The article is basically a summary of the non-performing assets in the education loan sector of India.
As per the article, the highest portion of NPA is in the sub-4 lakh loan. These are the loans that can be given without any collateral. There can be two reasons why the default rate is the highest in this sector
Because there is no collateral it can mean that the punishment for not repaying is not there and students don’t take it seriously enough.
There are not enough jobs.
I think the last one is more likely. I have both ancedotal evidence and some statistics.
The ancedotal evidence comes from my friends who are trying to set up factories in India. Whenever they start the construction, they get a lot of requests from local people for jobs (one of the condition for being allowed to set up a factory is that they employ the local people). But it’s not always possible. They then demand that they get all their raw materials from the local “syndicate” which is just another name for a shop supplying raw materials for construction. These are typically run by local youths who are not employed.
And the statistics comes from the rumors of a report that unemployment is at a 45 year high. Of course, the government never let the report come out to the public (but will they publish the report now?).
The students who take the small loans are typically for courses like B.Ed, nursing or the many courses in technical training institutes. There is a lot of automation happening at the factory level.. Some people can argue that AI is going to take over these jobs, but honestly that wave still hasn’t come and the data is from the last 4 years.
The default rate in the higher loan amount sector is much lower. These are the ones for things like MBA and engineering courses in one of the better institutes. MBA and engineering graduates can still find jobs although the quality of the jobs and the life satisfaction from it is dropping fast.
Not everyone gets into Google or Amazon or Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley OR Oracle or Samsung.. There is a sea of smaller IT companies which are trying to compete with the big fishes. The big fishes are going to become bigger because they have the capital resources to invest into things like AI, which helps them grow much more rapidly than the smaller companies. It’s a deadly positive feedback.
In short, the data presented by this article paints a bleak picture of the condition of the youth of our country. And it’s the beginning of a long list of problems that the new government will have to address. Else, our country will be submerged into chaos.
And classes resumed, without much of fanfare. Nothing new there, except for the thesis. I have never been so lost in my thesis. Also I had to finish my report about my internship at Nokia Bell Labs. It kind of sucks because we are graded on our internship which means we have to write a report and make a presentation of the work that we did.
A typical internship is 6-7 weeks. 8 hours per day. So anything between 240-280 hours spent. Writing the report is another 10-15 hours. Lets take 10 hours. So roughly 290 hours. Another 5 hours for the presentation. So in all, we have to spend 300 hours on the internship and all associated activities. One credit roughly equals 25-30 hours of work. So 300 hours should be anything between 10 and 12 credits. But we are only given 6 credits. [Source: https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/education/files/ects-users-guide_en.pdf ]
For me this is really annoying.
But lets talk about the internship. The people in Bell Labs are nice people. But the work I did there was more like research as opposed to actual analog design. Honestly, that is fine by me. I worked for three years in a major analog design firm and I have had enough of the “experience” in a huge multi-national company. But what I did not like too much about the internship was that the specifications were not well defined as the beginning. Which makes it really difficult to work on something. And I was sick as well, but I had to push through. It is something I did not let the people there see.
But I think the star of this blog was Brecht Francois. A brilliant guy, with a PhD in power amplifiers from KU Leuven (his guide was Patrick Reynaert who is the top authority on power amplifiers, especially in the mmWave domain). He understood the limitations, had good discussions and it was really nice working with him.
So will I ever go back to Bell Labs? Well yes, if I can get to work with Brecht.
Unfortunately, I cannot talk about my work there (for confidentiality reasons). A big shout out to Jie Yang who was also interning at Bell Labs and was from KUL. The only friend I had there really.
Note: I started this article way before 15th of September and took several days to write it.
Although I officially complete an year in Leuven on 15th September, I thought I might pen down a few lines on how my year has been now. I have been told that there are two ways to write a review: compare your experience with the expectation that you had set out with; or write your review completely disregarding the idea that you had before you embarked on the experience. I, however, believe that a bit of both is necessary. This stems from the fact that I am too young and too less traveled to form an accurate idea of living in a foreign country or study in a top ranked university.
Now to give some background about myself, and why I left a very high paying job at Cadence Design Systems or a job offer at Samsung Semiconductors to pursue a Masters. Back in 2013, when I got my job at Cadence Design Systems, I did not study much for GATE and rather started working on various university events. But, thanks partially due to luck and partially due to my excellent concepts in the subjects, I secured an all India rank of 46 in GATE 2014. Those of you who are familiar with it, would know that even a rank of 46 is not enough to guarantee a seat in the MTech programs (Microelectronics) either in IIT Bombay of IISc Bangalore. I had no interest to pursue a MS program in India. Plus, the team in which I got into at Cadence had some of the best analog design engineers in India.
Anyway, during my job, my colleague and a good friend of mine, Gunjan Mondal asked me to get a MS. I also talked to other colleague including Vishnu who told me, “If not anything, you will enjoy the two years. These jobs will always be there for you.” Sunil Rajan, another brilliant mentor of mine recommended the same, “See in a Masters you can work on one thing exclusively for one year; you don’t have to do half the crap that you do in the industry. You will learn a lot.” And finally my boss, SKG told me, “You are young. You should always chose a path where you learn the most.”
At the time I was confused between KUL (offered me a full tuition fee waiver), TU Delft (offered a partial tuition fee waiver and a part of the excellence scholarship) and UTwente (full excellence scholarship). They all told me, if money is not the constraint, go to KUL. And here I was.
I did look at the subjects that I will have to study at KUL. It had a lot of circuits (which was fine by me) but also antennas and EM propagation. I never took a formal course on electromagnetics in my Bachelors and it was kind of scary. (But I still read some senior UG level textbook while I was working so I knew it won’t be mighty difficult).
I remember the first class. It was by Patrick Reynaert. Design of Electronic Circuits. The course covered operational amplifier design. There was a project (to design and layout an OTA; I was kind of lucky that I was allocated specifications that was not possible to meet. When you have to prove that something does not work, you will have to put in twice the effort to convince someone and you learn twice as much). Prof. Patrick is an exceptional professor who really taught the students a systematic way to design most of the common single stage OTAs.
And then we had Design of Digital Platforms. The project was really time consuming and kind of difficult. I was lucky to have a partner like Luis Diego. He worked several years in the industry, and was good with Verilog and we managed to finish the project and get a decently high score. We had a completely useless partner in <<name deleted>> who never worked, lied and tried to manipulate. I believe that none of my batchmates who teamed up with him in different projects had a good experience. (Lesson:Always select good project partners!)
The most difficult course was Digital Signal Processing. The course material was hard, and the project was not hard but time consuming. But then when you saw the finished project, you cannot help but remark that it is indeed a good learning. We had to transmit an image (of the professor; but I also did the same with my girlfriend’s picture) using audio. The modulation used was OFDM.
There were other courses like Analog Building Blocks for Signals and Systems. It was a great course for two reasons:
One, you learned of the top level specifications of analog blocks, what it means and some of the skeleton architectures of the most common analog blocks.
The exercise sessions were really good.
There was also a course on transmission lines and design of microwave amplifiers. In the final exam, we had to design the matching network for a potentially unstable amplifier. Its taught by Prof. Bart Nauewelers who is really nice professor.
Exams in KUL are held in January (first semester), June (second semester) and August (re-takes of courses that you may have failed in the first or the second semester). The exam periods are typically hectic. Other than the usual exam time late night stories, the only memorable part of it was my bed broke. There is this supporting frame on which the mattresses sit, and one of the ribs snapped. I knew I could fix it through some duct tape and wooden beams. So I went to my landlord.
“Yes Vivek, how can I help you?”
“Umm, my bed broke. I was wondering if you had some duct tape and a wooden beam to spare.”
“Atleast tell me the girl was blonde.”
Despite what a lot of people thought, it did not break due to any girl. But anyway it was fixed and the rest of exam period went without any misfortune.
The second semester was rather dull as I had to take courses which were not that interesting . This was partly because I had to take Dutch classes, which was held twice a week from 7pm-9pm. It meant that two evenings in a week were completely wiped off. I liked computer architecture.(The TAs were really great). I liked Design of Analog Integrated Circuits. I sort of liked antennas. I hated EM propagation. Technology fr Microelectronics is a course that gets special mention.
I also became homesick during my second semester.
Although I thought the most interesting part would be the project where I had to design a DCF77 receiver, it turned out to be rather boring. I was responsible for the digital part and it was okayish experience. Towards the end, I looked forward to the sessions because there was one TA I really liked in particular and we got friendly.
A better experience was with the project on Design of Analog Integrated ICs. We had to design a variable gain switched capacitor amplifier. The TAs were nice and because they were all international PhD students with whom we could connect more, share our frustration of the lives in Belgium. See the thing about KUL is that the classes are really small (in number) and you need to kind of bond with the TAs to have a good experience. Having empathetic TAs help. International people don’t have a home they can go back to on weekends. They need these little anchors to help them survive KUL’s MSEE program. It is nowhere close to being easy. I became good friends with one of them (Dileep).
Anyway after my second semester exams, I had an internship at Bell Labs. Unfortunately, I cannot talk of the work I did there but it was really nice working with Brecht Francois. Brilliant guy. Overall, Bell Labs was a nice place to work.
I returned to Belgium last week, and I joined IMEC for my thesis. As of now I am enjoying it and I hope to do good work on thesis. Lets see how my second year goes.
One of the most interesting phases of student life at KU Leuven is the blok period. It is the two weeks before the final exam (we only have one exam in a semester anyway) where you try and go through the subjects that you did not go read the entire semester because you just hated them!
But anyway, blok period for an electrical engineering student is really crucial. Most of our time during the semester is spent on projects. (Electrical engineering projects are extremely demanding, but you go away with so much of knowledge!). And this really the only time we are left to study properly for the exams.
I ran into Sujoy, a post-doc scholar in the COSIC group of ESAT yesterday at the Carrefour market. He was the TA to a very interesting course last semester, ‘Design of digital platforms’. We were just normally talking when he advised me to diversify my courses (read: take more fundamental maths and physics courses) rather than take more and more circuit design courses. Any new research field or any new novel idea is really an implementation of the basics.
And today I was reading Antenna. A dreaded course. Dreaded because my basics in electromagnetics are not that strong because I never had a good teacher in my bachelors university. Then a thought came to me: I understand (for most part) the material that is covered in the slides. But, today if you ask me to design a point to point antenna, will I be able to do it? Honestly, no. Given a current distribution, I can use Green’s function to calculate the magnetic vector potential, and then use it to derive the magnetic and electric fields. And then derive the impedance. But that’s all in theory. I don’t think I am confident enough to be able to build an antenna. But then, I have been taught the basics of the mathematical tools to do antenna design.
And it hit me. If today, I am extremely good in electromagnetics, I can pick up antennas much more easily than the other way round. If I look at analogue circuit design, if understand the basics of electrical circuits and feedback really well, I can go ahead and design a circuit. I don’t need to know a hell lot about MOS or a BJT to begin with a synthesis problem. If I am good in mathematics, I can be good in algorithms. Case in point: I studied a lot of mathematics while I (used to) solve problems from project Euler. I came up with algorithms and the formal proofs of them from the first principles.
In Belgium, they focus a lot on the basics in the first years of their engineering degree. Those exams are hard. Only after the basics, they introduce them to ‘engineering topics’. This was never the case in India. The basic courses were too easy, and the teachers who taught those basic courses were from the Faculty of Science, and they could not give a shit about the engineering students even if they wanted. That really stunts the ability of future engineers to be able to solve synthesis problems. If you are smart, then analysis problems can always be solved. But to solve a synthesis problem, the basic mathematical and physics tools need to be sharp. This is clearly lacking in the Indian education system.
Ok enough rants! Let me get back to my books! *Fuck!*
Ever since Narendra Modi came into power, he has been trying to push for promoting manufacturing in India. India’s GDP for too long has been dominated by the service sector. Here is a snapshot of a table .
A big contribution of our GDP comes from the service sector, and it has been growing over the last few decades. I think over-reliance of the GDP on service sector is not a good sign as the decision making powers lies completely with the organizations that ask for the services in the first place.
Narendra Modi in his bid to reverse this started the Make in India program which focused upon building manufacturing capabilities inside India, but it never really took off. He has now gone back to a more popular method to infuse enthusiasm in the manufacturing sector: defence.
The reason why engineering and science progressed so fast in the beginning of the 20th century were the two world wars. Communication and radar technology development accelerated during those days. The top institutes in US at that time played a major role in radar and communication systems for the aid of military. And it always easy to get funds from the Congress by saying , “We need more funds because we are researching this area which can help us in better equipments for the army.” Cold war helped too.
India is the world’s largest arms importer. Which is also not a great thing if a country aims to become a super-power. India needs to modernize its military inventory.
Combining the two things, the current government is tying up defense purchase contracts with building of a local ecosystem. By forcing the major arms manufacturer to build their assembly lines here in India, and to use 30% of the materials sourced locally, they have no option but to build a local supply chain to bag the >100 billion dollar contracts. Which means we will see a lot of the suppliers who have traditionally supplied to the big sharks moving (parts of) their manufacturing shops here.
When an ecosystem starts building up, we will definitely see a lot of local businesses trying to compete to get a piece of the pie from the likes of Boeing and Lockheed. Indians are fiercely competitive, and have given several deep pocketed companies like Amazon and Uber sleepless nights. I see no reason why it would not be the case here provided they get the necessary funds! [Which has become a bit of a thorny issue with all hundreds of crores of write-offs the banks are having to do thanks to non-performing assets].
I believe its a good start for the Indian economy as a whole.
On a more related news, the government has imposed 20% import duty on printed circuit boards assembled outside the country. This means that on an average phones are going to get expensive. Indians love free and cheap stuff. This is a nice trick (without becoming a trade war) to force the companies to assemble the PCBs here in India. I am kind of happy about this move!
Why should you do an ATHENS week? Besides the fact that it will be the easiest 3 credits you ever do, it will also be an amazing experience.
So, like all KU Leuven Engineering Science students itching to get away from the school mid-semester wishing to have some fun, I too applied for the ATHENS program. I decided to select Biomedical Signal Processing course at UPM, Madrid because:
# After having completed the digital signal processing course under Prof. Marc Moonen, it meant logical sense to do this course as well.
# And its Madrid. Its relatively cheap. [I stay in Belgium! Ha!]. And I have always wanted to visit Spain. They said Spain is an extremely colorful city, and boy, I was not disappointed.
We were booked into a hostel called La Posada de Huertas. It was near the Anton Martin station which was very close to Sol and Gran Via, and an ideal place to stay in if you want to visit around the city. It was cheap (Euro 18.5 per night, with breakfast included). The only issue was that there were 12 people in my room, which I thought would be a major issue, but the only thing you will go to your hostel room for is to sleep. (If you are in Madrid in ATHENS week, I doubt whether you will get too much of it anyway). Because its a hostel, they had a kitchen as well where you can cook your own food. I know a lot of people did that, but there are plenty of cheap places around where you can have good food without burning a hole
in your pocket. But I will come to that later!
The flight tickets cost ~ 200 Euros. [I was unlucky. Some people got their tickets for less that 140 Euros].
Here is us at the Brussels airport heading to our ATHENS week destinations. Debarchan [ the scary one in the picture] claims his ATHENS week was better, but he went to Warsaw. I refuse to believe that Warsaw is better than Madrid.
It was not a long flight, and I don’t remember much of it anyway as I slept through the flight! But when I climbed off the aero-bridge and stepped into the Madrid airport, I was genuinely surpirsed at the size of it. Unlike the Mumbai airport which is grander and really large, Madrid airport’s architecture gave it a better sense of space and area.
(I wasn’t entirely sure whether we are allowed to click pictures in the airport, so I did not take any!)
We were given a UPM survival guide which mentioned exactly which metro to take, and how to reach the venue. If you are heading to Madrid, take the 10 rides pass which costs around 12 Euros. (plus 3 Euros for the airport surcharge and another 2 Euros for the metro card). Madrid has an awesome network of underground subway which makes easy going from one place to the another.
When I got off the metro, it was snowing! You expect to have warm weather in Madrid, but surprise surprise, you get snow in Madrid. But it was not that bad as in Leuven (I heard Leuven froze during the ATHENS week).
The first day only had a visit to the Reina Sofia museum planned. We made the mistake of not taking an audio guide to go around the museum. For someone who is not that much into art, you can and will probably get lost. Because it contained more of modern art (which I find a bit more difficult to understand), I was rather lost. The only remarkable thing that stuck with me from the visit of the Museum was a sculpture “Laughing Girl” by Medardo Rosso. The eyes were sculpted in such a way that as light fell on it, she seemed to be looking sideways. It was marvelous.
P.S. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the museums in Madrid.
We visited Kubo King, a place recommended by Clara Nieto, a batchmate from KU Leuven who hails from Madrid. If you want 4 beers along with a basket of different types of fries at around 6 Euros, you must go there.
One of the first things I observed while I was at Kubo King was that people in Spain converse about regular topics with a lot of emotion. (Reminded me of India!). Also Kubo King apparently is always filled with young people which makes it even nicer!
The other museum we went to was the Prado Museum. It is considered one of the best museums in the world, having painting dating back from the 12th to the 20th century. It is extremely large, and you need more than a day to see and appreciate all the paintings. But if you are in a rush, then you must atleast see the most famous paintings. To get a list of it, you can take the pamphlet thy have near the ticket counter which has a list of all the famous paintings! You should also get the complete El Prado museum guide which is really good. (I kick myself everyday for forgetting to get it! Maybe I will ask one of my friends from Spain to get it for me!)
Near the museum you have the El Retiro park which is huge and a lovely place to spend a lazy afternoon!
They have a huge lake which is a perfect place where you can even go for a boat ride.
We spent quite sometime walking around the park. There were stand up artists performing inside the park which made the entire afternoon a really pleasurable one. (Oh how I wish to go there again as I am stuck studying stupid courses)
That is us in the park! Dina and Karishma are from KU Leuven, Mehmet and Mine are from Istanbul Technical University! Being an international student at KU Leuven, you get to meet a lot of people from different nationalities, and when you come for a ATHENS week, you get to meet even more people! ATHENS program also gives you friends for life!
Here are some more pictures from inside the park!
There is also the statue of the Fallen Angel inside the park which is a major tourist attraction. I cannot find the picture of it! Later that afternoon, we started a city rally organised by BEST members.
Here are some pictures from the city rally!
Following the city rally, the BEST members took us to a pub for tapas! In Madrid there are pubs where when you order a beer, you get a plate of tapas! The larger the beer you ask for, the bigger the plate of tapas. (For those of you don’t know what tapas are, it is a piece of bread with meat or potato and cheese or something on top of it! Just Google it! If you hadn’t had tapas while you are at Spain, you have committed a cardinal sin!)
Although we had classes from Monday to Friday, we still managed to go around a bit on the days! On Wednesday, a night walk was planned! We were taken to the Royal Palace (you mus visit it both at night and day, it is an amazing piece of work), the temple of Debod, Plaza Mayor amongst the notable ones! Following that we headed to disco Bolshoi where we partied till 2am before heading back to the hostel.
The faculty at UPM were really nice, and they gave us a 3 course lunch everyday for free. I think that is really a nice gesture to students, and speaks volumes about kindness of Spanish people.
One of the more memorable places was Circulo de Bellas Artes. From the top of the building you can get a 360 degree view of Madrid. The day we went there, it was drizzling slightly but it was still beautiful!
View from the top of Circulo de Bellas Artes
One of the best places to eat in Madrid is the 100 Montaditos. Like Kubo King, it is always filled with young people where you can have a beer and some amazing food.
On the 24th, I had some time time to kill and so I went around exploring the city on my own! But soon after I realized I was too tired to be able to walk around anymore. I decided I needed to rest! With a heavy heart, I took my luggage and went to the airport!
Karishma and Toon had the same flight as me. So the latter part of the last day at Madrid was spent reminiscing the time we had in Madrid. I realized I need to be back here once again! Madrid is a beautiful city, and you must go there!!
P.S. If you reached the end of this post, and still want to know how the course was. Here it goes.
I took up this course because the content was really interesting to me. I have not heard great reviews about most ATHENS courses, but the course was surprisingly good! The course was structured perfectly, and most of the things could be done in the time allotted. The professor was really good. My cousin brother is epileptic, although it has been years since he had his last episode. We learned of ways to detect seizures before it can happen. My aunt is always worried, and I could connect with the importance of the subject. We also learned about detection of atrial fibrillation which is hard to detect and can be fatal. Some of the patient data are not available publicly (i.e. Physionet) but most of the professor gave us access to the data! That, I think, is really unique about this course.
And the professor David Luengo is a really good educator as well! If you are an electrical engineer, and you want to visit Madrid, the ATHENS Biomedical Signal Processing course is the best opportunity for you to go!
There seems to be a sudden increase in the number of caste related violence being reported from India. And the increased reportage of violence against lower caste people seemed to have increased ever since the NDA government came into power in mid-2014. Is there a relationship between them? Is it because Narendra Modi refuses to condemn such violence on his “Mann ki baat”? I don’t know. And neither is that the point of the article today. Today it is about the question “Caste? Is it still relevant in India?”
The answer, I am afraid, is yes. Let me tell you the story narrated to me by a colleague of mine. He was on a trip to some part of the country (He keeps doing that a lot). He decided to put up in one of the back-packers hostel which have started coming up in India. One of his fellow room-mate asked him, “Toh aap kya ho?” He replied, “I am an engineer.. I design electronic chips for phones”. The person replied, “No I meant aap ka jaat kya hain?” In 2010s, if someone literate asks you that question, then it means that caste system still exists. [I think a better term would be ambivalent casteism].
I have had friends in my bachelors university tell me, “My parents does not have problem with the guy I am dating because we are both Brahmins.” My mom has a friend who has a temple in her house. She proudly claims, “Only a daughter of a Brahmin is allowed into the temple. Even a woman who is not Brahmin, but married to a Brahmin is not allowed.” I am so happy that my mom got so pissed off that she refused to talk to her anymore.
The people who we hire to clean our house are still from the lower castes. And I know for a fact that their parents also used to work in people’s homes. Its maddening to see that even after 70 years of independence, we have not been able to bring about a revolution in the social condition of the lower caste Indians. The affirmative action in form of reservation in higher education systems for the lower castes has stopped being effective as it is being taken advantage of people who are now economically well off to do. I used to believe that there must be social equality before economic equality, but I slowly shifting my views on it. In a country which has a widening economic inequality, economic equality is necessary before social equality. The government at this point of time must amend the SC/ST reservation acts to exclude the creamy layer from availing benefits.
One of the greatest equalizers in the world is education. The most developed countries in the world has free education. [One of the things I really like about Belgium]. We cannot afford to do that in India without going into severe debt. But we can ensure that we can let people who have been marginalized for generations get their due. [Yes, it should be at the cost of people like us whose forefathers had oppressed them. The sins of the father always has to be paid by the son].
But now going back to the original question whether caste system really exists in India. I have one more example. The pride of the middle class Bengalis in saying, “We used to belong to the zamindar family.” Or “Our forefathers were king of that region.”
I believe even saying that is a dis-respect to the minorities in India. The role the rich Indians had in exploiting the minorities is well known. If you are an upper caste Hindu reading this, know that your forefathers discriminated and oppressed the lower classes of people. Please stop taking pride in being from a zamindar family.
And then the stupid thread ceremony that Brahmins still practice. Why, why, why? Why do you want to still preserve cultural practices that hark back to the old days of casteist oppression? Why do you still identify yourself with something that is stupid? I think it has more to do with the inherent pride that one has because he is a Brahmin. Just like I find it funny when sons and daughters of rich people say they despise socialism, I find it equally ironical when Brahmins with that holy piece of thread underneath their shirts say that they believe that caste system does not exist anymore.
There have been enough instances of caste based violence against Dalits in different parts of the country, and its time we stop saying that it is an outlier. We need to ask ourselves the difficult questions. “Why hasn’t the overall social condition of lower caste people improved?” “Why do we still practice traditions that are archaic, and underneath casteist?” Why are there even the outlier incidences of caste based violence, and are we really missing something?”