IIT-D Director: Self-learning is crucial
Muhabit ul haq
With IITs in dire need of good faculty, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Director, IIT-Delhi highlights the richness of academic life in the engineering field. He quips, “Academic people look younger than corporate ones. They work 18 hours a day, but don’t get stressed out!” He tells Shiphony Pavithran Suri that Delhi, which offers teaching at par with global standards has good connectivity and is home to many top companies.
Q. In IITs 43 percent of teaching slots are lying vacant, out of which 50 percent is in IIT-D. What is the reason for this dismal shortage?
A. The number is factual, but people should see things in the right perspective. Before 2008, about 500 faculties catered to 4000 students. Suddenly, Government of India increased OBC reservation to 27%, which was over and above what it used to be in IIT. As a result, the number of students increased by 54%. GOI did this in one stroke. Suddenly, the number of students shot up against faculties - the number of faculties has to become 750 now. Is it easy to create faculty at the same rate? I cannot compromise on quality because it will be a permanent damage. I need world class reputed faculty. So if we go on recruiting 50 people every year, still we will require 5-7 years to fill this gap. Every IIT has the same shortage. There is a need of 1200 to 1500 international quality faculty. You show me the cream. I am ready to hire them. So such a gap is not because of IITs’ lapses.
Q. How can you attract students to take up teaching as a profession?
A. The quality of life is different in education. Don’t look at CTC – the professor’s is just 30-35 lakhs per annum. And if you go by salary – then he will be getting only 15 lakhs. But what he really benefits is superb life - a three-bedroom house, beautiful and safe campus to live, no power shortage. Sometimes, professors work for at least 18 hours a day. But they don’t look as stressed out as corporate people. Being in academics is an art - everybody cannot do temperamental research and teaching.
Q. Two lakh engineers are unemployed in India. What’s the root cause?
A. No graduate who has got good grades remains unemployed. In many of the colleges the teaching quality is far below the standard. The problem again boils down to the lack of quality faculty and their commitment to teaching. Unless we start mentoring quality faculty and assure them a decent quality of life, the scenario will be stagnant.
No graduate who has got good grades remains unemployed. A lot depends on the quality of teaching standards of the
Q. Is traditional teaching methodology becoming obsolete?
A. Absolutely. Now, we live in a society which functions on the basis of three A-s: Anywhere, Anytime and Anyone. Subjects change rapidly, as technology changes every five years. So whatever is taught in four years becomes obsolete in the next two years. You will leave college, but technological changes will continue. Hence, self-learning component should be an integral part of teaching and learning process.
Q. Today engineering education is advertisement-driven. You agree?
A. Yes. We are running after jargons – “placement”, “salary package”, “technology”. We are moving away from reality – and what is real is “society” where we live. Society needs a lot of solutions, which could be technology-based.
Q. Interdisciplinary knowledge has fuelled a lot of buzz. What’s new at IIT-D?
A. Biology is becoming very engineering-intensive. High quality engineering is required in medical sciences. We have to develop something India-centric and it must be low-cost and low-weight structures. I also want to start policy studies in engineering. Being in Delhi is advantageous to start policy discipline which needs to be supported by systematic data.
Q. Is IIT-Delhi best choice for technical education?
A. IIT-Delhi’s way of teaching is at par with global education. We are always compared with top universities. Out of 3000 universities in US, only MIT and Berkely are much talked about. And IIT-Delhi is much above other US universities. Of all IITs, the IIT-Delhi gives tremendous exposure to students - the reason is it’s presence in the capital of the country. Being a rich city, it is the home of many top companies and recreational activities. So all bright students, faculty zero in on for Delhi. They get good perspective and connectivity here. Academically, we get the same faculty which you will find anywhere in the world. There is no quality compromise on research output of faculty.
Q. Gradually, teacher’s role is becoming obsolete in technical education. Why?
A. Now, we live in a society which functions on the basis of three As - Anywhere, Anytime and Anyone. Subjects are changing rapidly, as technology changes upside down in 5 years – be it IT, electronics or communication. So whatever is taught in 4 years, it becomes obsolete in next two years. So what we have to teach to students is how to do self learning. It is because new material will come and you will not find a teacher. You will leave college, but technological changes will continue. So you have to learn on your own life long. Hence, self learning component should be an integral part of teaching learning process. So a teacher must inspire, refine your thinking and take it to next level. We need good teacher mentors.
Q. What are the issues cropping up in engineering placements?
A. The main concern in placement is that a large number of graduates are opting for the non-technical jobs. This is a loss to the technical human resource which is so vital for the national development. However, as long as the technical jobs do not pay as high as the non-technical jobs, this problem will remain. It is highly desirable that the engineering jobs become more competitive in terms of salary as well as technological challenge.
Q. Critical issues in technical education.
A. Engineering education requires good mathematical skills. The quality of mathematics should be improved at the high school level. Students generally get frightened by the type of math they need to handle right at the first year of engineering. Secondly, the engineering curriculum is generally very vast and with time it is getting over stuffed. This does not leave students much time for other co- or extra-curricular activities. Thirdly, due to limited experimental facilities in the engineering institutions, the curriculum has become highly theoretical without exposing students to real life systems.
Q. How do you think engineering pass out students will overcome non-employability?
A. The non-employability is primarily due to the quality of the graduates. No graduate who has got good grades in his course remains unemployed. In many of the colleges the teaching quality is far below the standard. On paper the syllabus appears very impressive but it never gets implemented in practice. The problem again boils down to the lack of quality faculty and their commitment to teaching. Unless we start mentoring quality faculty and assure them a decent quality of life, the engineering education will never reach to the level we want it to reach.
Q. How can India’s technical education system become more robust?
A. The education standards must be strictly imposed. Accreditation of the engineering institutions should become mandatory. Institutions should be held accountable for the quality of education they provide. The admission and other processes should be made transparent.
Presently, our education model is very teaching centric. Instead, we must move towards learning centric model. Unfortunately, our main focus is on how many classes students have attended. What is really lacking is the attempt to understand how much student reflects on the material taught to him. We must develop reasoning capability among students. The immediate need is to create a mechanism where we can test the knowledge in the subject instead of reproduction in subject.
Q. IIT-Delhi is coming up with separate campuses. Is it going to be more teaching or research oriented?
A. The emphasis will be on both. One is at Sonipat - We are focusing on three activities: science and Technology Park; faculty development centre and hard performance computing which is a national priority. The Government of India has approved large funds for super computing. The second campus is at Jajjar – all our chemical and biological activities will be held here. Since AIMS campus is stationed at the same location, we can collaborate and develop programmes on pharma, instrumentation or more. We needed isolated place, to conduct clinical trials.
Q. How will you continue to make a difference in technical education?
A. We need complete recognition as an R&D institute. The perception of IITs being just UG teaching institute must change. In reality, IIT-D has 60% PG students and 40% UG students. Around 600 B.Techs graduated from IIT-D this year, 1000 M.Techs, and 200 PhDs. The intake for PhD research programme is likely to increase 2-3 times in the next few years.