NIT-AP Direc: “Unplanned rise of engg insts”
Dr. CP Bhunia
THE NIT Arunachal Pradesh, Director feels that there is a wide imbalance in technical education in terms of disciplines. Most of the private institutes presently are running low investment courses such as computer science, IT, electronics and electrical - as a result the core sector courses are just being neglected leading to low demand for courses such as mechanical and civil engineering.
Q: You speak about encouraging research efforts in applied science but there is no course in basic sciences such as Physics, Chemistry or Maths. Does it mean that there is more thrust on securing commercially exploitable intellectual property rights?
A: This requires the government to change its policy and also support us. Though some older NITs are running courses in basic sciences and humanities; it will take some time for us to start such programmes, as has been stated in our academic plan. But we have already introduced PhD programmes in Computer Science and Basic Sciences.
On your second point, I would say that it will be too early to say that there is a thrust on IPR. It is not the number of patents but the quality of patents that matter. Alternatively one can sell their innovation to industry, particularly the private industry, and get more money than simply going for an IPR. One cannot deny that increasingly people are getting more materialistic. My personal belief is that patents are not given as much weightage as it is given to high quality publications like in IEEE journals. So as a faculty member my mindset will be to produce more quality papers than patents. What I think that over the time, the situation will change and people will be attuned to patents once they understand the long-term benefits of capitalising knowledge.
Q: In Arunachal, there are 300 odd engineering seats in just two colleges (just about 0.02% of all engineering seats in the country). Do you think there is a need for more institutes in the state?
A: The growth of engineering institutes in India is unplanned. Inviting private institutes is excellent but it should be done in an equitable, sustainable and balanced manner. There is a wide imbalance in technical education in terms of disciplines. Most of the private institutes presently are running low investment courses such as computer science, IT, electronics and electrical and as a result the core sector courses are just being neglected and there is low demand for courses such as mechanical and civil engineering. We are taking corrective measures by introducing core courses (Mechanical and Civil) from 2013-14 owing to the vast demand in the country, particularly in North East for hydel power projects, highway development and several other infrastructure projects. We are also starting an MTech programme in Mobile Communications and Computing. So the total intake strength at NIT AP will be 170. Interestingly we are also introducing MTech in Appropriate Technology and Entrepreneurship where the objective will be to produce practical entrepreneurs for the society who contribute in job creation.
Q: How do you think the students who pass are able to overcome the issue of non-employability?
A: As of today, my reading says there are 40% engineers unemployed. I have calculated this figure that includes engineers who are also working in the unorganised sector at a very minimal pay scale of say Rs 3000 and Rs 5000 per month and I do not accept those as jobs for engineers in the true sense.
Q: Could you brief us on unique academic practices being followed at your institute?
A: We have introduced a number of unique courses to produce engineer with a value system and be a good human being. One is the Histography of Science & Technology which focuses on practical thought behind scientific achievements by scientists such as JC Bose. Another course is to focus on producing technical engineers (than academic ones) by exposing them to Design Contest. Others in the list are Environmental Protection, Disaster Management, Engineering Ethics & IPR, Foreign Language, Stochastic Processes and so on.
Another unique practice is industry-institute interaction not just by inviting industry experts to give lectures but by making the students learn by practicing the concepts. In each semester and each branch, we identify at least one industrial course which we call the ‘I-course’ which has huge industry potential. For the same we send students to industry, may be in Kolkata to learn by doing. Another concept is to send faculty members to industry for industrial exposure. An interesting feature at NIT-AP is to provide add-on courses like Java, Ruby, PHP, Web Management and so on to interested students.
Q: Which problem areas in technical education in India, do you consider are most daunting?
A: I have written a book called the ‘Challenges for Technical Education” where I propose before the policy makers that if technical education in India has to prosper and the country has to be an intellectual super power, we must not follow the west, rather we must redefine our education system and think about ourselves to meet our needs. We often call we are the third largest skilled scientific manpower globally but till today we borrow from global industry giants. There are only two ways to address this issue: we have to produce technical engineers (and not academic engineers) and secondly build a larger pool of entrepreneurs. If you also look at the original project report of NERIST in Arunachal Pradesh, it addresses these two issues specifically. We need such institutes.
Q: What are the challenges you face as the director of a new technical institute?
A: For any director the challenge is to strive for academic excellence and to do things differently. For instance my administrative way of saying NO if you are not entitled for the same, is not in an authoritarian manner; rather, I write in the note ‘Not possible, please’. This way I am able to communicate that I am your friend but at a higher position. This way I am able to give confidence to my faculty and students. The idea is to have a good attitude.
The problem of having good faculty is another challenge, however we are taking such candidates who are bright and ask them to complete their PhD in five years. This in my view will also build a research culture in the institute.