A family enterprise with flourishing businesses in completely unrelated fields (confectionery and automotive, to be precise) taking up the cause of higher education, that too in a state that is not exactly an academic destination — Punjab — needs a lot of commitment, vision, and above all, a giant leap of faith. The Lovely Group was established by Baldev Raj Mittal. They started with Lovely Sweets (1961), which earned them the tag, halwais. With such a modest beginning, they slowly ventured into Lovely Autos and the now popular Lovely Professional University (LPU). Yes, the name will make you skeptical just like it made me and many others, including those granting them the AICTE approval. The question was, did the halwai family have what is required to take education forward? Yes, they have proven time and again.
This is not a family enterprise entirely, though. Only three members of the Mittal family take care of the day-to-day activities of the university – Chancellor Ashok Mittal, pro-chancellor Rashmi Mittal and media relations head Aman Mittal. From the vice-chancellor to other members of staff and faculty, they have tried to rope in the best of talent.
My visit to LPU was one of no expectations, but tonnes of curiosity. I had to find out what was actually happening on the massive campus on the outskirts of Jalandhar. And I wasn’t disappointed. If anything, LPU was overwhelming in its impact. Talk about sheer magnitude — be it the 600 acres devoted to quality academics, the 30,000 students on campus or a massive hostel facility for 18,000 students.
As I spent more time on campus, I realised that LPU, which was set up in 2001, has gone all out to ensure students’ needs have been taken care of. The result — active students bustling with ideas. I suppose being a private university has its perks. What I took away from this experience was the level of initiative and readiness among faculty, students and the management, who have provided an environment conducive to practical learning.
Every department has a separate building with studios and labs. There is a centrally-located mall on campus for anything students might like to buy, right from eye liners to iPads. Also on campus is a small hospital which is run by students and faculty. The hospital also tends to the needs of people from nearby villages. It has an operation theatre and doctors on call 24/7. Spas, gyms, five banks, 30 ATMs, a post office, a water treatment plant, food court, indoor and outdoor auditoriums and library — you name it, the students have it. They also have a gigantic WiFi network with 1,100 access points across campus.
What should answer doubts parents have about their wards’ security are these basic figures — over 3,500 surveillance cameras around campus, which is monitored 24/7 and 300 security guards round the clock. Their library is open till midnight and not wanting the girls to miss out on reference time at night, the authorities have ensured security personnel accompany girls to the library and back to their hostel. Parents also receive an update on their cell phones when their wards swipe their cards while entering hostels, ensuring the worried parents sleep in peace. Clearly they’ve acknowledged that it is no joke to protect 30,000+ students.
You’d find all major courses being offered at LPU at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, along with MPhil, PhDs and diplomas in various fields — engineering, business administration, computer applications, pharmacy, architecture, hotel management and catering technology, commerce, fine arts, performing arts, physical education, medical lab technology, physiotherapy, agriculture, multimedia, mass communication and film production, interior design, food technology, hospital and healthcare management, retail, agriculture, fashion technology, apparel manufacturing technology, biotechnology, IT, computer science, economics, nutrition and dietetics, mathematics, biotech, biochemistry, microbiology, chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, pharmaceutical sciences, clinical biology, industrial microbiology, teacher training (MEd, MPT, MPed, BEd, MA (English, Punjabi), MTech (CSE, ECE, ME, biotech) and languages.
The student:teacher ratio is 1:15 at LPU and I found interesting the casual camaraderie students share with their professors, who aren’t averse to students teaching them. They have smart classrooms too. Management is very clear that they want to give students a hands-on approach to ensure they are employable when they graduate. They have recruited teachers — with over 200 from IITs — from all over India.
The way question papers are generated eliminates risk of them being leaked — teachers merely compile questions across topics and chapters, which is saved on their network and papers are computer generated an hour or two prior to the exam. Equal weightage is given to most topics, they say. As far as subjects are concerned, students get to follow a major and also pick a minor from another discipline, to ensure they don’t miss out.
You might also want to know that only 20 per cent of students are Punjabis. The rest are from 26 countries with around 1,500 international students. The campus, therefore, is alive and bustling all the time, with so many different influences.
Vice-chancellor Ramesh Kanwar was distinguished professor and chair of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department (ABE) at Iowa State University before he joined LPU. He has a modern and open approach to education and loves to interact with students. “What we’re trying to ensure is a systematic approach with academic excellence. Engaging with students – I love that part of my job. I do it once a week with the student community on campus.” He strongly supports research activities and tells us that their curriculum was revised a year back. “While adopting UGC and AICTE guidelines, we referred to the best institutions in the world for every subject and used their curricula as benchmarks. We also give complete freedom to our faculty who can adopt new and innovative methods of teaching. We also ensured one student from UG is also present in the committee to ensure representation and a different approach.” He also acknowledges that the current scenario in the country is disturbing with sciences getting all the importance. “Our society needs all kinds of people. There is always a need for deeper understanding and a humane touch, no matter which stream you belong to. Social sciences make you a better individual and a societal being rather than just a professional,” he says.
Open their prospectus, you will be welcomed by music that has been composed, sung, recorded and planted in the booklet by students along with a 3D glass to view a map of the campus. This is just to give you an example of the extent to which students are involved and are applying ideas learned in class. From designing a car for the F1 to planning to a tram service on campus (PARIKKRAAM), students and teachers put their heads together to find practical solutions to problems. It’s a common sight to find students huddled in groups, working on models or experiments late in the night.
University Management System
Something that deserves special mention is the University Management Service (a project headed by additional dean, Rohit Dhand), their paperless and transparent solution to all student and teacher woes. Day-to-day administration is done on this exemplary system. It also won NASSCOM and CNBC’s India 3.0 IT innovation award and the e-India Award by Ministry of Communication and IT, Govt of India for their innovative endeavour. It acts as your e-notice board with all important announcements, reminders, time tables, seating arrangements, assignments, instruction plans of courses, lab manuals, syllabi, online registration for courses, placement drives, fee deposition and status, interaction schedule with higher authorities, queries, complaints, suggestions, vendor services, policies, medical registration and so much more! The IT department also designs software for clients abroad.
It is so detailed that attendance is marked real-time online and is visible to teachers, students and parents. The students are currently asking the management to put in a bunk calculator to calculate how many classes they can miss! The system, which was developed by students and faculty members of the varsity’s IT department, makes it easy to pull out batch-wise, subject-wise and student-specific information. You can also view a live feed of classes. Gone are the days when you would carry a calendar in your bag. Students at LPU can download an App on their phone which gives them up-to-date information on classes, workshops, attendance, marks, upcoming events, etc.
A floor of the shopping mall is run by students. Students work there after class and it helps them apply concepts they learn in class, as well as make a little pocket money. They also have the option of assisting in labs and in the library. The hotel management students are also getting a 4-star hotel on campus to run. Architecture students get to plan and be on site of upcoming buildings on campus. Students have designed mobile-phone controlled cars, wireless water robot, 8-way movement robot, remote-controlled curtains, line following robots, etc — projects they’ve presented at various tech fests. The Division of Student Affairs addresses all student-related concerns and is open till 8pm. Students also form clubs and take up extra curricular activities there. They celebrate India’s diversity through the One India event and also invite artists from outside like Coke Studio. Film stars are also invited occasionally.
Scholarships worth `140 crore are being offered to 15,000 students. Admission is merit-based at LPU. Annual fee is `69,000 for the engineering stream. Students need to pay less than `20,000 if their marks are more than 90 per cent. It will cost `34,500 annually to stay in the hostel (varies on sharing basis). More than 70,000 meals are cooked a day for students and staff daily.
As a private university, LPU is accredited by University Grants Commission and Association of Indian Universities. The distance education programme is recognised by Distance Education Council. Their teacher training programmes are backed by National Council for Teacher Education. Their pharmacy programmes have been accredited by Pharmacy Council of India. The Indian Association of Physiotherapists has granted provisional affiliation to LPU’s department of physiotherapy. Similar accreditations have been granted for each department.
LPU’s efforts in expanding their international relations has helped widen their knowledge base and expose students to talent from abroad. LPU is a member in Association of Commonwealth Universities, UK, International Association of Universities, France, Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, USA, European Council of Business Education, Switzerland and The Institute of International Education, New York. They have also signed over 40 MoUs with universities abroad.
If all the reasons provided above aren’t enough, here’s another to experience LPU. They leave nothing to chance when it comes to placements. With academia-industry interface and entrepreneurship development programmes on campus, they ensure students are settled into top companies like IBM, Infosys, HCL, Bharti Airtel, Accenture, Nokia, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Indian Army and Navy, HDFC Bank, TATA, Wipro, Eli Lilly, ITC, Bose, Ashok Leyland and Pepsico.
The chancellor, Ashok Mittal keeps abreast of what happens on campus 24/7. As far as he is concerned, no holds are barred when it comes to students — be it hiring good teachers or okaying funds for projects. He is the driving force behind the university. He looks back on the journey. “We wanted to give back, and more than just building hospitals or a charitable organisation, we knew education would help feed many. We will never compromise on quality. I also believe that technology can make lives simpler and advanced. Our faculty and students carry out cutting-edge work and we help remove all blocks that could arise in their work. There is freedom here in a way that doesn’t compromise on academics.”
Pro-chancellor Rashmi Mittal deals with day-to-day issues. Her doors are open twice a week for students to walk in and have a chat. “We started with being affiliated to Punjab Technical University, but got the status of university in five years. It shows that we had established a certain amount of faith in the state because of our businesses. It’s very encouraging to see so many students from all over the country. Our aim is to become one of the best universities in the world by 2020. It will take time to be acknowledged as a research-centric university. But we do have the foundation to get us there,” she says.
Their VC opines, “A challenge we are facing as a country, judging from inputs from the industry, is that hardly 25 per cent of graduates are employable. It could be due to the specific needs our students have, which have not been addressed. We’re working on this at LPU by ensuring they have practical knowledge, confidence and communication skills.”
Overcoming communication barriers and to make students ready for a global environment can be quite a challenge. It is also important to question whether the astounding number of students will lead to a compromise in the quality of education imparted. Ashok Mittal assures us, “We don’t want to increase our numbers anymore. We want to ensure quality education is imparted and we are sending out competent graduates into the world. We want students to learn as much in the classrooms as they do outside.”
While they do face some glitches like developing better communication skills, building a strong research programme and gaining recognition in India, it is important to acknowledge the tremendous growth they have made in eight years as a young private varsity.
Disclaimer: The writer visited LPU on an invite from the university