Dr Amelia M Avachat, Professor, Dept of Pharmaceutics, Sinhgad College of Pharmacy, gives an insight about ways to improve pharmacy education in the country
With around 1000 colleges churning out more than 60,000 pharmacy graduates every year and still permissions being granted for newer colleges, are we waiting for a catastrophe?
The fact that a large number of engineering colleges closing their shop over the last few years, indeed, should be an eye opener for us.
Are we chasing quantity at the behest of quality?
There is no dearth of pharmacy graduates but are we doing enough. It is a wake-up call to all of us: the pharma education regulatory authorities, the industry and the academia.
On the other hand, is the pharma industry aware what is in store for future after 10 years, after 25 years?
With the Buzz word of ‘Industry 4.0: the fourth industry revolution’ in which computers and automation will come together in an entirely new wa. It is the age where robotics are connected remotely and where artificial intelligence would take over manufacturing. Software/ computer industry has already started thinking about what is expected in future from them, but are we ready?
The generic industry is facing problems, pipelines are drying up, no new molecules have come even after so many years so what lies in future for the Indian pharma industry? Is it going to be biosimilars, or transition from small molecules to large molecules, or tailor made medicines? With talks about stem cell therapy, 3 D printing, chip-based drug delivery system all getting a US FDA nod, how do we stop the outflow of our best pharma graduates.
While we mull over this state of the affairs, the current scenario has to undergo a change so as to improve the talent pool from volumes to value. There are obviously no short-term solutions. We have to take a hard look at various aspects. First, do we really need that number of pharma graduates and post graduates, which are churned out every year? Has the industry spelt out the need for so many students?
Industry should give their requirement in different areas and accordingly generate such graduates and also modify the curriculum. This will happen only if some flexibility is given for modifying the syllabus at a local level. Secondly, a survey has to be taken for graduates and post graduates passing out every year versus jobs that they are doing and accordingly take steps.
Though we have been talking about community and hospital pharmacists, it has still not found its solid footing and so pharma industry is still driving the education sector. As far as the graduates or post graduate students count, the retail business has and will be the main domain area for diploma holders. New avenues like clinical data management, pharmacovigilance, medical coding and transcription or data analytics is reaping benefits, yet it cannot be the do it all solution for all graduates. So, we really have to take a stock of the demand versus supply ratio as far as students graduating out every year are concerned.
One change which can be done is at the PG level. The main problem in self financed institutions is the paucity of funds and so quality research takes a back seat. Why can’t we have thesis and a non-thesis programme where thesis students are absorbed in F&D or R&D (Formulation as well as medicinal chemistry or pharmacology) while the non-thesis students can be taken up in departments like QA, QC, regulatory affairs, IPR, production, project management etc. However for the non-thesis students, additional courses can be run to train them in that domain. The students who opt for thesis programme can be chosen on the basis of merit. In the process of churning out so many students, we have some where forgotten that pharmacy is a professional degree.
In this scenario, the teacher or the academician has been neglected. To stem the flow of students, projects can be taken up by teachers who can mentor students in niche areas. For up-gradation of their skills or to enhance their knowledge base more number of professors should be deputed for training at universities in developed nations for at least a year. This will give them an opportunity to upgrade their skills and understand the global scenario with respect to pharma research. At the same time, multidisciplinary research should be encouraged or collaborative research with universities abroad should be initiated which can also stop outflow of our students.
Besides this, one revolutionary concept which can be taken is to have a conglomerate of academia, industry and government. Under this common umbrella, a centralised research and knowledge park can be constructed with state-of-the-art infrastructure in many cities. It can have all the latest instruments and equipment where the financial contribution can be shared by all so that there is consolidation of resources. The industry/s and institutes could contribute 25 per cent each while the government would contribute 50 per cent. The entire centre would be run by a completely independent body. Besides the high Tech Facilities available for students, the knowledge park would also have a well stacked library and online journal data base and also run short industry aligned courses which students can avail of; all at a fee, so that the maintenance of instruments and facility can be done using this contribution. The industry can take this as a corporate social responsibility drive and can also avail tax benefits . The tax benefit can be as proportionate to their contribution in the knowledge park. This can be both for drug discovery as well as drug delivery. Though most promising talent moves overseas to pursue academic and professional growth, we can ask the expatriates to come back to India so that they can also contribute in their own way.
It is not that our students cannot do better, the only difference is lack of exposure and I think the students can do wonders if they are given the right exposure, contacts and opportunities as to upgrade from volume to value. Aligned with the Make in India Programme, start ups in the pharma sector are few and this has to be encouraged at all levels of graduation. The entrepreneurship development cell just remains on paper without any entrepreneur seeing the light of the day. Also, in keeping in line with the ‘Industry 4.0 : the fourth industry revolution,’ we have to bring about the amalgamation of engineering and software industry. Morever, the medical profession and the pharma professionals needs to join hands to bring out the next generation drug delivery platforms and drug delivery devices, as future medicines and drug delivery devices would be more complicated which cannot be managed alone by the pharmacy professional and hence a joint effort of all these multidisciplinary groups.
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