By Edwin Aguirre
UMass Lowell, which is globally renowned for its plastics engineering program, is teaming up with Plastindia Foundation, India’s largest plastics trade umbrella organization, to build a world-class university for polymer technology and processing in India. The goal of the planned Plastindia International University (PIU) is to educate and train up to 1,200 students annually in plastics, chemical and mechanical engineering, industrial research, project management and entrepreneurship.
Total consumption of plastics in India is about 11 kilograms per capita and is growing steadily, while total exports of its plastics products already stand at $8 billion. To address the current needs of India’s plastics industry and provide sustainable growth, PIU will play a leadership role in supplying a more technically skilled workforce.
Construction of Phase I of PIU’s new 50-acre campus is nearing completion in Vapi, Gujarat state, near Mumbai. Gujarat is one of India’s major centers for plastics and chemicals manufacturing. Plastindia expects the university to open later this year with executive and professional education, admitting its first undergraduate class in the fall of 2019.
The entire project is being privately financed. Mumbai-based Plastindia Foundation donated about $6 million as seed capital for the project, which is estimated to cost about $30 million; the rest was raised from contributions from local and overseas Indian plastics companies.
UMass Lowell will help PIU to develop engineering curricula that meet international standards and ABET accreditation, train the faculty and assist in planning infrastructure, especially the extensive laboratory and classroom spaces for the planned School of Engineering at PIU. Focusing on plastics engineering, academic offerings at PIU will provide tracks in product design, polymer processing and polymeric material and composites.
In the future, the university will add a business program focused on entrepreneurship in the proposed School of Management as well as related graduate programs, continuing-education courses and seminars.
“This university is being created by the Indian plastics industry, for the industry and of the industry,” says Achal Thakkar, a member of Plastindia’s governing board who has been closely involved since the beginning of the project. Thakkar is also a UMass Lowell alumnus, having earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in plastics engineering in 1989 and 1990, respectively.
“India’s plastics consumption is expected to grow three times by 2030. With UMass Lowell’s assistance, the technical workforce needed to fuel this growth will be met through PIU,” he says.
“The plastics industry is huge in both the United States and India – there are tremendous untapped opportunities,” says Prof. David Kazmer, who chairs UML’s Department of Plastics Engineering. “The plastics industry is highly global with respect to supply chains. As such, there is a lot of human and technology exchange around the globe. While the United States and Europe have been leaders, China and now India are emerging as very significant consumers and suppliers. As a result, UMass Lowell students and faculty stand to benefit from a close relationship and interaction with PIU.”
Largest Contributor of International Students
To date, UMass Lowell has more than 500 alumni based in India. Kazmer hopes the collaboration with PIU will ultimately draw more graduate students to UML. UMass Lowell has long had strong ties to India. In fact, India is the largest contributor to UML’s international student population.
“PIU’s initial goal is to start a bachelor’s degree program in plastics engineering very similar to that of UMass Lowell,” says plastics engineering Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan. “We hope to have a pipeline of graduate students coming to UMass Lowell after finishing their undergraduate studies at PIU.”
Nagarajan and Profs. Emeriti Robert Malloy, Nick Schott and Stephen Driscoll were responsible for facilitating the initial agreement with Plastindia Foundation in 2012.
“Vice Provost Scott Latham, Dean Joseph Hartman, Prof. Kazmer and Innovation and Workforce Development Director Sandhya Balasubramanian were instrumental in closing the memorandum of understanding and partnership agreement with PIU in 2016,” says Nagarajan.
“There will be opportunities for UML students, not just plastics but also mechanical and chemical engineers, to do a semester abroad. Having spent some time in India myself on a Deshpande delegation about entrepreneurship, I’ve found that immersion in a foreign culture is very informative and helps develop a larger understanding of the world, both with regard to larger societal needs as well as perspective as to one’s own personal mission,” says Kazmer. “There will also be opportunities for PIU students to attend UML as exchange students, and UML students’ direct interaction with a diverse population also provides valuable experience for future industry interactions in a multinational workplace.”
He adds, “There is a shortage of trained plastics engineers globally, so the job prospects for our graduates are excellent. We expect PIU will offer a robust co-op program very much like our own. The need for highly capable plastics engineers is critical to efficiently and responsibly address global plastics consumption.”
More information about PIU is available at www.plastindia.edu.in.