Internationalization Is The Need Of The Hour: V. Ramgopal Rao

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi is the eminent and distinguished institute representing the country on the world stage with a primary focus on scientific and technical subjects. The institute has a strong entrepreneurship cell that aims to augment the efforts of budding entrepreneurs. IIT Delhi has been critically acclaimed across borders for its renowned alumni holding internationally successful positions. In an exclusive interaction with BW Education, V. Ramgopal Rao - Director of IIT Delhi, discusses about the new initiatives carried by the institute to address the mushrooming issues faced by the higher education sector in the country. Excerpts:

What are some significant trends and challenges in engineering education?

A lot of things are changing now and this is all because of the new schemes that are being launched but we still have a long way to go. All the IITs get best students and we have good faculty to teach them. Eventually students graduate and find a job. This is how the education scenario has been in the country. But one thing is definitely changing now, we know this according to the recent survey done at the campus, is that every second student on this campus wants to become an entrepreneur. So far our job was to produce students who would go out and find a job. But now we need to produce students who can go out and start an enterprise, become a job provider, a team builder and solution provider. I think this requires a completely different kind of a mindset and curriculum and that is where we are moving towards now.

Today, when a student gets admission in IIT, they are provided with the branch according to their ranks. Many of the students do not get the opportunity to opt for their choice of branch, due to which they feel lost even before starting their career. To acknowledge this problem, we have started a large number of minor programmes. Every department on the campus, today, has minor degree programmes. For example, the student might have joined mechanical engineering but they want to get a minor in entrepreneurship that is possible now. The higher education sector is going through a major transformation today and in another three to five years, our institutions will look very very different.

In India, are we leading or lagging behind in the education industry. What sort of support do we need from the government?

One of the issues that we have is not having enough quality institutions in the country. IITs are good but then there is a shortfall in the II and III tire and we need to scale up the system. IITs are still tiny for a country of our size, IIT Delhi itself has just ten thousand students. Look at any second rated American University, they have 30,000 to 40,000 student. Thus, institutions need to scale up without compromising on the quality is the need of the hour to become much larger in size. 

Also, the funding for higher education needs to go up. India is not spending enough on higher education, per centage GDP wise we are just spending 0.6 per cent to 0.7 per cent which is at the bottom of the table. Even a smaller country is spending much more on education. India should spend at least 3 per cent GDP for higher education.

We need to increase the funding by four times because the future lies in these institutions and the future of the country is basically made in these institutions. If we neglect them we really cannot aspire to become a global power. Thus, we need to fund our institutions much more than what we are doing right now. I would like to see, as a per centage GDP wise, at least three per cent spent on higher education alone.

With the fourth industrial revolution, how is IIT Delhi preparing students to be employable engineers?

If you make any programme completely centered on what the industry will require today then the students will be unemployable tomorrow. Institutes tying up with the industry and changing their curriculum as per the today’s industry needs is not the right thing to do. IITs always need to produce graduates who can learn new things with time. We want to give them strong foundation in various areas and fields so that they can pick up all the skills when they need to change their expertise. Therefore, we want to focus more on the learning aspects rather than a specific aspect which the industry requires today.

Majority of IITs are facing faculty crunch, what are the possible solution for same? How is IIT Delhi handling the faculty crunch?

Faculty crunch is a big issue today. At IIT Delhi, we have 300 faculty positions vacant and the number of students are increasing every year due to various reasons which are not even under our control. And we’re not able to increase the faculty strength in proportionate to that. This is because we are not lowering the bar. We don’t fill up a position just because the position is available and we have a candidate. We will wait until we get the right candidate. If IITs are a brand name, it is because of the quality faculty that we are able to recruit and we are not going to compromise on this. But to address the faculty crunch issue, we can now recruit Non-Indian origin people for our faculty position. Thus, we are aggressively seeking out foreign faculty at IIT Delhi. We are now trying to get the best people from all over the world to teach our students. And I think that should be the spirit. By doing so, we are filling up the faculty positions which have been vacant for a long time and also attracting the foreign students to come and study with us.

Does opening up of new IITs dilute the brand equity of IITs?

I don’t think having more IITs will dilute the brand. It is the need of the hour because the number of students aspiring for education in IITs has now gone up multifold and opening more IITs is the right thing to do. Eventually every IIT becomes a brand.

What kind of efforts is IIT Delhi carrying out to improve the alumni network?

We are aggressively connecting with alumni which is paying back in many ways. We have started programmes where an alumni can mentor a student on the campus with one-on-one connect. Many alumni are also contributing to our activities. There are so many centers of excellence on this campus which are all funded by alumni now. In fact, the funding is just one aspect of it. When a student becomes part of IIT Delhi family, he or she just gets connected with this whole network of people who are willing to hand hold them and help them in all possible ways. Our alumni support has been very critical for us in all possible ways and we are leveraging it as an institute.

As the Director what goals have you decided for this year and for coming 3-5 years?

We are now increasing international aeration. We have set targets for ourselves in terms of international aeration, to get more foreign faculty and students. The interdisciplinary research is also important. We are now bringing faculty together to address problems of the society which usually is done by interdisciplinary team. We are also very aggressively pursuing industry connect. So for these three things, in terms of the funding we receive from industries, in terms of foreign students and in terms of the research groups working on society related problem, we have set targets for results. 

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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