $705 million) with two major groups crossing a turnover of Rs 500 crore. And the number of companies in the biotechnology sector during that year, had grown to 235 from about 150 in the previous year, according to the 2nd BioSpectrum-ABLE Biotechnology Industry Survey. Biopharma and bioservices has over the years been the biggest growth sector areas for this industry. Other promising areas include bioagri, biosuppliers and also the myriad biotech clusters coming up. Today, the number of homegrown companies have shot up to 340 companies with biopharma sector (especially in vaccines) again showing stupendous growth. Moreover, the government headed by DBT, DST and CSIR have been supportive and introduced many programs that encouraged students to join the sector, making India a conducive environment for growth.
India along with China is poised to be the next biggest market for many global biotech companies. “In the near future we plan to make India the hub for our R&D activities.  Many manufacturing units have been set up and we shall be seeing more MNCs setting up such units in India. “We have also seen a number of reputable global names like Pfizer chartering major plans in this space with its acqusition of Wyeth and collaborations of pharma and biotech comapanies offer immense opportunities,” quipped the CEO of a well known Swiss-based global company during his visit to India.

How Employable is GenX?
In 2002, when biotechnology was taking its roots in the Indian market, companies looking at hiring students were trapped in a situation wherein the number of students opting for a biotech course were miniscule and so were the number of colleges offering such courses. Hence, they had to employ whatever talent was available in the market.  Now tables have turned with the number of students and colleges burgeoning, which is a positive sign. But there’s a negative side to it also as the quality of students is being compromised today. There has been a significant level of dilution in biotech education observe industry leaders and HR heads.
 For every 100 students applying for a job in the industry at various levels, how many students are considered employable by the industry, both immediately or after some minor orientation and retraining programs? The unique aspect of this industry as far as scientific manpower is concerned is that a significantly higher level of educational qualifications and skills are required when compared to other sectors like IT.
Quality thus becomes a crucial factor for such a specialized industry. Being a knowledge intensive sector it requires highly skilled manpower. It is for this reason the graduating students feel the need to acquire higher degrees and acquire  specialization, as just a basic undergraduate or postgraduate degree is not valued by the industry. The percentage of students at the undergraduate level being employed is just 28 percent while at the postgraduate level, it is significantly as high as 71 percent. 
According to P C Pandian, DGM, HR, Jubilant Clinsys & Chemsys, “there are troubles in attracting the quality talent as quantity becomes an obstacle. Needless to say that screening is the key. Also, cost effective and efficient tools and techniques for filtering is of utmost importance while hiring. He says, “Among the criteria a company like Jubilant look into in an individual in addition to basics like qualification, experience are — quality of knowledge, variety in exposure,  vertical thinking, horizontal understanding, mindset, theoretical to practical conversion ability and attitude.”
Over the years, BioSpectrum has been interacting with various CEOs and HR executives in biotech companies to look into this aspect, and it is concluded that the average employability of graduating students in the country for the Indian biotech sector was about 22 to 25 percent only. There were many CEOs who lamented the fact that they had to conduct 100 interviews on an average to select a single candidate and there were also some who felt that the employability estimates were close to 40-50 percent. These significant differences in opinion can be explained by the inherent level of complexity of the business being run and the consequent complementary skill sets being sought by these CEOs in recruits. Thus, while the intended supply of manpower is higher than the incremental demand for manpower every year, there exists a huge manpower gap in the Indian biotech sector on account of 42 percent pursuing higher studies and employability being about 25 percent. Also, given the fact that different sectors within biotechnology are considerably different from each other, it is impossible to satisfy the needs of all the companies in terms of tailoring the curriculum to suit the field of work in which they specialize.
Students have  also realised the complexity of the biotech industry and its absorbtion capacity. Students say it is very hard for a fresher to get a job in R&D or QC because most companies have small teams, hiring is limited and there isn’t much job hopping unlike IT industry. Plus the pharmacy graduates are preferred in some companies because they can do formulation as well as QC. A number of students not opting for higher studies join other industries like IT as the compensation levels are way higher, at times even three to four times what is being offered to them by top notch biotech companies.
The content being taught at the various institutes is also considered by the industry to be obsolete and not in sync with industry needs. There is no national task force focusing on constant upgradation of the curriculum to meet industry needs. In addition to the fact that many students lack knowledge of the basics, another problem expressed was that even at the MSc level, students did not have specialized knowledge about a particular stream of biotechnology and possessed general biotech knowledge which was essentially an extension of what they learnt at the BSc level.
Like other sectors, enrollment to biotech courses is also changing, while some areas are declining the others aren’t growing as much as the institutes thought they should. After a number of years of an upward trend, the enrollment have started going down. While the government biotech schools are crowded, heads of some private institutions say that there has been a significant decline in enrollment from 2008 to 2009. The enrollment losses has been as high as 21-25 percent this term and is reported to be the first slide in the past seven years.
 To churn out an employable mass of candidates, Thomas Putti, Head HR, Advinus Therapeutics suggests that biotechnology as a course should not be offered to students at an undergraduate level. It should only be offered at a post-graduate level and above. The course delivery has to be research and project based in addition to imparting information through textbooks and classroom lectures. The basics, however, need to be imparted as fundamentals at the graduate level as basic biology courses.

Creating Employability
The brainstorming for solutions have already begun. Companies have realised that it is high time that they take up the matter in their hands. Hence, we are now seeing a trend wherein companies like Biocon, Reliance Life Sciences, Imperial Life Sciences and even ICICI Bank (in collaboration with the government) have set up educational and training institutes that offer specialized courses in all biotech-related streams. “Scientific industry especially is fast-paced and knowledge-driven. Thus, requires constant update of knowledge and current trends. Thus, for a continual growth and development as a professional, a student cannot just rely on the knowledge and skills imparted by the institute. Once a student has recognized the field of interest, additional technical expertise is a must to keep going and outshine others in this cut-throat competitive industry,” opines a recently passed out student.
For instance, Mumbai-based Reliance Life Sciences has set up a not-for-profit institute called the Reliance Institute of Life Sciences focused on competency development in biotechnology, not only for Reliance Life Sciences but for the whole industry. Reliance Institute of Life Sciences runs several competency development programmes including Young Engineers Program (For engineering graduates), Young Manufacturing Professionals Program, Young Clinical Research Professionals Program, Young Quality Management Professionals Program,Young Scientists Program and Young Laboratory Technicians Program. These programs typically involve three months of academics and nine months of practical training as understudies to professionals in Reliance Life Sciences. Faculty is drawn from academic institutions, Reliance Life Sciences and the industry. Reliance collaborates with academic institutions, such as the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai and the University Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai, in academic content development and faculty support for these programs. Reliance Institute of Life Sciences also runs two one-year diploma program in biotherapeutics and clinical research.
Bangalore-based Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB) is yet another example. IBAB is a public-private initiative of department of IT & BT, Government of Karnataka and ICICI Bank. Senior managers from Biocon form a part of the faculty. IBAB also offers some courses in partnership with Biocon. It has recently added several state-of-the-art facilities to its bioinformatics and biotechnology laboratories to enhance its training and research capabilities. Students are exposed to the most recent advances in the biotech industry and academic research through large number of scientists who visit IBAB all year around from across the globe. The institute has also been maintaining very close association with the industry with companies like Biocon, AstraZeneca, Merck as faculty chairs. In addition, companies like Millipore India and Sartorius have been providing scholarships to its students.
Imperial Life Sciences has set up ILS Bioservices, a finishing school in Manesar, Gurgaon for a similar purpose. It trains graduates in pharma and life sciences disciplines in high end equipments, project management, CRO management, result communication and report making and discovery troubleshooting.
The company is looking at creating similar facilities around regional locations as satellite facilities under exclusive ILS Bioservices banner. ILS Bioservices has initiated the formation of a global HR conclave where all HR groups from global pharma and biotech industry and academia will gather under one platform.
This platform will give the industry leaders a chance to evaluate the changing scenario of trained work force from the perspective of research, business development, application support, technical support and management. The institute has come out with complete features of the R&D workforce under one program thereby supporting the trainees and their prospective employers.
“We are planning to invest more on quality satellite centers in India around centralized facility in IMT Manesar,” says Anand Gupta, founder and CEO, ILS Bioservices. Parallely, their network is reaching on a global platform with active participation in bringing the quality training and education in bio and pharma areas in places like Middle East, Africa and North America. Programs of wide ranging impacts have already been initiated such as support the student’s research projects starting from conceptualization, funding and infrastructure for novel IP generation. ILS is also bringing in program and modules to support young Biotech entrepreneurs through building active networks of corporates and academics under one integrated programme. “We are in active discussion with leading US agencies for the accreditation of their modular training programs with different sub-specialization in R&D technology,” said Anil Mavila, president ILS Bioservices.

Student Speak
To get a reality check on the situation, BioSpectrum also spoke to biotech students (those pursuing their higher studies as well as those who have recently passed out and are working in biotech companies) across the country. Post graduates from well reputed colleges that made the rank in the BioSpectrum Top 20 Surveys in the past, asserted that they were satisfied with the infrastructure and the faculty members of their respective colleges. The courses were tailormade and helped them to a great extent in their profession later.
Such institutes also tailor their courses which are specialized according to the demands of the biotech industry.  Says Arpita Jain; assistant manager-marketing with New Delhi head-quartered DSS Imagetech and a passout of Amity Institute of Biotechnology, Amity University, “I have pursued MBA-Biotechnology from AIB. Amity is well-known name for imparting tailormade industry specific courses to cater the current needs of the industry. Thus, this interesting mix of the professionally skilled specialization in marketing as well as in biotechnology has armed me to survive and strengthen my stay in the biotech market. Amity frequently in invites various noble laureates and scientific dignitaries who had given a noticeable contribution in the biotech field. Also, the faculty in Amity usually are the individuals from the corporate world who with their valuable feedback and current industry trends try to impart the students with useful tips and information to strategically place themselves in the market.”
In addition to this, pass out students also believe that the name, reputation and brand of the institute also adds brownie points to a resume. Says Jain, “The dual specialization course that I have pursued not only saved my time but also equipped me to craft a specialized niche for me to enter. A good repute of the institute in the industry helps students in getting accepted by the industry.”
Students were however, unanimous  in their opinion of the curriculum being purely theoritical and not giving any scope for students to garner any practical knowledge of their subject.  Says a student who has passed out from Vellore Institute of  Technology(who does not wished to be named), and is now working in a consultant firm in India, “The infrastructure, the faculty and the courses offered by VIT is excellent which is why students get placed well and also get into good universities if they pursue their studies abroad or opt for a career as a researcher but yet again, the syllabus there offered theoritcal rather than practical
knowledge.”
Moreover big, Indian biotech companies come to college campuses with high expectations but ultimately hire a small number of students at a meager salary package which is why students prefer to pursue higher studies abroad.  “A company like Biocon, came to recruit students and expected a 60 percent marks in their 10th and 12th grade, we had to sit for three interview rounds. Ultimately, having gone through the entire process, we found out that the job profile given to us was not satisfactory,” reveals the same student.
The student adds that out of his batch of 180 students, 100 students opted to go abroad rather than pursue a career in a biotech company. Given the situation, on an average, 42 percent of all students passing out of the biotech institutes opt for higher studies. According to a survey conducted by BioSpectrum which covers over 80 percent of the biotech institutes of the country (both in the publicly and privately funded domains), 15 percent of the students are permanently lost to the Indian industry as they pursue higher studies abroad and join the workforce in the West.
According to reliable sources, fresh graduates from biotech institutes working in Indian biotech companies are paid an annual package of Rs 2–2.5 lakh which amounts to nothing when compared to the packages given to researchers overseas. “In countries like the US, the salary package is anywhere between $50,000-70,000 per year,” said Pranay Agarwal who will be pursuing his higher studies in biomedical engineering in New Jersey.  In addition to this, those pursuing their PhDs abroad are also paid on a weekly basis which is an added incentive.
It was also unanimously agreed upon by most students that it was easier to get into a reputed institute in countries like the US, UK and Germany than getting into any of the IITs! “In India, it is more score-based while abroad they look into the whole gamut that includes your past achievements like research projects and your Statement of Purpose (SOPs) in addition to your scores,” says another student.
Now, the need of the hour is that the government and indutry should get together and bridge the gap between demand and supply of quality manpower in the bioscience industry. 

Jahanara Parveen & Nayantara Som (with inputs from Shalini Gupta)
Biotech Education BOOMS



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