Rediff.com interview with Prof. M S Ananth, IIT-Madras Director
Chronicle Editor @ Dec 24, 2008
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IIT-Madras director on IITs and Pan-IIT event

(By: Yogesh K Upadhyaya)

http://inhome.rediff.com/money/2008/dec/18iit-madras-director-on-iits-and-pan-iit.htm

(The interview was conducted by our alumnus Yogesh k Upadhyaya, primarily to know views of Prof. Ananth about engineering education in our country. Below are some excerpts from the interview :)

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December 18, 2008

Prof Madaboosi Santanam Ananth is one of the most vocal academicians in the country. He has been the director of IIT-Madras since 2001.

Prof Ananth joined as faculty in the department of chemical engineering at IIT-Madras in 1972. Rediff.com guest columnist Yogesh K Upadhyaya speaks with Prof Ananth to get his views on wide-ranging academic issues and also on the Pan-IIT 2008 meet, which is going to be held at the IIT-Madras between December 19 and December 21.

 

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      (Prof. M. S. Ananth)

Excerpts:

There is a lot of discussion on the need to carry out reforms for IIT-JEE exam. Please explain your position.

The IIT-JEE (joint entrance examination) is arguably the most competitive examination in the world.

In JEE-2008, about 311,000 students competed for 6,872 seats. The IIT brand now has international recognition, while many of our state universities which were well known 30 years ago have declined for various reasons.

Therefore, getting into IIT has become one of the biggest ambitions of students today.

A huge coaching industry has developed as a result to aid students meet this objective. IIT coaches have successfully evolved methods of 'pattern recognition' which help students 'crack' the JEE papers.

The JEE has remarkable rejuvenation property and the paper setters are quite innovative in their jobs.

Our experience tells us that about 15 per cent of the students seem to succeed in the entrance examination despite lacking in interest for engineering or communication skills.

Second the coaching industry often takes students away from schools and retains them for as many as three years.

Students, who get into IITs after coaching, often have a distorted value system: they think the end justifies the means (they themselves were given attendance in their schools although they were absent most of the time).

For a few decades, performance in the JEE was the sole criterion for admission into the IIT system.

Beginning 2006, the criteria of minimum marks in the board examination was introduced. IITs suggested that it should be as high as 85 per cent but upon the recommendation of the boards, it was reduced to 60 .

Third, a significant fraction of the students wrote the JEE papers four to five times before 'succeeding'. This unhealthy practice has been eliminated since 2006 and subsequently students have been allowed to write the JEE only twice.

It is, perhaps, necessary to use the board examinations as a criterion for pre-selecting students who can sit for the JEE.

One method is to select top students from different boards so that a maximum of 10 students per seat appear in the JEE. However, the IITs have set up a committee to look into these issues and come up with a recommendation for JEE reform.

How can IITs solve the problem of faculty shortage? How does the government plan to introduce reservation quota for faculty? Will it affect teaching at the IITs?

The shortage of faculty cannot be solved in the short term. While there is a shortage of quality faculty, all the IITs have succeeded in recruiting considerable number of faculty over the last six years.

IIT-Madras has, for example, recruited over 200 faculty of whom at least a third did their bachelor's in one of the IITs and had gone abroad to do PhDs.

The shortage of faculty arises from the fact that the number of PhDs in engineering in India is far below than that required. Until it changes, we have to depend on PhDs from abroad.

It is estimated that there is a pool of 60,000 PhDs from India in the US. The pay scale of faculty, while not unreasonable per se, has been very low compared to industrial pay scales.

It is, therefore, essential that the senior faculty elaborately speaks about the job attractions (excitement, constant interactions with young people and academic freedom) of the faculty positions.

The new pay scales are likely to help to some extent. Meanwhile, all IITs are on the way to increasing their PhD output.

The issue of reservation for students is justified on the basis of the need for equality. However, this logic does not extend to faculty recruitment.

In view of reserved seats of students, it is necessary that they be taught by the best faculty. Therefore, reservation in faculty recruitment will not help students.

Second, since IITs recruit only PhDs as faculty, a very exclusive group in India, it is indeed a contradiction to reserve jobs for them.

However, it should be noted that all factors being equal, preference is already given to scheduled castes/scheduled tribes in the selection of faculty.

What steps do you recommend to improve the state of engineering education in India?

Following is the set of recommendations that the Working Group of the National Knowledge Commission on Engineering Education has come up with after a series of serious deliberation:

Increasing faculty numbers and quality

·                     Access and Inclusiveness: Government should set up new engineering institutions in the under provided regions and provide help to poor students.

·                     Increasing the number of faculty: The number of faculty should be increased by: Increasing the PhD manpower, allowing faculty with Master's degree for undergraduate teaching, inviting adjunct/additional faculty from industry and research laboratories, tapping potential faculty at early stage at undergraduate level, and providing other incentives such as allowing vacation time for teachers for industrial training to improve practical skills, etc.

·                     Ensuring Quality of faculty: This can be done by: providing continuing education in distance mode, short-term training programs, arranging one-day regional workshop on teaching/learning processes, two-week teacher induction training, etc.

The teaching learning processes

·                     A credit based, semester system should be introduced in all engineering/science colleges/institutions with a common core of engineering/science in the first two years and a flexible professional stream in the last two years.

·                     The current curriculum should be modified to provide flexibility, interdisciplinary method and choice of electives. At least one of the humanities courses should concentrate on developing oral and written communication skills.

·                     Teacher-student and student-student relationships -- teacher-student relationships outside the classrooms should be encouraged by providing different structured avenues in which both participate informally.

Industry Institute Interaction

·                     In order to meet the increasing demand, more institutes of excellence need to be established. Public-private partnership could be explored for the same purpose. However, all polytechnics should be operated in PPP mode.

·                     Academia and industry should engage in joint research in order to improve innovation and competitiveness in the global economy of today.

·                     The industries may select final year engineering students from different engineering colleges and can offer 'Industry Specific Training' during the vacation to supplement the curricular learning in the colleges. The current Apprenticeship Act should be amended to include option of training in multiple skills with provision of multiple entry and exit.

Regulation

·                     An apex independent regulatory authority should be established that can achieve the objectives of regulation without political interference. An autonomous Standing Committee for Engineering Education should be established under proposed Independent Regulatory Authority of Higher Education.

·                     Establish a system of 'Chartered Educationist Certificate' under which Chartered Educationist will perform the role of auditing and institutions will be mandated to undertake the entire auditing process.

·                     Accreditation of Institutions -- The Standing Committee on Engineering Education shall determine the criteria and the processes of accreditation in consultation with experts from academia and industry.

·                     Ranking of Institutions -- It is essential to introduce ranking of institutions based on overall performance as well as sector specific performance based not only on technical but also on inclusivity, gender equality, international practice, non academic parameters like in the US.

Governance

·                     Autonomy to institutions- The system of affiliation should be done away with.

·                     Transparency - It should be made compulsory for all colleges to give all information about their buildings, labs, faculty, intake of students, output performance of students, placements, Chartered Educationist Report, etc. on the website.

·                     Institutes should consider having two cells -- Counselling Cell and Training and Placement Cell. The former is more of general nature where students especially the ones in first year get help to adjust in a new environment. The latter is to help graduating students to prepare themselves for the placement as well to handle the stress of a failure.

Integrating Sciences and Engineering Education

·                     In order to reduce the perceived gap between science and engineering, it is desirable to start four year undergraduate programmes in science along the lines of engineering programmes.

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