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View: What India needs to do to get its own Yales and Harvards

The recent exit of Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University has put the spotlight on the role of universities and academic freedom and expression in modern India. As we usher in private investments and effect policies to allow foreign universities to open campuses and raise the standards of higher education in the country, it becomes critical to understand how these institutions of higher education should be governed to create 21st century equivalents of Oxford and Harvard.

It will take more than financial resources to create high-impact institutions as the failed attempts in Singapore for over three decades and the recent attempts in Abu Dhabi and Suadi Arabia have demonstrated. Singapore has provided spectacular largesse and financial incentives for elite higher education institutions in the West to develop their kind in their country. The partnership between Yale University and National University of Singapore (NUS) to establish an undergraduate liberal arts college in the country is an outcome of such largesse.

However, because of the illiberal context of Singapore, Yale-NUS never emerged as a true counterpart of Yale University. Yale-NUS has prevented students from creating campus branches of existing political parties and cancelled events on criticism, dissent and resistance. As a result, Yale faculty and student opinion about the partnership tends to be generally negative.

The Yale Daily News fumed in one of its pieces: “Instead of being in loco parentis, Yale-NUS operates in loco regiminis – in the place of the state. This is hardly the foundation for a renewal of the liberal arts.” The illiberal contexts in which these borrowed institutions operate keep away academic scholars and excellence.

Professor Merton Miller (with whom one of the writers studied as a PhD student) from the University of Chicago wouldn’t attend any conference in Malaysia during former PM Mahathir Mohamad’s regime. More recently, for these very reasons, attracting top academic scholars to the Abu Dhabi campus of NYU is proving challenging despite lucrative financial compensation.

A useful lens to assess this issue is the work of Harvard economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron. He observed that the “intellectual climate” of late developing economies like India is markedly different from that of early developers from whom they borrow a backlog of technological innovations. As a result, the role of institutions (such as universities) and the values they embody (such as academic freedom) are very different in the context of the late developer.

In his astute commentary on the Yale-NUS partnership, Michael Montesano observes that the People’s Action Party (PAP) government views universities as arms of the state focussed on national development, with government officials even serving in positions of university leadership. This is in contrast to the United States, where classrooms are a “marketplace of ideas” that train leaders through wide exposure to robust exchange of ideas and discovery of truth through a “multitude of tongues rather than through any kind of authoritative selection”.

In turn, Montesano notes that academic freedom, an unquestioned value and a central feature of Yale, has a purely instrumental function in NUS: “Freedom has no value in its own right, and disciplines and expertise may be demarcated in ways that restrict scholars to what is in effect a spacious and exceedingly well-appointed academic pen.”

This is the very difference in the nature of academic freedom that is evident in the recent events at Ashoka too. Mehta dared to colour outside the lines. He chose to forget that he belonged to a liberal arts college in an illiberal context where the criticism of policies, politics and character of governments is unwelcome. As Arvind Subramanian noted in his resignation letter, “that Ashoka – with its private status and backing by private capital – can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing.”

Yet, such a space is a foundation for not just the renewal of liberal arts but building great universities. Free expression, debate and discussion promote dissemination of ideas, critical thinking and create homes for iconoclasts and radical innovations.

How can the vision and values of the institution be preserved and protected in an illiberal context where the trustees are not immune to the pressures of political power? The obvious answer is that the private donors, many of whom run businesses, must not accept decisive executive roles in university governance.

After all, their fiduciary responsibility is primarily to their shareholders and it will be foolhardy, and understandably so, for them to champion for academic freedom when political pressures threaten their core business interests. Somewhat counterintuitively, this very decision to cede power in university affairs will allow the university to flourish and create a world-class brand that they wanted to create and associate with in the first place.

However, business leaders can continue to provide a useful advisory role that will become increasingly relevant in the 21st century. Creating an expanded executive board that includes not only the founding trustees but also successor trustees appointed from amongst the alumni of the university, alumni fellows elected by the alumni of the college, ex-officio members from university leadership and faculty members would provide a more robust university governance.

Deepening relationships with faculty, students and alumni and institutionalising opportunities to receive input from various stakeholders will be critical. Clarity on delineation of roles between the executive board and the university leadership is important.

Academic scholars value academic freedom more than anything else. It is also academic scholars who understand academic freedom better than anyone else. They must be given a central role in the governance of the university.

(The writers are Professors at the Indian School of Business (ISB). Views are personal. Views expressed are of the author’s and not of

Govt eyes 50 lakh doses of Covid vaccine in 1st order for front-line workers, army personnel and certain o

(This story originally appeared in on Aug 21, 2020)

NEW DELHI: The Centre is considering initial procurement of around 50 lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccine for front-line workers, army personnel and certain other categories of inpiduals.

The prioritisation of the vaccine once it passes regulatory requirements and becomes available has been under discussion in government along with planning supply chains and distribution. The need to make the vaccine available to front-line workers and the most vulnerable is being examined even as the government intends to scale up distribution so that it can cover a large a section of population as soon as possible.

Official sources said local vaccine manufacturers, asking government for estimates of an assured market as more than one shot is likely to be developed around the same time, perhaps with a gap of few weeks by end-2020 or early next year, have been assured that a large demand is estimated.

During its meeting with major vaccine developers on Monday, the expert group on Covid vaccine administration in the country, headed by NITI Aayog member VK Paul and health secretary Rajesh Bhushan, had asked the companies to submit proposals detailing capacities for manufacturing, price ranges and suggestions on how the government can support them.

“Vaccine development involves huge investments and we have to dedicate some of our capacities to ramp up production of Covid-19 vaccines. This is why the government must indicate an assured market,” said a senior executive from one of the local vaccine manufacturers.

The official said the expert committee is considering various options, including financial assistance for advance manufacturing of vaccines, if required. However, discussions are currently in the nascent stage and the committee is likely to hold a few more meetings before finalising a plan.

It has also asked for suggestions on selection of vaccine candidate from the Standing Technical Sub-Committee of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) – the apex advisory body on vaccines.

At present, there are three vaccine candidates undergoing human trials in India. Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) – conducting Phase 2 and 3 of clinical trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate – is ahead of the other two vaccine candidates developed by two local companies – Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila. Both Bharat and Cadila are doing early phase 1 and 2 clinical trials at present.

While the government is eyeing the Oxford vaccine candidate – which has shown promise in early phases conducted in UK – to be the likely first vaccine for Covid-19 to secure regulatory approvals in India, the other two locally developed candidates may also not be far off if they successfully prove safety and efficacy, regulatory sources said.

In Video: Government eyes 50 lakh doses of Covid vaccine

Serum Institute gets DCGI notice over Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial suspension by AstraZeneca

NEW DELHI: The central drug regulator has issued a show-cause notice to Serum Institute of India (SII) for not informing it about pharma giant


pausing the clinical trials of the Oxford vaccine candidate for COVID-19 in other countries and also for not submitting casualty analysis of the “reported serious adverse events”.

The show-cause notice was issued following reports that human trials of the most promising coronavirus vaccine candidate, being developed by the University of Oxford, have been put on hold after a UK participant had an adverse reaction to it.

The Drugs Controller General of India, Dr V G Somani, in his show-cause notice has asked SII as to why the permission granted for conducting phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of the vaccine candidate in the country be not suspended till patient safety is established.

“Whereas, Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd, Pune, till now has not informed the Central licensing authority regarding pausing the clinical trial carried out by AstraZeneca in other countries and also not submitted casualty analysis of the reported serious adverse event with the investigational vaccine for the continuation of phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of the subject vaccine in the country in light of the safety concerns,” said the show-cause notice accessed by PTI.

“In view of the above, I Dr V G Somani, Drugs Controller General of India and Central Licensing Authority hereby give you an opportunity to show cause as provided under rule 30 of the New Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules, 2019, why the permission granted to you August 2 shall not be suspended till patient safety is established,” the notice further said.

The DGCI sought an immediate reply saying else “it shall be construed that you have no explanation to offer and action deemed fit will be taken against you”.

In the show-cause notice, the drug regulator also mentioned that the clinical trials have been put on hold across countries where it is conducted i.e. USA, UK, Brazil and South Africa.

Last month, the DCGI had granted permission to the Pune-based SII to conduct Phase 2 and 3 human clinical trials of the coronavirus vaccine candidate.

AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish biopharmaceutical giant in tie-up with the Oxford University to produce the vaccine, described the pause of trials as a “routine” one following what was “an unexplained illness”.

Meanwhile, Serum Institute of India (SII), which has partnered with AstraZeneca for manufacturing the Oxford vaccine candidate for COVID-19, on Wednesday said it is continuing with the trials in India.

Commenting on the recent reports on AstraZeneca halting the trials in the UK, SII said in a statement: “We can’t comment much on the UK trials, but they have been paused for further review and they hope to restart soon.”

It further said: “As far as Indian trials are concerned, it is continuing and we have faced no issues at all”.

( Originally published on Sep 09, 2020 )

Serum seeks marketing nod for Covishield

New Delhi: Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) has approached India’s drug regulator once again seeking marketing authorisation for its potential Covid-19 vaccine. The firm has submitted updated data as required by the expert panel, people in the know told ET. “SII has submitted full dose efficacy data of the UK trials and safety data from its own phase-3 trials which are ongoing in India,” said one of these people.

The SII application appears to be lacking the immunogenicity data from the phase-3 trials which experts say as per timelines would not have been ready by now. However, this was one of conditions to consider them for giving them an emergency approval.

Pfizer, too, has approached the drug regulator seeking time for making a presentation with respect to its market authorisation application. In the earlier subject expert committee (SEC) meeting on December 9 , the US company did not make a presentation to the panel and sought more time to do so.

The drug regulator is yet to fix a date for the SEC meeting, said the people mentioned earlier.

The SEC, tasked with vetting the coronavirus vaccines, had not cleared the Covid 19 vaccine market approval applications of SII and Bharat Biotech at its earlier meeting and had sought updated data from the companies.

The ten member panel said Serum Institute should submit the outcome of the assessment of the AstraZenca Oxford University trials done by the UK drug regulator.

It noted that Serum Institute had been granted approval to conduct phase-2 and 3 trials in the country on the condition that the data generated from these trials shall be considered along with the data generated from the Oxford trials. AstraZeneca-Oxford University proposal for emergency use authorisation is currently under evaluation with the UK regulator.

The committee further said Serum Institute has submitted safety data till November 14 and asked for updated safety data as well as immunogenicity data from clinical trials in India and UK.

People in the know said that Serum has submitted the required data. The moves paves the way for the company to get an approval for its potential Covid-19 vaccine, even as the subject expert committee in India is also awaiting a nod from the UK’s regulator, MHRA, to sign off on the marketing authorisation for SII to deliver the vaccines in India.

Niti Aayog member, Vinod Paul had earlier said that the Indian drug regulators were in touch with the MHRA on the approval process.

As reported by ET earlier, Covishield, the potential vaccine against Covid-19 by SII has already passed the quality test at government’s Central Drug Laboratory (CDL) Kasauli, which means that these batches can be rolled out immediately once it gets the approval from India’s drug regulator.

Supply of COVID-19 vaccines may meet, even outstrip demand in India by Q3: AstraZeneca chief

New Delhi: The supply of vaccines for COVID-19 may meet up or even outstrip the demand in India by the third quarter of this year, given the number of vaccines being developed in the country and its capacity,


Pharma India Country President and MD Gagan Singh said on Friday.

The pandemic has shown how resilient healthcare is, and how important pillar biopharmaceutical industry is as part of the healthcare ecosystem. Therefore, support for academic research, a vibrant healthcare system that embraces innovation is going to be very critical, he added.

“I am very hopeful given our enterprise, given the number of vaccines India is developing and the capacity available, hopefully in my own personal read, by quarter 3, we may actually have a situation where supply will meet up the demand or even outstrip,” Singh said.

We must compliment our government also in its efforts towards getting the country in putting the plan for vaccination together and now in the rollout, he added.

For any vaccine to be meaningful in the current pandemic, it has to be made available broadly, equitably and timely. That is why AstraZeneca globally went around having supply agreements in place towards 3 billion doses covering 160 countries and more importantly at no profit during the pandemic, Singh said.

AstraZeneca’s partnership in India with Serum Institute is a sub-licensing agreement of its molecule and they (Serum Institute) bring in close to 1 billion doses which are extremely important not only for India but also for low and middle income countries, he added.

Talking about the safety and efficacy of the company’s vaccine, Singh said that in the month of December, Lancet enabled us to share a full disclosure of the Oxford programme interim analysis.

The results clearly showed that the vaccine is effective against COVID-19, and in particular with no severe infection and no hospitalisations in the vaccine group, he said, adding that this data was for over 11,000 plus volunteers across multiple countries.

He was speaking in a session on healthcare at a virtual event organised by TiE Delhi-NCR.

At the session, Apollo Hospitals Joint MD Sangita Reddy said that the vaccine is an incredible validation of the capability of India’s manufacturing sector, it is a huge referendum on the global cooperation of sciences and manufacturers to bring something to humanity.

Govt panel recommends marketing authorisation to Serum Institute’s Covishield vaccine

The government panel today recommended marketing authorisation to Serum Institute of India’s Covishield brightening hopes of a much-awaited vaccine being available in India within a few days.

“The Subject Expert Committee has recommended in favour of marketing authoritsation to SII’s vaccine but with certain conditions, a person aware of the matter told ET.

“Decision is yet to be taken on Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and


‘s vaccine,” the person further said.

Serum’s vaccine is one of India’s best hopes for an early vaccine. Unlike Pfizer and Modern’s jab that have shown encouraging results, the


shot can be stored in a fridge at 3-8 degree temperature and won’t require a super cold storage chain In addition, phase 3 trials of the vaccine have been conducted by Serum Institute in the country.

The Indian government has set an aspirational target to vaccinate 30 crore Indian by July. However, there is no clarity on how the government will buy from Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII).

The SEC in its earlier meeting on December 9 and December 30 had not cleared the Covid 19 vaccine market approval applications of SII and had sought updated data from the companies.

The ten member panel had said Serum Institute should submit the outcome of the assessment of the AstraZenca Oxford University trials done by the UK drug regulator.

In its earlier meeting, the SEC had also noted that Serum Institute had been granted approval to conduct phase 2 and 3 trials in the country on the condition that the data generated from these trials shall be considered along with the data generated from the Oxford trials.

The committee further has also asked Serum to update safety data as well as immunogenicity data from clinical trials in India and UK.

People in the know told ET that Serum had submitted fresh data.

As reported by ET earlier, Covishield, the potential vaccine against Covid-19 by SII has already passed the quality test at government’s Central Drug Laboratory (CDL) Kasauli, which means that these batches can be rolled out immediately once it gets the approval from India’s drug regulator.

Around 2.5 crore doses have been tested for quality at CDL Kasauli.

In an earlier interview with ET, its CEO Adar Poonawalla said that it is hopeful of receiving marketing authorization from India’s drug controller by January 2021.

In Video: Covishield gets conditional approval from Expert panel, waiting for DCGI’s final approval

AstraZeneca says US trial data shows vaccine 79% effective


says advanced trial data from a U.S. study on its COVID vaccine shows it is 79% effective.

The U.S. study comprised 30,000 volunteers, 20,000 of whom were given the vaccine while the rest got dummy shots. The results were announed Monday.

The early findings from the U.S. study are just one set of information AstraZeneca must submit to the Food and Drug Administration. An FDA advisory committee will publicly debate the evidence behind the shots before the agency decides whether to allow emergency use of the vaccine.

While the AstraZeneca vaccine has been authorized in more than 50 countries worldwide, scientists have been awaiting results of the U.S. study in hopes it will clear up some of the confusion about just how well the shots really work.

( Originally published on Mar 22, 2021 )

In Video: Covid-19: AstraZeneca’s vaccine found to be 79% effective in US study; Fauci says ‘good news’

Delayed doses of AstraZeneca jab boost immunity: Oxford University study

Delayed second and third doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine boost immunity against Covid-19, a study by Oxford University, which developed the jab with the British-Swedish firm, said on Monday.

An interval of up to 45 weeks between the first and second dose of the


vaccine led to an enhanced immune response, rather than compromising immunity, the study said.

Giving a third dose of the jab more than six months after the second dose also leads to a “substantial increase” in antibodies and induces a “strong boost” to subjects’ immune response, said the pre-print study, meaning that it has yet to be peer-reviewed.

“This should come as reassuring news to countries with lower supplies of the vaccine, who may be concerned about delays in providing second doses to their populations,” said lead investigator of the Oxford trial, Andrew Pollard.

“There is an excellent response to a second dose, even after a 10-month delay from the first.”

The researchers said the results for a delayed AstraZeneca third dose were positive, particularly as nations with advanced vaccination programmes consider whether third booster shots will be required to prolong immunity.

“It is not known if booster jabs will be needed due to waning immunity or to augment immunity against variants of concern,” said the study’s lead senior author, Teresa Lambe.

She explained the research showed the AstraZeneca jab “is well tolerated and significantly boosts the antibody response.”

Lambe added results were encouraging “if we find that a third dose is needed”.

The development of the jab, which is being administered in 160 countries, has been hailed as a milestone in efforts against the pandemic because of its relatively low cost and ease of transportation.

However, confidence in the jab, as with the vaccine developed by the US firm Johnson & Johnson, has been hampered by concerns over links to very rare but serious blood clots in a handful of cases.

A number of nations have suspended the use of the vaccine as a result or restricted its use by younger groups who are less at risk from Covid.

The Oxford study indicated that side effects from the vaccine in general were “well tolerated” with “lower incidents of side effects after second and third doses than after first doses”.

UK scientists worried vaccines may not work on South African coronavirus variant

LONDON: Scientists are not fully confident that COVID-19 vaccines will work on a new variant of the coronavirus found in South Africa, ITV’s political editor said on Monday, citing an unidentified scientific adviser to the British government.

Both Britain and South Africa have discovered new, more infectious variants in the coronavirus in recent weeks that have driven a surge in cases. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday he was now very worried about the strand found in South Africa.

Scientists including BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin and John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, have said they are testing the vaccines on the new variants and say they could make any required tweaks in around six weeks.

“According to one of the government’s scientific advisers, the reason for Matt Hancock’s ‘incredible worry’ about the South African COVID-19 variant is that they are not as confident the vaccines will be as effective against it as they are for the UK‘s variant,” ITV political editor Robert Peston said.

Public Health England said there was currently no evidence to suggest that vaccines will not be effective against the new strain. The health ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.

The world’s richest countries have started vaccinating their populations to safeguard against a virus that has killed 1.8 million people and crushed the global economy.

There are currently 60 vaccine candidates in trials, including those that are already being rolled out from


and Oxford,


and BioNTech , Moderna, Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm.

That has helped to lift global financial markets, but the discovery of the new variants has raised fresh alarm.

Scientists say the new South African variant has multiple mutations in the important “spike” protein that the virus uses to infect human cells.

It has also been associated with a higher viral load, meaning a higher concentration of virus particles in patients’ bodies, possibly contributing to higher levels of transmission.

Oxford’s Bell, who advises the government’s vaccine task force, said on Sunday he thought vaccines would work on the British variant but said there was a “big question mark” as to whether they would work on the South African variant.

He told Times Radio that the shots could be adapted and “it might take a month or six weeks to get a new vaccine”.

BioNTech’s Sahin told Spiegel in an interview published on Friday that their vaccine, which uses messenger RNA to instruct the human immune system to fight the coronavirus, should be able to cope with the variant first detected in Britain.

“We are testing whether our vaccine can also neutralise this variant and will soon know more,” he said.

Asked about coping with a strong mutation, he said it would be possible to tweak the vaccine as required within six weeks – though it might require additional regulatory approvals.