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New IITs: A report card

December 27, 2005 08:21 IST
The author is a chemical engineering graduate from IT-BHU and an MS from Rutgers University, New Jersey. He has interacted with the HRD ministry, the IIT board, and the IIT Selection Committee at length.

The seven colleges in the race for the potential upgradation to the status of an Indian Institute of Technology are constantly in news. The colleges, visited by the three-member panel from ministry of human resources development (MHRD) are:

  • Aligarh Muslim University-Zakir Hussain College of Engineering and Technology, Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh;
  • Andhra University -College of Engineering, Visakhapatanam, Andhra Pradesh;
  • Banaras Hindu University-Institute of Technology (IT-BHU), Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh;
  • Bengal Engineering College, Howrah, West Bengal;
  • Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), Kochi, Kerala;
  • Jadavpur University's Engineering and Technology Departments, Calcutta, West Bengal; and
  • Osmania University-College of Engineering and College of Technology, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

Earlier, each college had submitted a 10-year vision document (Vision 2015) to the HRD ministry. The documents broadly outlined what steps each institute will take to help it in upgrading to potential IIT status.

It was more like a wish list, stating what each college will do if it gets a large amount of central funding in a few years. After scrutinising them, the MHRD forwarded a detailed questionnaire (pro forma) to all the colleges and asked them to reply by October end.

The questionnaire asked details of engineering faculty:

  • Academic programmes (undergraduate, postgraduate and doctorate programmes) for the last five years, indicating sanctioned capacity/actual enrollment/graduation rate;
  • Faculty situation, including year-wise and department-wise faculty strength, regular and contract/visiting faculty, student/faculty ratio, bio-data of each faculty, etc.
  • Details for Support Staff; Vacancies of staff for the year 2004-05.
  • On Infrastructure, details were asked for academic buildings, lecture hall sizes, library, sports complex, computer center, laboratories, communication facilities, hostels, staff housing, shopping/school facilities, etc.
  • Also included were all-important questions of Finances (plan/non-plan grant, expenditure); Proposed Additional Finances (on upgradation);
  • Governance, and
  • International eminence.

Visit of the MHRD panel

The panel visited the colleges, beginning with IT-BHU, Varanasi, on November 16 and ending with CUSAT on December 12, 2005. The members of the panel are:

  • Dr M Anandakrishnan: Currently, Chairman of Madras Institute of Development Studies; former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, and ex-Professor of Civil Engineering at IIT Kanpur.
  • Dr D V Singh: Former Vice Chancellor of Roorkee University.
  • Dr Amitabha Ghosh: Currently, Professor Emeritus at IIT-Kanpur, ex-Director of IIT Kharagpur and ex-Professor of Bengal Engineering College.

The team wanted to ascertain the facts stated by each college. During the daylong meeting with each college, the team interacted with director/vice chancellor of the institute, senior faculty and even with students.

There was excitement in the air since this was the best chance for the college to put forward its case. The team was given a red carpet welcome and was shown around the facilities. During the meeting, heads of departments and senior faculty members helped the college authority to arrange the PowerPoint presentation to the team and to help answer some departmental and academic questions.

The panel particularly wanted to know the interest shown by the college and the steps being taken to improve the quality.

It also inquired about administrative structure of the college, any problem from university or state government for separating the institute, willingness to accept national level entrance exams, timeframe for improvement, funding requirements, etc.

Hierarchy of the institutes

On the recommendation of the panel and considering other factors, the central government will shortly issue its report cards for the colleges. There will be no pass or fail grades, as each college is assured of an INI (Institute of National Importance) status. The only grades will be IITs, Deemed-IITs and INIs. Once awarded, the grades will be final.

INI: After Independence, India felt the need for advanced institutes in science, technology and other areas. Hence the central government decided to set up new institutes or designate the existing such institutes as Institutes of National Importance.

INIs were leaders in their chosen fields and had national and international standing. They were established as autonomous institutes, enacted by the Act of Parliament and funded by the central government, to which they were accountable.

They helped the country in the initial stages to become technologically self-reliant and to train future manpower needs. By definition, all IITs and NITs are INIs. There are over 40 INIs in the field of science and technology (including IISc, IITs, INIs, NITIE, ISI, ISM-Dhanbad, and several other scientific and research institutes).

Deemed-IITs: The government is thinking of establishing a new category called Deemed-IITs (almost like IITs). It may be given some exotic name, such as Advanced Institute of Technology or the National Academy of Science and Technology. It is not known how many colleges will be accorded such a designation or whether it can be converted into a full-fledged IIT at a later date.

Thus, the new hierarchy of the institutes will be: IITs, Deemed-IITs, NITs (National Institutes of Technology) and plain INIs -- in that order.

Deemed-IITs shall have choice of IIT-JEE (encouraged) or AIEEE as entrance exams. It will have a curriculum similar to IITs, but will offer its own degree. It can exchange faculty with the IITs, but it will have its own executive council, separate from IIT board.

Table: Comparison of different categories of Institutes

Type

IIT (New)

Deemed-IIT (New)

NIT

INI (New)

Initial funding

(Rs crore)

300

300

100

300

Annual funding

(Rs crore)

100

100 (?)

30

40

Entrance exam

IIT-JEE

IIT-JEE or AIEEE

100% AIEEE

50% AIEEE

 (at least)

Curriculum level

IIT

IIT

NIT

Own

Degree from

IIT

Own

NIT

Own

Executive council, part of

IIT Board

Own

NIT Council

Own

Fully under central govt. control?

Yes

No

Yes

No

Admissions through national level exams only?

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Note:

  • 1. The current annual funding of Rs 30 crore (Rs 300 million) for each NIT will be increased in near future. NIT Council is pushing for higher status, increased funding and more recognition from the government.
  • 2. IITs will also receive additional annual funding of Rs. 20-40 crore (Rs 200-400 million) for research.
  • 3. Annual funding of Deemed-IITs is yet to be finalised, but is likely to be similar to that of IITs.

New IITs to be declared soon?

Informed sources say a decision to announce the new IITs is just around the corner.

The MHRD panel will submit its evaluation report to the ministry by January 2006. After going through the report, consulting with IIT Board (an apex council of all IITs), the state governments, and discussing with political allies, the government will declare its final decision around February/March, 2006.

The colleges declared for upgradation to IIT shall be asked to take students through IIT-JEE; those with Deemed-IITs status can admit students through IIT-JEE or AIEEE as per their choice; while new INIs will be asked to take at least half of the students through AIEEE.

All the colleges will have to take students from the respective competitive exams form next year-2006. This will be of great help to students appearing in national level exams.

For example, for IIT-JEE candidates, the number of available seats will increase from 5,000 at present to about 7,000 to 8,000 next year, partly due to more colleges joining the exam and also due to additional seats made available at the existing IITs.

The colleges will receive their initial funding over next 2-3 years. Their quality will be judged periodically and they will have to come up to their intended (IIT, Deemed-IIT or INI) standards, after which they will be conferred official status.

A few months ago, it was decided to grant 4-5 colleges the status of IITs, and the remaining as INIs. Now there will be a mix of IITs, Deemed-IITs and INIs, although the exact composition is not known yet.

Funding requirement

As the government has promised, each college (irrespective of its ultimate status) will receive one-time (initial) funding of Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion) to improve its decades-old infrastructure. For that purpose, a provision of Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) is being made in the current Five-Year Plan (10th Plan, 2002-2007) and in the next Plan.

Half of the amount will be disbursed in the next financial year. However, the increased annual funding will be granted only after the college is given official status in next 2-3 years. The annual funding will be different for different categories as explained in the Table.

For Deemed-IITs, the exact amount for yearly funding has yet to be decided.

The increased funding will help the colleges to a great extent in improving their infrastructure, hiring new faculty, starting new programmes, etc. At present, there is a large gap between the budget of an IIT and a non-IIT.

Take for example, the funding of two premier institutes in West Bengal. IIT-Kharagpur (with the current undergraduate intake capacity of 780 per year) has an annual budget of Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion), which it fully deserves as a premier institute.

On the other hand, the Bengal Engineering College at Howrah, which (with an intake capacity for 560 students per year) is celebrating 150th anniversary next year, has an annual budget of less than Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million)!

Problems ahead

Despite the best intentions of the central government, the conversion of colleges to IIT/INI status will not be very smooth. There are problems ahead, some from the stand taken by state governments, some by the universities, of which the colleges are part of, and some from the colleges themselves.

The speed and category of final status will be defined by three criteria:

  • Quality,
  • Compatibility, and
  • Politics.

The quality will depend upon how fast the college can turn around and improve its value.

Compatibility means the college culture, academic discipline, ease of separation from the parent university, willingness to accept students from national level exam, and willingness of state government to lose control over the college.

Politics, which is always an integral part of setting up an institute of higher learning in our country, is explained next.

It is strange that states that were bending over backwards a while ago to grab an IIT for their backyard, are now imposing conditions, which are difficult to comply with for the central government.

For example, the West Bengal government, which has its representatives in the executive council of the colleges, wants to continue its hold. This is naturally not acceptable to the central government as IITs are autonomous institutes under the control of the HRD ministry, and the ministry directly selects all the board members.

Moreover, the director is the ultimate in-charge of an IIT. In contrast, a state college is controlled by a committee whose members are elected through a voting process. Different IITs cannot have different sets of rules, hence came the idea of Deemed-IIT status. In that case, IIT status cannot be granted to otherwise qualified colleges, since similar demand will also rise from the states of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

This is also testimony to the fact that state governments failed to develop engineering colleges (except one or two) as premier colleges. In order for the colleges to avail this once in a lifetime opportunity and to plan their better future, they should be granted full autonomy.

We hope that better sense will prevail and that the deserving colleges will be spared the traumatic experience.

There is also the problem of separating an engineering college from the rest of its parent university. In most cases, both share the same facilities, and there is no physically congruous area that can be demarked by constructing a wall around.

Some colleges hope to overcome this by moving to new spacious premises. Apart from that, the question of separating from the common administration (registrar, security, maintenance, etc.), common facility (library, computer center, banks, post office, etc.), common recreational complex (sports center, swimming pool, auditorium, etc.) and common housing (hostels, staff quarters, etc.) is to be addressed.

Also, various university Acts (Such as the AMU Act and the BHU Act) have to be amended by Parliament before officially separating the college and granting a new status.

Colleges have taken the recommendation from the HRD ministry to improve their faculty very seriously. They have started recruiting faculty on a mass scale and have begun to post employment notices through the  year (similar to IITs) on their Web sites, started sending staff to IIT/IISc under the quality improvement programme, asking non-PhD staff to enroll in doctoral studies, regularized contract/temporary faculty into permanent positions, etc. IT-BHU has advertised for recruitment of over 100 teaching positions.

Role of politics

Politics will have major influence on the outcome of such grand nature. The moment the panel submits its report to the government, horse-trading by different political lobbies will begin behind the screens.

Recently, everyone (including the MHRD, the panel members, the college authorities and the state governments) is coming out with his or her version in the media. The aim behind issuing confusing public statements seems to be to send a message to other parties and to mask their own decision-making process.

Lately, some vested interest groups have aired the view that none of the colleges meets the criteria for an IIT status. But is not precisely for this reason (to upgrade their quality, infrastructure and image) that these colleges are seeking IIT status?

The central government is willing to set up an IIT in the state of West Bengal, but it may be difficult for the state to select a college from the equally prestigious Jadavpur University and Bengal Engineering College. A section of the government of Andhra Pradesh recently expressed concern over the state's students losing their quota once Osmania University and Andhra University start taking students through the national level exams.

Not to be left behind, each of the seven colleges has mustered the support of at least a dozen Members of Parliament, who are sympathetic to their cause. Even the alumni and faculty have joined the race, to help their alma mater.

For example, IT-BHU alumni association led by Arvind Gupta submitted a signed mass petition to HRD ministry three years ago for conversion of the college into an IIT, when there was not even the talk about the subject. Similarly, the BEC alumni association, led by Swapan Saha, has started a media campaign to advocate its cause.

The BEC faculty has together submitted a petition to the state government, the central government and other concerned authorities on the issue. The Jadavpur alumni association, led by Arun Palit, is in touch with university authorities to address the problem of improving infrastructure and campus atmosphere.

In conclusion

Hopefully the suspense over the subject will be over in a few months. Whatever may be the outcome, our country will benefit, as we badly need few more world-class institutes to continue our economic growth.

It is hoped that the quality of the colleges will be given due weightage during selection and the outcome will be of satisfaction to all the parties concerned.

Yogesh K Upadhyaya