Off-late, sounds of dissent and dissatisfaction from the pharma industry have been heard over the kind of talent pool coming out of pharma colleges in India. With a few exceptions, pharma education system in the country has traditionally remained more theoretical than practical. Pharma companies do train new recruits, however, it is not just a time consuming process but also a financially eroding option. The growing discontent has led to a debate over pharma companies themselves venturing into the field of pharma education and take the baton in their own hands.
Time to take charge?
India is one of the largest pharma markets in the world. Besides domestic pharma companies, many MNCs have also set up their operations in the country. These companies regularly introduce new operational methods/ technologies at their manufacturing plants/ laboratories. As a result, skilled workforce is a major requirement to handle these operations. However, according to industry experts, pharmacy colleges in India have not updated their curriculum with the changing times and have stuck to their outdated syllabus. This, in turn, have resulted in failure in terms of delivering employees who are capable of handling tasks from the day-one. Hence, the pharma industry is mulling over starting their educational institutes which would train the students to cope with the growing demands and offer them hands-on experience into their fields.
N Venkat, Co-Founder and CEO, Vyome Biosciences, says, “I think these (currently existing) courses are outdated. We need pharma courses that can infuse creativity in drug development, formulation science etc and a lot of analytical sharpness for quality by design etc.”
Sudhir Deshpande, Legal Consultant, Pharmalex, joins the discussion, and supports the pharma industry’s claim. “There is no doubt that the existing curriculum needs to be changed and industry-specific topics need to be included in the curriculum. However, only changing the curriculum will not serve the purpose and there is a need for continuous training to the students. The training institute, either from a pharma company or supported by pharma companies, will be definitely an answer to the problem,” opines Deshpande.
According to Dr Girish Walavalkar, CEO, Fermenta Biotech, there are educational institutes like the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) which have developed courses keeping the needs of pharma industry in mind. However, he emphasises, “Every pharma company has its own specific requirements. So you can’t prepare a course which will be useful to the industry in general. The main intention of the graduation course is to make the student acquainted with the overall industry. At the PhD level, you can have specific industry-oriented projects.”
There are industry experts who have spent a few decades working at senior positions in reputed pharma companies and now are visiting lecturers to pharma colleges in India and abroad. These experts can actually serve as great connecting links between the educational institutes and the industry. “Definitely industry-specific courses and educational training in India would help freshers to gain practical knowledge and skills required during the job,” asserts Rajashri Ojha, Founder and MD, Raaj GPRAC. Ojha has worked with many domestic and international pharma companies in India and abroad before starting training institutes for pharma students.
Revamping pharma education: A tough job?
The idea of starting pharma courses or training institutes looks promising but it might be easier said than done. Walavalkar gives his own justification. “Starting their own course by the pharma industry is not practical. Pharma institutes are themselves a big business. We have very specific requirements and I don’t think it is practical to start an institute. We may recruit student and train them,” opines Walavalkar. However, contrary to Walavalkar’s opinion, N Venkat asserts that there are no hurdles if pharma firms want to start pharma courses or training institutes. “There should be willingness,” says N Venkat. According to him, the common problems that any company would face while recruiting are quality and depth of students. They would need at least two years of mentoring before they can start thinking as required.
Deshpande echoes Walavalkar’s views and says that training institutes by pharma companies may not be a viable option. However, he suggests, perhaps establishing an All India Training Academy supported by the pharma industry associations like Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance and Indian Drugs Manufacturers’ Association can serve the purpose.
“As per my experience it is very difficult to have all types of trainers and subject matter expertise in each college or a single pharma company. They will have to send their employees or students to other training institutes wherein they get maximum benefits and people get trained on specific subjects. Now is the time to start the ball rolling by setting up a totally harmonised system for pharmacy colleges to develop a syllabus that includes current industry needs such as inclusion of regulatory studies, quality compliance, validations, clinical and other aspects,” says Ojha.
Make it mandatory?
Industry experts strongly feel that representatives from the pharma companies should be included in the committee that is being formed to develop the curriculum. This will keep pharma institutes informed about the latest developments and the requirements of the industry, and help to modify or change pharma curriculum.
N Venkat says, “It will be of great help. And a major component should be the visiting faculty concept with real problems being discussed and infusing creative thinking.”
“If industry representatives are included in the syllabus committee, it will certainly add value and will ensure that the syllabus is relevant to the pharma industry,” opines Deshpande. But at the same time he also points out that mandatory inclusion of industry representatives in the curriculum developing body is a desirable option but not a necessity. He explains, “Even without making it mandatory, the syllabus committee can certainly co-opt for a industry representative in the committee.”
While supporting Deshpande’s views, Walavalkar also points out that an industry representative’s presence in the pharma curriculum developing committee is definitely going to be of great help.
Ojha describes the criteria for the selection of an industry representative. She suggests that a person with both academic and industrial experience will be the right fit for the job. “Industrial expertise with more than 20 years of experience in a specific area is a must to have in a committee or board. The curriculum should be designed by senior people who have practical knowledge about the industry and academic problems. While designing the curriculum one should seek advice from industrial experts for subjects like pharmaceutics, drugs and cosmetics, biochemistry, pharma technology, food, medical devises, OTC, biosimilars, veterinary etc.”
Pharma institutes generally are comfortable with including industry persons in their curriculum developing committee. However, they hold some apprehensions when it comes to demands of becoming more practical than staying theoretical.
A senior pharma educationist, on the condition of anonymity, accepts that pharma curriculum in India is indeed outdated and needs immediate revamp. However, at the same time, he also emphasises that they are educationists and quality teaching is their prime responsibility. Industry-friendly training to students is possible only to a certain extent at educational set-ups. Pharma students will always get better training on the job, once they join any company. “We are best at keeping the student acquainted with the overall industry,” he states.
Pharma industry’s argument is based on a valid reason. However, pharma institutes have their own limitations as well. As most of these colleges are largely dependent on government funds, building the requisite infrastructure to make pharma courses more practical or industry friendly seems difficult. So, as suggested by Deshpande, pharma organisations can come together and start their own courses which will suit the industry needs. Or else, pharma companies can help pharma colleges to upgrade or set up training facilities for the students. At the end of the day, what should matter the most is ensuring the best long-term interests of the students as well as the industry.