Bio-science practicals, project work given short shrift
A few colleges in twin cities offering bio sciences courses- MSc.Microbiology, Biotechnology in the self finance mode with Ill equipped or no labs are not only burning a hole in students’ pockets, but are churning out students with no practical exposure or experience in project work. While some college labs lack some of the modern instruments such as a thermal cycler (also called the PCR machine), Laminar Air flow chamber and Electrophoresis units, several colleges do not have even a water heater or the chemicals needed to conduct simple biochemical experiments.
“Barring top-notch colleges such as Osmania University Campus colleges, Loyola and St.Francis, practicals are an eyewash in most lower-grade colleges. Though students pay an exorbitant amount as fee, they are not taught even the basics of conducting practical experiments. In fact, credit must go to the students for managing to pass their practical exams when they have hardly had any practical training”, says Sravanya, who previously worked as a lecturer in MNR PG College. “Several colleges in Kukatpally and SR Nagar areas somehow manage to complete the academic year without conducting practicals at all.”
Students are often taught theory during the practical class hours, and asked to write the practical records by copying out the entire contents of an older record, sometimes sourced from another college. At other times, an experiment is simply demonstrated by the lecturer to the entire class, depriving the students of the opportunity to learn by practice.
Luckily for students from government colleges, the authorities ensure moderate to exceptionally good lab facilities since their costs are covered by the government funds to a great extent. However, private college authorities crib that laboratory equipment is extremely expensive and that they cannot afford to arrange for practical training facilities for all the students.
“I am lucky that my college had a great lab and competent lecturers who gave us really good practical training”, says Bhavani, who has just finished her final semester of M.Sc. Biotechnology at Koti Women’s College, Hyderabad. “My friends at other colleges are not so fortunate. They are worried how they will survive in a research -related job or even in Biotech industries when they hardly have any practical knowledge.”
Biotechnology requires students to be strong not only theoretically but also in practice, especially if they intend to work in research institutions and Biotech firms. While there are several Biotech industries such as Ocimum Biosolutions, Shanta Biotech and Dr. Reddy’s, students miss out on job opportunities as they lack of practical skills. Though there is a stipulated number of hours allotted for practical classes as per the University curriculum, most affiliated colleges do not follow it.
In order to make the students industry ready and to ensure some research exposure, the University has made it mandatory for students of M.Sc. Biotechnology to undertake a research project, with a thesis of the work to be submitted at the end of the final year. But this has created a new problem for students. “We were never given proper information about the procedure for undertaking a project.”, says Hyndhavi of OU Science College. “The college lab cannot accommodate all the students of a batch for project work. Thus we are forced to look for positions as project trainees outside. Even if we were to do our project in the college, we need to pay money regardless of the subject, topic or guide under whom we work.”
Another student of her batch, Deepak, opines that though some lecturers are forthcoming with information to guide them, most do not help at all. “The project fee at college ranges from Rs. 10,000- 12,000. We can pay the same amount in a private lab and get the project done using better facilities or in one of the many research organisations in and around Hyderabad such as CCMB, IICT and CFTRI, with infrastructure of global standard. These research organisations do not even demand a fee, but gaining entry as a project trainee is tough , as we need recommendation. Our college authorities are not cooperative and seldom give us right contacts in such organisations.”
With colleges reluctant to spend on lab facilities even for conducting practicals, carrying out research projects is a far cry. Students are forced to scout for private labs to carry out their project, but this comes at a price. Private labs such as Ventura Biosciences, DNA Research Centre and BioAxis take in final year students for projects at fees starting from a minimum of Rs. 5000 per student, and the figure soars based on the kind of research/ training provided.
Exploiting the haplessness of the students, it is learnt that some private labs provide students with a completed project thesis, without the student having to do any work at all. “For students pursuing PG in Microbiology or Genetics, it is not mandatory to do a project. However, I asked my students to do one so that they would be more confident when applying for a job” says Sravanya. “In most interviews, students are questioned about their M.Sc. project to gauge their practical knowledge. The problem is that though project work is a part of the curriculum, there is no tight monitoring on implementation.” When the nation talks about Skill India, it is time the University gets its act together.