Corporates & Academics : A Heart To Heart Chat With Aditya Goyal
A sort of controversy has erupted with Chitkara University announcing a 4 year Optometry program with Lenskart. Aditya Goyal, Principal of Sankara College of Optometry, has some very strong feelings about this and how it's not in the best interest of optometry.
VisionPlus : Firstly, for the sake of our readers, please advise what exactly is Chitkara University doing wrong?
Aditya Goyal : Thank you for providing me this opportunity to discuss the concerns that exist. Let me also state that these are my personal views and should not be attributed to be the views of any of the organisations who I represent.
Coming to your question, UGC has a policy of permitting higher educational institutions (universities) to have a collaborative relationship with industry like hospitals etc to train the students clinically. This is because the universities may not have the required clinical support and the hospitals have patients along with the requisite infra structure to train the students in clinical part of the curriculum. The universities may have the equipment in their labs, but no patient loads for training. This collaboration has certain requirements:
a. The collaborating institution should have the required infra structure, patient load etc
b. They should be able to train them in all the requisite specialties that exist in the curriculum
c. The collaborating partner should not be a corporate house with vested interests
The said collaboration does not qualify on the above-mentioned requirements. Moreover, this is likely to open the can of worms and such collaborations with corporate houses will become a common place in optometry education. From the perspective of optometry education, we have our serious concerns on this. If this is allowed, then corporates will dictate the curriculum of optometry according to their individual requirements. Can this be acceptable?
VP : Is Chitkara at fault or Lenskart or both?
AG : I would not like to play a blame game or be the judge here. We are not happy with the relationship in this matter. In a lighter vein, I would term this as an inappropriate marriage. I have explained what the marriage would lead to, in my previous answer.
VP : How would you like them to address the issue/problem?
AG : Again, I cannot sit as a jury. Both the parties have highly respected and intellectual individuals in their teams. The reasons for our angst are known to them (hopefully). We are only trying to work from the perspective of future of optometry profession. Optometry, as a profession is far greater than just refraction and selling of spectacles. If it were only these, why would we spend 4 years to obtain a basic degree in optometry? The respective teams and optometry bodies can sit across the table and discuss the issues and sort them out. I do not think it is such a difficult imbroglio that cannot be sorted out. As far as the profession is concerned, we are not in favour of any corporate MOU with academia.
VP : If an organisation (whether it is Lenskart or any other organisation) supports a school, what exactly is it guilty of?
AG : Any corporate organisation is MOST welcome to support a school/college/education. I will personally welcome them with open arms. However, what we are not comfortable with is the interference/ participation of the corporate organisation in the academic matters. As I told you earlier, we are not happy with the marriage. They are welcome to support academia by setting up dispensing labs, clinical services labs etc. Many universities would welcome such support and I absolutely encourage it. It can be very well done as a CSR activity of the corporate houses. They can also support by setting up finishing schools for graduating students. However, entering an MOU with a University to train optometrist academically is an interference with optometry education, which is not acceptable.
VP : Lenskart is no longer just an online entity and is in fact one of the leading brick and mortar stores. They could be considered as good or as bad as any optician in terms of providing clinical services. Is it fair for the industry to single them out?
AG : I would not like to answer this question from what the optical dispensing industry thinks of M/s Lenskart. I have complete respect for Indian optical industry including M/s Lenskart. However, our apprehensions are from academic education perspective. As all of us know that no corporate house in optical dispensing field can fully train an optometrist clinically. As I mentioned earlier, full scope optometry is no more “just” refraction and spectacle dispensing. Optometry has specialties like contact lenses (general and specialty), low vision, ocular diseases diagnostics, vision therapy, paediatrics, geriatrics, community services, occupational services etc. The scope of training a student in these specialties is far beyond the scope of optical dispensing industry. So, whether it is an online entity or brick and mortar physical stores, our concerns remain the same.