Careers360 interviews Prof. Devang Khakhar, Director, IIT Bombay who talks about University system and the need for reforms in higher and technical education in India. The IIT Bombay Director also talks on the cost of technical education and underestimation of B.Tech degrees in the sense of job-opportunities.
Read this interview to know what Prof. Khakhar says on expansion and consolidation of Indian Universities.
Careers360: Do most of the Indian B.Tech students underestimate the value of their degree in the sense that they readily opt for the first job-opportunity during placements?
Prof. Devang Khakhar: Yes, at one point of time particularly in the 70s and 80s, a good number of students wished to go for research career. The numbers are the same but the fraction has reduced for those willing to pursue higher studies. The reason is typical which is true everywhere in the world – most people stop studying at the undergraduate level. If a UG degree gives you a good job then you wish to start earning immediately. Many students come from families that are not well-off and they think they can go for a higher degree later during their life.
Careers360: How do you compare the cost of technical education vis-Ã -vis, say management education?
Prof. Devang Khakhar: It is the amount of subsidy that is given that makes the difference in the reduced cost of technical education. Management education is perhaps expensive because there are fewer students and larger number of faculty but for us at IIT Bombay, the running costs are about Rs. 4 lakhs per student, which is subsidized. And this is a normal thing across the globe - if you go to Germany, there are no tuition fees at all. It is not a feasible thing for the government to reduce the subsidies primarily because IITs have a much bigger role than simply educating the students. IITs are greatly involved in knowledge creation, contributing to the innovation eco-system, giving lot of support to industry and government agencies, offering consultancy and expertise on projects that benefit the society etc. To expect that the students will pay for the whole thing is unfair. IITs are doing a national service and the value that they provide to society is much more.
Careers360: India has over 820 universities, do we need to expand or do we need to consolidate?
Prof. Devang Khakhar: I think we need to do both. Universities in India have to change their nature. They should first become teaching institutions and then talk about research. Right now because of the system of affiliated colleges, universities only conduct examinations and this system must go. Affiliated colleges are actually a waste within universities - they should rather be on their own. Universities should be all encompassing and have their own departments. The IIT Act does not permit the setting up of a medical school but eventually we will have one. IIT Kharagpur is setting up a dedicated medical school (it offers a Master in Medical Science & Technology). At IIT Bombay, we have a biomedical department but right now the regulatory framework does not permit us to set up the same. The main problem lies in the way medical education is regulated – this structure needs to be removed so that people can set up good medical schools.
Careers360: What should be the ideal revenue-earning model for institutes like IITs?
Prof. Devang Khakhar: I think the tuition fees should be off the table because half of our students are postgraduate students who do not pay fees at all. Of the UG students, more than half of them are below the threshold of Rs. 4.5 lakhs annual family income. In other words, half of the UG students do not pay fees or one can say that only 25% of students pay fees in IITs. So to expect that they are going to pay for the whole institute is unrealistic. We have to depend on government subsidies. Even if you look at private universities in the US, only about 20% of the cost is taken care by the fees.
Prof. Devang Khakhar
At the PG level, we attract the best students across India while a place like MIT in USA attracts the best undergraduate students from around the world, so their postgraduates are somewhat better.
Ranking is like a game and has to be taken with a pinch of salt. By changing the weightages of different parameters one can make the numbers go up and down which do not necessarily reflect the quality of an institution. Accreditation on the other hand means there is a certain level of education that is guaranteed
Careers360: Why not generate revenue through intellectual property (IP)?
Prof. Devang Khakhar: That is not a feasible thing – no institution in the world is based on that model – even if you look at the private universities around the world like MIT and Stanford, very tiny fraction of their revenue comes from IP. Commercialization of IP helps in the sense that it does not generate income for the institution as much as it generates new companies and so forth. For instance Stanford University has no stake in Google, though it came out of the former, but it has created many jobs and created lot of prosperity. The founders of Google may have given donations to Stanford – that’s a different story but direct IP earnings are very small. People should exploit the IP and one should file for patents but what I am saying is that it is not possible for the universities to directly benefit in a big way. To exploit any IP it requires a huge and different kind of a structure which is not possible in a university set up. Universities may be the seed for IP for some companies and the only time when universities make lot of money from IP is when they discover a new drug. Though IIT Bombay gets royalty from some of the companies but it is only a tiny fraction. Even today, if you look at the direct grants from the Ministry of Human Resource Development it is only about 55% of our budget, the rest we raise from research grants, donations from well-wishers and a few other sources. This expenditure needs to be ramped up since it is very tiny compared to the big international universities.
Careers360: How can India’s higher education system be made robust?
Prof. Devang Khakhar: We need lot of reforms to come on track. The first thing is that all the regulators like AICTE, MCI and so on should be disempowered and we must move to accreditation system by a large number of different agencies - private or public. This top-down type of regulation especially by organizations that do not know what is going on has hurt the system a lot. We do not need a higher education regulatory body in India – there is no regulatory body in the United States or anywhere – most of these are all useless organizations. Secondly, universities should stop affiliating colleges and should be a single body focusing on teaching and research and must also be teaching undergraduate students. All colleges should be accredited and be autonomous to be able to give degree in their own name. It is imperative that universities should be coalesce – having all the departments and schools in different domains be it law, medicine, engineering, humanities and so on.
Careers360: Do you think, JEE is the best way of admitting students to IITs?
Prof. Devang Khakhar: I feel JEE Advanced is the best way of getting students and whether JEE-Main is there or not, may not make much difference. JEE Advanced is very important and it would be in the best interest of students that no changes are made in the selection process for the next ten years.
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