Director Interview: Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi (IIT Madras) - “Quality & quantity of our research must go up”
Bachan Thakur, 06 Sep 2017, #IIT Madras
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While reports of Engineering Institutes not producing employable engineers are doing rounds, Indian Institute of Technology Madras enjoys the status of doing a wonderful job, producing industry-ready engineers. However, the institute doesn’t feel content with what it has inherited from the past, rather it strives to constantly bettering itself in all aspects. Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, Indian Institute of Technology Madras wears his heart on his sleeve in sharing where does the institute stand and what are the future aspirations. In a candid conversation with Careers360, the IIT Director also speaks out his mind about the state of research in our country and the way forward to take the field of research to the next level. Interestingly, the institute is on its way to become a university, offering courses like Humanities and Social Sciences. The IIT Director answers many such questions like what does it take to make IIT Madras into what it’s today and what are the initiatives being taken to constantly improve the status of the institute. Let’s know what is IIT Madras upto.


Excerpts from the Interview:


Careers360: Since you had taken over, what transformation have you tried to bring in IIT Madras? Were you able to see the expected outcome?

Bhaskar Ramamurthi (BR): I took over in September, 2011. We created for ourselves the Strategic Plan 2020, and have been successfully implementing it in all respects. We are on track or exceeding our objectives in all pillars articulated in the SP2020 ( Rather than repeat the clearly stated goals of the SP, I request you to peruse the document (from the link), in particular the specific objectives in each pillar. We have been meeting or exceeding all our annual milestones.

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Careers360: Any new programmes, initiatives that IIT Madras is planning to roll out under your tutelage?

BR: IIT Madras has initiated several new programmes in teaching, research, industry collaboration, infrastructure, international relations, student extra-curricular activities, entrepreneurship, alumni relations, among others.

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  • The UG curriculum has been completely revamped to meet the SP objectives. Students now have more than 40% electives in all disciplines. This enables those who are interested to upgrade to dual degree (B.Tech + M. Tech) programmes in emerging areas such as Data Science, Biomedical Engineering, Energy Systems and the like, from any B. Tech discipline. It also enables the rest to savour a variety of courses and focus on an area that interests them, and which might shape their career in a specific direction.

  • Our research output has grown manifold, with 500 Ph.D scholars enrolling each year (up from 250 in 2011) and research funding growing at more than 15% per year.

  • Around 20 Centres of Excellence drive research in areas of great importance to the country such as renewable energy, electric vehicles, combustion engineering, data science, water, housing, etc.

  • Our funded research from government and industry is growing at a rate between 15% and 20% per annum across several years now. We have by far the highest industry funded research in India.

  • The country’s first university-based Research Park at IITM has now grown to 1.2M sq ft in size (from 4 lakh sqft) with a large number of companies co-located to collaborate with us.

  • Our incubation cell is amongst the most successful in the country with startups repeatedly winning the most prestigious awards and attracting substantial investments. We are incubating around 40 startups per year.

  • We have Joint PhD programmes with 15 top universities in Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, and the US, with several scholars enrolled already.

  • IIT Madras is blessed with the most active and generous alumni and well-wishers among all Indian institutes. We raised a record Rs 55 crores in donations last year.

  • All of this led to IITM being ranked no. 1 among engineering institutes and no. 2 overall in the country two years in a row by NIRF.

Careers360: IIT Madras is on its way to become a University with offering courses like Humanities, Social Sciences, etc. What’s your take on this? Would not it impact the unique identity of IIT Madras?

BR: We remain an institute whose primary focus is engineering/technology, and to an extent, the sciences. However, an institute of our size with more than 9000 students, needs a strong Humanities and Social Sciences faculty to teach these important subjects to our engineering students. We also need a strong Management faculty for the same reason. When we have these faculties, it makes sense to offer degree programmes in a few select areas such as Language Studies, Development Studies and Management, as well as do research in these areas. This gives strength to these departments, and students also benefit from the diversity on campus.


Careers360: What kind of challenges do you face as the director of IIT Madras? What are the aspirations?

BR: The main challenge can be put in a nutshell: how do we meet all our ambitious objectives with the limited resources available. Given India’s economic position at this time, we cannot ask for much more, and yet there is a national imperative to excel and achieve stretch targets with these limited resources. We all know what can be done if a team decides to align itself and work cohesively. There is nothing that cannot be achieved. Our aspiration is to scale seemingly impossible heights with the limited resources at hand, produce some outstanding graduates, some great research, a few incredible startups, and solve some of India’s persistent developmental problems.


Careers360: Are there any expansion plans in terms of building more infrastructure, campus, facilities like labs, innovation centres, etc?

BR: As mentioned above, we have expanded to 9000+ students, among whom more than 3000 are research scholars. There is a concomitant growth in faculty strength as well. Naturally, this calls for a lot of new infrastructure ranging from labs to classrooms to hostels to faculty housing. Our focus on entrepreneurship and impactful R&D also means we need infrastructure for innovation centres, and centres of excellence. We have built in the last 10 years a lot of what we need, and more additions are in the pipeline as well.


Careers360: How was the last placement season? What type of companies are majorly coming for campus recruitment these days/ Have you seen any shift in placements or the nature of companies which are registering for campus placements now?

BR: The last placement season was very good. Our exit data during the convocation shows that almost all those who were looking for a job were placed, and placed well with generous pay packages. The students who wished to pursue higher studies have been admitted to top universities globally. We do not see any major shift in placement from the mix of core engineering and finance/consulting/banking companies that we have seen over the years.


Careers360: The state of research in India is believed to be pitiful. How do you ensure that there is no such dearth at IIT Madras and what suggestion do you have in this regard so that we as a country improve in this area?

BR: The state of research in the IITs, including IIT Madras, is quite healthy and improving every year. Our research output is comparable in quality and quantity (particularly with the increasing PhD scholar intake) with that of similar engineering/technology institutions in the advanced countries in the top 100. There is tremendous scope for improvement, and this too is happening year after year. It does need more resources, and also a focus on quality. We have this focus and constantly strive to improve the research ambience at IIT Madras. Our international collaborations are meant for this very purpose. It is also important for a country like India with limited resources and challenging development goals, that a good part of the research in engineering/technology be geared to addressing these challenges. At IIT Madras we take pride in the huge amount of impactful research we do, whether it is in water, housing, energy, medical technology, or several other such areas.


Careers360: Facts show that around 80% of the engineering graduates in the country are not industry-ready and employable. What is your take on this and how do we address this challenge?

BR: This is a very complex subject and outside the scope of the IITs, except for our role in outreach. The IIT/IISc system is doing a wonderful job through NPTEL. We created the world’s largest repository of video/online courses over the last decade. Now we are rapidly expanding our offerings of MOOCs for the benefit of engineering students as well as those who are employed.


Careers360: None of our institutes/universities figure out in the global top 100. In your understanding, where do we fail? How can we ensure that some of our universities/institute are also at par with the global best?

BR: The IISc and established IITs are ranked quite high amongst engineering/technology institutions. Their ranking drops when compared to comprehensive universities. In order to improve our ranking, we need to increase the quantity and quality of our research, find ways to increase the fraction of foreign faculty and students in our institutes and be seen as global institutions serving the entire world.


Careers360: There are reports of a common engineering entrance on the lines of NEET? What is your opinion on this and what will be its impact?

BR: The IITs use JEE (Adv) for admission, and I am not aware of the thinking with regard to entrance exams for other colleges.


Careers360: The IIT Council and MHRD are targetting 1 lakh engineering seats across IITs at UG, PG and research level. How feasible is that and what do we aim to address through this expansion?

BR: We already have nearly 80,000 students in the system, counting both UG and PG. In the established IITs, the UG-PG ratio is 50:50. This means we are talking about 55,000-60,000 UG students (allowing for a higher ratio in the newer IITs), which translates to an annual intake of 13,000-14,000. We are on course to achieving this since our intake is going up every year as the new IITs ramp up.


Stay tuned to for more news and updates on Director’s Interview of more IITs.


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