India's largest plastics trade association and two U.S. universities with prominent plastics engineering and material science programs signed an agreement Feb. 3 to help build an international-level university for polymers in western India.
The agreement with the two schools, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and the University of Wisconsin, is a step forward for plans of the Mumbai-based Plastindia Foundation to build a university-level program educating several-hundred engineers a year. But foundation representatives said they still must raise most of the $30 million needed to make Plastindia International University a reality.
The foundation will kick in about $6 million to start work, with the rest coming from private fundraising yet to be done by the country's plastics sector, according to Plastindia Foundation President Ashok Goel, speaking at the signing ceremony held during the Plastindia show in New Delhi.
Still, he predicts the first phase of the university will be able to open by 2014 or 2015, at its 50-acre campus in Vapi, near Mumbai in the state of Gujarat. Gujarat is one of India's major centers for plastics manufacturing.
“We have made good progress,” he said. “We have the master plan done and we have the partners identified. The land is in our possession.”
Goel, who is also vice chairman and managing director of Mumbai-based packaging firm Essel Propack Ltd., said officials have yet to decide what exactly will be included in the first phase and what will be built in later phases. The project will be financed entirely with private funds, he said.
The U.S. universities are not putting in money, but will help develop curriculum to international standards.
Stephen Driscoll, professor in the UMass-Lowell Department of Plastics Engineering, said the university hopes its collaboration with PIU will ultimately draw more students to its campus in Massachusetts.
Lowell officials said they have strong ties to India historically, noting that India contributes more students to the campus than any other foreign country.
Lowell is one of the more prominent plastics engineering programs in the U.S. It meets the standards of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, university officials said.
An official from Wisconsin's plastics program said their university was the first in the world to offer a course in plastics engineering, in 1946, and sees this as a unique chance to help build a new program.
“It's fun to see the progress of plastics education around the world,” said Tim Osswald, co-director of the university's Polymer Engineering Center. “Probably for all of us, our first love is teaching and education. This is an opportunity to start something from the ground up with very capable partners.”
Plastindia officials said they sought out U.S. universities, rather than partner with Indian schools, because the Indian educational system produces graduates with theoretical knowledge but not enough experience applying the knowledge.
Goel, in a speech at the ceremony, said PIU will seek certification under the Indian state of Gujarat, rather than the national system in India, because national rules are unclear and Gujarat is offering more flexibility.
“We can have some sort of autonomy in designing the courses,” he said.
Hemant Minocha, director of masterbatch maker Rajiv Plastics Ltd. in Mumbai, agrees the Indian university system is too focused on theory, which forces companies to spend the first year or more training new engineers. Minocha said in an interview at the ceremony that he wants a more practical approach from universities.
“I don't get anyone straight out of university in India with practical experience,” said Minocha, who earned a master's degree in plastics engineering at UMass- Lowell in 1998. “The kind of exposure we got from UMass, there is nothing that equals that.”
Goel said the PIU in time wants to add master and doctorate programs. Its engineering courses will include a strong management component, and the PIU wants to bring in another partner university to help design a formal management program, he said.
Plastindia employed U.S. architectural firm SWA Group to prepare preliminary designs. In a presentation at the ceremony, an SWA architect showed a potential campus design for 2,000 students, with housing for students and staff, which would use green practices such as rainwater harvesting and water recycling.