Prof. Rajeev Sangal: IIITs focus heavily on research
AFTER earning an MS and PhD in Computer Science from University of Pennsylvania; Prof. Rajeev Sangal returned as faculty to his alma mater IIT Kanpur, where he studied Electrical Engg. Being the Founder-head of Language Technologies Research Centre at IIIT Hyderabad, his current research interest lies in Computational Paninian Grammar framework, which is linguistically elegant & computationally efficient. Prof Sangal speaks to Nimesh Chandra on aspects related to engineering education
Q. Your opinion on research in engineering colleges?
A. Most engineering institutes actually produce manpower, so their goal becomes education. And within education they also do things very narrowly - meaning developing skills only in the discipline or area for which they are getting a degree. Thus students do not get proper education in Humanities. There’s no depth in the knowledge that is imparted. They have interpreted their goal far too narrowly and they are not able to contribute sufficiently well.
Q. What differentiates an IIT from an IIIT?
A. The difference between IIT and IIIT is research. Focus of IITs may also be doing research but IIIT Hyderabad has a greater focus; research that can also lead to technology development. Therefore publishing a paper is not the end of research rather it is the beginning which we try to do it in IIIT.
Q. What is IIIT Hyderabad’s approach to research?
A. To give you an example, we have built research centres with large critical mass. So if you take our language technology, there are 130 researchers in the centre and I do not think any IIT will have a centre of that scale except for one or two exceptions. Secondly, we do not get government funds and after getting land and building from the government, we have to raise our own operational expenses and finances. Research contributes significantly to revenue generation, approximately 40 percent of the total revenues generated and 60 percent is through tuition fees.
Q. How has IIIT Hyderabad been able to create a niche?
A. We have introduced research at the undergraduate level and have woven our curriculum in a way that if students opt for research they get a special degree called the B.Tech (Honours) after completion. Here students can choose a stream after third year’s first semester, within a particular discipline such as Computer Science and thus in a four-year course one gets to work on research projects for two years getting more exposure and understanding. We also have five-year dual degree programmes. Secondly, since we have to raise finances on our own there is an added pressure to perform, build industry interface and raise money. There are other areas such as institute appraisal mechanism, student achievements, faculty accomplishments and so on that has enabled us to build a conducive environment.
Q. Would you say that AICTE is playing its role effectively?
A. I think they have a very difficult role to play. There are tens of thousands of colleges in the country and one central body that has been asked to monitor and maintain standards. It is indeed difficult, that’s all I can say. Though we are a university and can design our own programmes, we still go to AICTE for their approval for postgraduate grants and GATE scholarships. And we have had no problems.
Q. Is the Indian environment getting conducive to absorbing research students - those also with PhDs?
A. It is happening but it is a bit slow. There are two ways in which it is happening: one, there are companies now that have set up their R&D centres in India and they have openings for both PhDs and MS by research candidates. Two, there are many new IITs that have come up, many IIITs and NITs that have been opened and they all need faculty. And all these are places trying to build a research environment. But students are not realising that this has happened.
Q. Are you happy with the way the students are getting admitted currently in national institutions?
A. Not very, because this a very baseless way of admitting people. But in the face of difficulty in selecting through lakhs of applications, I am both happy and unhappy about it