A Perfect Employable Candidate Is The One Who Is Adaptable To Change: Ranjan Bose

Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Delhi plans to organise itself as a conglomerate of research and development centers in partnership with different companies and global organisations. In an exclusive conversation with BW Education, Ranjan Bose, Director of IIIT Delhi discusses the current challenges in the education sector and how is IIIT Delhi addressing these issues. Excerpts:

What are some significant trends with the higher education in India?

The higher education scenario in the country is transforming at a rapid pace. The firstly, engineering education is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and this change is being embraced by many of our institutes. There are definite merits to it because of the way the world is changing around us. Today, most challenges that surround us, such as rising pollution levels, low-cost healthcare, traffic-safety, energy and food scarcity etc. cross the boundaries of any one discipline.  One of the practical ways to remain relevant is to acquire the skill of applying the knowledge of one domain into another domain. The second trend which is beginning to take shape is a thrust on entrepreneurship.  Currently, educational institutes are creating students who are job seekers at the end of their engineering education.  The question to ask is: can they be job creators? We need a structured approach to entrepreneurship on campus, together with identifying indicators to measure the entrepreneurship outcomes and the efficacy of entrepreneurship education.  Entrepreneurial thinking is a life-skill, and at IIIT-Delhi we are already trying to integrate this entrepreneurial thinking in our curriculum in multiple ways.  Yet another trend is to equip our engineering students with certain necessary soft-skills. The students have to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn so as to adapt to the ever-morphing world.  The current knowledge is likely to be outdated within the next 5 to 10 years and completely different paradigms will take shape. 

What are the challenges with the engineering education in the country?

The first and the foremost challenge for engineering education is its continued relevance to industry.  To address this challenge, feedback from industry should be taken at the time of course design and curriculum design.   Engineering education should also be able to cater to students who wish to undertake research or entrepreneurial pursuits.  In IIIT Delhi, approximately 85 percent of our UG students opt for industrial jobs, 10-12 percent go for higher education, and 2-3 percent explore entrepreneurship as a career. We need to teach our students to be all-rounders and to acquire all the necessary skills to solve real-world problems. The second challenge is to add some component of research in our engineering education.  Basically, research involves systematic investigation by asking the right questions.   The students also need to appreciate the fact that multiple solutions may exist for the same problem.  We need to modify the way we teach, by training our students to ask the right questions, learning how to solve unstructured problems and looking for solutions at the intersection of multiple domains.  Furthermore, we should integrate technology to help our students to learn better so that the education can move from teacher-centric to being more student centric. The focus should be on learning, and we need to continuously measure how well our students learn.  Clearly, different students learn at different rates and so the delivery of information has to be at different rates for different students.  We need to move towards a more customized form of education.   Yet another challenge is to increase the scale of education: how do we reach out to more number of students who are willing to learn.  Simply constructing more number of classrooms will not help, and the challenge is about scaling-up and delivering content online effectively.

How will you define a perfect employable engineer with the fourth industrial revolution? 

A ‘close-to perfect’ employable engineer should be the one who is ‘adaptable to change’.  He or she should be able to respond to the rapidly changing world by possessing the desire to learn, unlearn and relearn.   Certain soft-skills are also necessary, for example, critical thinking, the ability to frame problems, the knack to identify opportunities and the skill to communicate one’s ideas to people from other domains.

How are you preparing your students for the emerging job roles?

The engineers of tomorrow will be solving problems of a smart, interconnected world.  Many of these jobs will require working with data, in varied forms.  We are not only preparing our students to handle various kinds of jobs related to big data, actionable data, data in motion etc. but we are also training them to work with peripheral applications around it.  For example, how to secure data, address the problem of privacy and the identification of fictitious data. The next big thing is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and all the exciting possibilities around it.  At IIIT Delhi, there is lot of emphasis on research and education related to AI.  We have a Center for AI and very soon we are launching a new B.Tech program in AI.  Clearly, AI is going to strongly influence the way we lead our lives in the near future and our engineers of tomorrow must be prepared for this.  Sooner than later, all the mundane in jobs will gradually be done by AI systems. What does it leave us with?  It leaves us with a set of jobs which require creative thinking, constructive ideas, some futuristic ideas which are not yet designed, and of course the jobs that require emotions. There is set of things that AI expert systems can do, and the rest we can prepare our engineers for.  

There are some other areas that are also growing at a rapid pace.  With the advent of Industry 4.0 framework, new job-domains like cyber-physical systems, Internet of Things (IoT), Internet of Everything (IoE), cloud computing have become important. In the world of tomorrow, machine-to-machine communication will be a big component and therefore we are preparing our students to deal with the plethora of opportunities related to IoT and IoE.   Finally, we believe in equipping our students with certain life-skills, such as, adaptability, the spirit of intrapreneurship and inquisitiveness.  Being exposed to multidisciplinary education, our students are ready to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

How important is research for IIIT Delhi?

IIIT-Delhi is a research-led teaching institute. Our vision is to be globally connected, industry facing and socially relevant, and our research agenda reflects this focus of ours.  IIIT-Delhi gives a lot of weightage to publishing in international conferences and journals which are top tier, best in the world.  Since due emphasis is given to high-quality research, it is no surprise that even our UG students come up with publications in top venues.  Our faculty members tend to compete globally in terms of the quality of research publications.  We also have research linkages with different universities across the world such as QUT Australia and University at Buffalo, New York, USA.  Secondly, our faculty members are actively involved in industry-sponsored research and frequently consults for the industry.  Many PhD students are supported by sponsored projects from the industry and the research output is industry relevant. Such engagements have immediate practical applications, and are tangible in near terms. At IIIT-D, we take up problems inspired from the industry and the work is then ploughed back into the industry.  Then, there is the third vertical which is socially relevant research. We believe that a lot of work that we do should make a difference in the world around us. We have also identified the relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which are mentioned in the UNDP charter.  Our faculty members are working towards contributing effectively to SDG through research.

What is the institute is doing to increase diversity in the institute? How much weightage do you give to female students?

Diversity is instrumental in the growth of any institute.   We strongly believe that diversity is very important – not only gender diversity, but also diversity in other terms, for example, geographic diversity. Talking about female students on campus, the first thing we did was try to encourage more girl students to apply.  For that, we have taken proactive steps to go to colleges in the NCR and advertise our program specifically to girl students. Secondly, we are trying to explore the possibility of giving additional weightage to girl students during the admission process. Thirdly, we have initiated gender-sensitization campaigns on campus. We hold special events for ladies on campus, and we recently started the Women in Mathematics chapter on campus. We respect and honor the gender diversity. Also, there are many plans to encourage the presence of international students on campus to increase diversity. 

How has been the placement record of IIIT-Delhi?

One word answer is EXECELLENT. Very close to 100%.   Why it is not 100%?  Well, some students chose not to go for the campus placements.  But most students who enroll through campus placements normally get selected in core companies and also get placed in the core domains of engineering.

As the director, what goals have you decided in the coming 4-5 years?

The first is to carry out a research which is industry related and socially relevant. Second is to contribute to sustainable development goals, and third is to encourage and create the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship on campus.

What is one piece of advice you would like to give students to have success in life?

One should be open to change and continue to learn. Elaborating on that, the future is uncertain and things will change at a rapid space. So you should learn to learn and also learn to unlearn.  Learn to adapt to new things, and keep the spirit of curiosity alive.  

This article was published in BW Education issue dated 'July 3, 2019' with cover story titled 'BW Education Issue June-July 2019'

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