Prof. Shevgaonkar: "Only 1 in billion go for engg research!"
AFTER taking over the mantle of IIT-Delhi’s Director about seven months ago, Shevgaonkar envisions making the institute a primary research hub, besides retaining its status as a premier engineering teaching institution.
Q. Tell us about your journey before taking on the Director’s mantle.
A. The interesting aspect about my entire journey is that I never intended to enter academic pastures. After completing electrical engineering, I wanted to carry out research and remain a researcher throughout life. After finishing my studies, I worked at Raman Research Institute in the field of Radio Astronomy. In 1990, I got an offer to teach at IIT-Bombay as Assistant Professor and was soon promoted to the post of Professor.
Thereafter, I assumed many responsibilities - Head of Department, Dean - Resource Mobilization, Hostel Warden, Dean - Student Welfare and Deputy Director - all at IIT-Bombay. It gave me opportunity to delve into student philosophy, their needs, demands and outlook. I started looking forward to playing a role in holistic development of students. After IIT-Bombay, I took charge as the Vice Chancellor ofUniversity of Pune. And seven months back I was offered the role of Director at IIT-Delhi.
Q. What is the state of engineering education in the country?
A. Engineering education in India has grown manifold over the last 20-25 years. The number of aspirants is at an all-time high. Till a few decades back, students thought twice before taking up engineering as it is a tough discipline. There were limited engineering institutions and it was difficult to get through them. Now with a large number of options, there has to be a certain focus on quality of engineers we generate. In fact, I suspect that we are losing out on that aspect. We need to set up an infrastructure to create good teachers. It will help in improving engineering education in the country.
Q. IITs are premier teaching institutions. How much focus is there on research?
A. I would like to proclaim that we are a research institution engaged in teaching students. As we get some of the most brilliant minds in our institute, it is their inquisitiveness and questions that provide a major stimulus for research. Initially, IITs were constituted with the mandate to create technical manpower for the country. However, over the years the thrust has shifted towards generating knowledge. We are comparable to most global institutions in terms of R&D. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that about 50% of budget allocation at IIT-Delhi (and for that matter, most IITs) is for research activities. We actually keep an Open Day for the general public, school students and also the media to have a look at the various innovative projects being carried out by the students and faculty. We also have an Industrial Research and Development Unit and Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT) that encourage research and help projects become commercially viable.
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Q. It has often been reported that faculty intake at IIT is low and that there are more students and less teachers. What do you have to say about it?
A. I agree we have vacancies in various departments. Most of our first batch of teachers are on the verge of retiring. In addition, there has been a 54% rise in number of students admitted owing to reservation policy of government. Our alumnus look for corporate jobs as it has much higher remuneration than any academic job. At present we have 500 faculty members teaching around 8000 students. However, this is not to say that we are not recruiting. Many PhDs are returning from foreign shores with an earnest desire to teach and research. We are offering research grants along with the requisite salaries.
Q. In 2013, AIEEE and IIT-JEE are set to merge. Is that fine with you?
A. As long as it gives quality students, I am absolutely fine with it. My problem is with the entire entrance examination being objective. And here I mean, even JEE. Objective questions are not capable of testing analytical skills of students. We need subjective questions to gauge their problem-solving skills.
Q. Will the coming up of so many new IITs affect the standard of IIT graduates?
A. I am in favour of setting up new engineering institutions to deal with growing aspirants. At the moment, only one in a million go for higher engineering research and education in India. This is abysmally low as compared to students going for research in other countries. We need five times the number of IITs to deal with the increasing number of aspirants. However, the new IITs lack proper faculty in various departments. The problem is we don’t have a system for nurturing faculty in our academic institutions. .
Q. What is the status of the extension of IIT campus in Gurgaon?
A. Well, we are still on deliberation terms and are discussing the possibilities with the Haryana government.
Q. What would be the Vision 2020 for IIT-Delhi?
A. I would love to make IIT-Delhi a prime research hub, where a lot of knowledge is generated for the society to use and benefit.