The Lovely Group started off with a sweet shop in 1961 and is now one of the biggest groups in the higher education sector. LPU Chancellor Ashok Mittal shares the growth story with us.
India is now home to almost 250 private universities. In this sense, the private sector is growing at a rapid rate in India’s higher education sector. But does India’s private sector have the potential to lead the way in the country’s higher education sector. “Of course,” feels Ashok Mittal, Chancellor, Lovely Professional University. LPU was the one of the first private universities that entered India’s higher education sector and helped changed the perception towards private universities in the country.
In an exclusive interview with Educationbiz, Ashok Mittal talks about the growth of the Lovely group, its entry into education, LPU’s growth and how the university is moving towards achieving its aim of becoming one of the top 200 universities of the world by 2025. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey from your first venture to Lovely Professional University.
As a group, we started in 1961, it was a small group. With a humble building, we just took a loan of Rs 5,000 for our first venture in 1961. Then we ventured into automobiles and then we came into education in 2001. It was a small college then. At that time, the name of the college was Lovely Institute of Management and from there we started our journey and thereon, we started adding more colleges. Over time, we realized that as a college, we couldn’t grow independently. We were affiliated to Punjab Technical University, and then we had no leverage to design our own curriculum. So we put in papers to begin as a university and the Punjab government trusted us and we, therefore, we became the first private university of the country. Now there are 260 + such universities. Within a few years’ time, we became the largest university of the country with 25,000 students. Currently, we are not looking at increasing the numbers, so we have about 30,000 students. Now we have students from all across the country and 50 countries of the world.
What brought the Lovely group to the education sector of India?
We still have both the entities that we started off as a group with. In 1999, we wanted to do something that would be a huge service to the society. A lot of ideas came in like starting a charitable hospital to a dharamshala. Then one of our close friends, an IAS officer, suggested us education as something that would produce manpower for the development of the country. So we started off in the education sector as a complete social enterprise. So far, we have almost given Rs 350 crore scholarships to almost 30,000 students. So, the university has very strong genes of being a social enterprise and we want to live with that and grow further.
Take us through the growth of LPU from its inception till today.
The most important thing for any organisation is to know where it wants to go. For us, we started off with a clear goal that we wanted to be among the top 200 universities of the world by 2025. I think we are moving in that direction very fast. We’ve got such quality education in North India, which frankly never existed. All students used to go to South India for higher education. I don’t think there’s any other university that exists in North India where we have large number of South Indian students coming and studying. We’ve been able to reverse the trend now. Now we have almost 6,000 students who are coming from South India. There are almost 4,000 students who come from Northeast India. Internationally, our education system was never known to be existent. Now with LPU, we have students from 50 countries including China and Thailand. We are trying to give a huge push to the Indian education system abroad.
The kind of research that we are doing is our forte. Recently, we have received a research grant with McGill Canada for a project about cleaning a huge drain next to our campus. It’s not just about education, but it could directly benefit the society. Then, the kind of human resource that we are creating is again a huge contribution. Top corporate are now coming to LPU and taking 600 students in one day. Our students are working with the likes of Google and Microsoft. If you look at it this way, we feel proud that we are able to bring a very strong quality name in North India which so far didn’t exist.
What is it that went into starting LPU?
Once we entered the education system, we’ve put our heart and soul into it. I think more than investment, what matters is the intention with which you want to run the organization. The intention was very clear that we want to contribute towards the growth of human resource and towards the education system. With that intention, we didn’t really look at the kind of investment we have put in, but the hard work we have put in is helping us achieve our goal.
We started with just 240 students and 32 staff members. Now we have 30,000 students and almost 3,000 staff members. We were a very small social enterprise when we started off, now we’re very big.
Tell us about the current presence of LPU and expansion plans if any.
We have seen a lot of players who just want to dilute by expanding into several other things. But we would like to strengthen it more. We want one strong name from India to be globally known. Right now, we are looking at strengthening the LPU campus in Punjab, so fare that’s the core.
What are the challenges that you’ve faced over the years and how’ve you overcome them?
The initial challenge was being the first private university. When we started, the concept of private university was new. So, the parents and students were doubtful. The initial hassle was changing that perception. But within three, we managed to break that. Then of course, the challenge that the whole education sector is gripping with is the lack of human resource. It’s because of the lack of PhD that’s created within the system of the country. But we’ve got a very innovative way to tackle it. We’ve gone to IITs to recruit those people.
Take us through the infrastructure of LPU.
We now have the world’s largest capacity of accommodation within the campus. While it’s not a residential university, we still have approximately 20,000 students staying on campus. The apartments have good facilities. Every department has its own block for each department to grow independently.
What’s your opinion on EdTech? Do you think it’s the way forward?
We believed in it before people in the education sector even started talking about it. From 2006 itself, even before that, LPU is a completely technological campus with complete Wifi. We are working towards becoming a paperless campus where you don’t have to put your signatures on anything. From attendance, to teaching, to assignments, examination etc., everything is happening online. So now we are looking it more ways of how we can bring in more technology on campus. We are talking about e-books. We’ve tied up with Google to offer courses within our programs, we have Oracle etc.
Tell us about your international tie-ups.
Globally, we are tied up with large universities. We are connected to 200 universities across the globe in 35-40 countries including Australia, Germany. We have students exchange programs with these universities. So, I think it’s very important to be a globally connected university if you want to grow.
What is your view on vocational education in India?
Vocational education is a different vertical. So far in India, it’s not really developed very well. I think it has not been able to find its core focus area. We have been trying to build a vocational education and higher education model, but nothing really has been so useful. If you look at global institutions, vocational education is completely hands on. The job profiles there are very interesting. In India, the jobs through which vocational education should be targeted is not being targeted. It is more sort of mixed in higher education. I don’t think in India, vocational education has taken the right shape or is even moving in the right direction.
Do you think it is important for education entrepreneurs to look at revenue too?
I don’t think education should be a complete social service. You won’t be able to take it forward that way, it has to be sustainable model. I think once you are able to contribute to the society, the motivation is much higher.
Where do you see India’s higher education five years from now?
It would be a much stronger sector than what it is right now. There will be much stronger players who would be existent five years from now. The private sector would take the lead role in the higher education sector. People just shut the private sector by talking about IITs and IIMs, but the government sector is not anything beyond those IITs and IIMs. Higher education in India is really driven by private sector. Like the US, private universities in India too are going to take the lead. The quality of service is going up.
Do you think it’s because of the competition that goes into getting through the IITs and IIMs?
Yes, you’ve got it right. They are what they are because of the legacy, they had no competition when they started off. There was a huge rush of competition there. Not even 1 per cent of students out of those who apply get through.
And where do you see LPU five years from now?
Among the top 200 in the world! Our aim is very clear. We want to move with that energy, we have to work on a lot of areas, we are working on them.