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The entry of foreign universities has suddenly come under a cloud. How can the foreign universities bridge the gap for human resources in the fashion industry?
If it is for the benefit of the students and benefit of the industry, there is no harm in foreign and private universities coming in. But if they are coming here just to make money and not provide quality education, we need to question it. NIFT first set up a foreign collaboration with Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), but we have not vested on the curriculum which was FIT's curriculum-we have moved forward. We have made a curriculum which is India-specific. We are the only design institute in the country which goes back to the roots, works with the craft sector.
UGC does not recognise foreign universities because a lot of standards are questionable. I am not saying Nottingham, Kingston or FIT are questionable. But the UGC has based its parameters on something that it knows best. So, I won't be able to comment on it. If we have a foreign university that has the requisite permissions and sets up a campus here-I think we have enough universities that have set up campuses here. They will do well. But if private institutes are going to ride on the so-called collaborations with foreign universities and say that we are offering better quality education, then UGC is not going to recognise them just like that. For a entry-level job in the industry, no one asks which university did you go to.
What they want to know now is what is your quality of work. The problem crops up when people want to go in for a master's or a PhD, because UGC doesn't recognise those courses.
What can be a solution to that?
They will obviously need requisite and proper approvals, since in India only the UGC can approve higher education courses.
With new minister Smriti Irani promoting the new handlooms campaign, as somebody from NIFT, What is it that you are looking forward to from her?
Complete support for the industry, including fashion education. I think we have always had 100 per cent support of the textiles ministry. We are one of the protégées of the textiles ministry. We would want the continuous support of the industry.
The National Design Policy (NDP) of 2007 is still gathering dust, and much of world has changed. Do you think there is a need to re-write the policy?
Of course! Fashion's only constant is change. So, 2007 seems too far away. But the NDP has not taken fashion design into account, it is more about product design and design per se; inclusion of textiles and fashion is very important because India is known for its handlooms and textiles all over the world. We need to promote it much more strongly.
When we talk of handlooms, we talk of promoting the crafts. One sector that is coming up strong in India are the machine-crafted products. So, polyester can give the look, feel or texture of a handloom. Such a product is also cheaper than, say, one made from cotton. How do you manage the tussle between the hand-made and the machine-made?
We have to preserve our heritage, and we have to work towards it. One thing we have to do is product diversification. Let me give you an example-that of the Chamba roomaal (handkerchief), which is exquisite and looks identical from both back and front. Who on earth can afford to have a piece as exquisite as this-one that were used as offerings at temples? I have seen beautiful screen guards as room dividers. That is definitely product diversification. A paithani is going to cost you a few lakhs. You could maybe make a fewer number of paithani, but you can also make dupattas and scarves. Such things are happening, and lots of designers are working with such subjects. Raw Mango is one classic example. Sanjay Garg started with chanderis, but now he is doing an entire apparel line. There are many like him. There are people who started with apparel but moved on to textiles. Rajesh Pratap Singh has developed an entire range of khadi indigo denim. In other words, there are fashion designers going into textiles, and textile designers coming into apparel. So, that amalgamation is already happening. And I am talking of only two designers here. Then there are Suket Dhir and Rahul Mishra. These people are working with something, and reviving (certain arts). An initiative that the government is seriously considering is creating a partnership between design and craft. It's a formal arrangement that we might be doing very shortly. A designer will work with a cluster of craftsmen and come up with a collection, and both will take credit for it. Aneeth Arora (Pero), Anita Dongre and Rajesh Pratap Singh showed these in their collections. These are amalgamations where the craftspeople also feel a sense of ownership.
On the one hand there is a need for more fashion institutes, on the other there have been far too many NIFTs. Has this diluted matters? How can one maintain a balance?
We wouldn't call it too many...
The kind of prestige that one hears about NIFT Delhi is not the same as that of, say, NIFT Dhenkanal... NIFT Delhi started 30 years back, But NIFT Kangra started only in 2009, and NIFT Srinagar is just being launched. Give them time to grow, it would not be fair to compare such pairs. It might be better to compare NIFT Delhi with NIFT Mumbai. Someone might ask why isn't NIFT there among the top 10 fashion institutes in the world. But they began ages back! Give us time to catch up. After all, an institute is judged by its alumni. Perceptions change only over time.
I had been a faculty member at NIFT Delhi and am now heading it. So, I shouldn't be the person to comment about why it is apparently so well-known. I can only say that we work very hard. Institutes are not made from buildings and mortar, but faculties.
Is there a dearth of good faculty members across the country?
There is a dearth of faculty across the education sector. IITs have 40 per cent less faculty than what they should have. At the very senior faculty level, NIFT has a shortage of about 20 per cent. You can't just create professors; they develop over time. In the mid-level, we are more or less in place. We do regular recruitments, but on a need basis. We have a systematic way of inducting faculty. We induct faculty who have a certain amount of experience in industry/education, besides qualifications. After that we have orientation programmes where they get to know the institute. Besides that, we have training programmes for trainers. We have very senior people training the trainers. We bring international faculty too for that purpose. Then we invite faculties from all over to participate in those courses. If needed, there is hand-holding too.
Over all, when we started, NIFT was the pioneer of fashion education in India. At that time, there was no proper curriculum or hand-holding. When NIFT was launched, the government took the support of Nottingham Trent University as well as FIT New York, with FIT as mentor campus and faculty members from Nottingham were requested to contribute. They started with a very open mind about what fashion education in India should be. All the faculty members at NIFT for the first ten years used to be sent abroad for training, which would range from six months to one year. Later, that was brought down to two months. The support came both from the government of India as well as a project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). NIFT itself was one of the biggest success stories of UNDP. It all started with that one course (on fashion design) in 1986. Today, we have seven Bachelor's programmes and three Master's programmes. We have had five PhDs in the last two years from NIFT Delhi, and two from outside. Our PhD is extremely rigorous, and there are three examiners, one of them necessarily being an international examiner.
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