New Delhi’s Institute of Clinical Research India (ICRI) is a good example. Started in 2004, with about 100 students, it currently trains eight times as many across India, says Dean S.K. Gupta. Five hundred of these are enrolled in a two-year master’s degree programme costing Rs 5,40,000, comparable to what is charged by India’s premier business schools. The rest are pursuing part-time diplomas, costing about Rs 1 lakh. Gupta says the institute turned down hundreds of students across various courses this year. ICRI is in four metros and plans to expand to another two in 2008. Other schools that BW spoke to also report increasing demand. They are also in expansion mode.
Surprisingly, employers are still complaining. There is very little difference between a fresh graduate and one trained from some of these schools, they say. “Not more than 10 per cent are suitable for an entry-level job,” says Arun Bhatt, president of ClinInvent, a Mumbai-based CRO. “Many of them have gone through the text book but when it comes to communication, confidence, and abilities they are just are not there.” Employers whom BW spoke to identified some key problems. One is the absence of practical training. Their biggest complaint is that students, for all their ability to recite from the rulebook, have no ‘on-ground’ experience. Take the example of a clinical trial monitor — the person who is most in touch with the investigator doing a trial, to ensure that it is done the right way. The average age of a monitor today is about 25. But investigators in leading hospitals can be as old as their teachers, even older. “Making the head of a department work to your needs requires a lot of assertiveness,” says Clinpharm’s Tamhankar. And this is put to the acid test only in a real trial, which schools don’t or can’t expose students to.
The absence of applied learning is a problem that has long plagued India’s education system. Employers have surmounted it the only way they know — on-the-job training. But in an industry as complex as this one — where patient safety and company reputations hang in the balance — companies don’t take any chances. “Sponsors (pharma companies whose drugs are being tested) only want monitors with experience,” says Vasudeo Ginde, managing director of Mumbai’s iGate Clinical Research. “It is difficult for me to stick my neck out and say I’ll put the freshers there.”
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Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of information and networking services to the private equity and venture capital ecosystem in India. View free samples of Venture Intelligence newsletters and reports.