On the IIT Amendment Bill

When we talk about the institutions of national importance, one of the implications is that they are able to confer, award their own degrees. This Act is an Act of Parliament and came into being in 1961.Often in our approach to education in the past, we have focused on quantity and numbers. Whether it is about number of schools or colleges or students or teachers – we have achieved a fair deal in that. Our literacy rate at the time of Independence was close to 50 per cent; it is now close is 75-76 per cent. But this has been a part of the educational debate for the last six to seven years that the focus must be on quality. What do we mean when we say quality? That whatever the students are listening in their classrooms, they are able to understand; not just repeat it at the time of examinations. When we talk about quality, we mean research. Our school, our college or our university is not a place where only degrees are awarded to students but also knowledge is created. We should have diversity of students. Students from across India, across the SAARC nations, and across the world should be studying there, so that students can learn from each other thus enabling peer to peer learning.

There was a time in our Indian history when universities of Nalanda and Taxila were considered as world centres of academic excellence. People from across the world would  strive hard to study at these institutions.

That is why we are talking about quality and that should be our aim.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his 1956 address at IIT, Kharagpur said that this is a monument to India’s future, this institute represents India’s urges and this institute, in the future, will define India’s leadership. Therefore, when we are talking about IITs, it is not simply about having these institutes in different parts of the country. We are, in fact, talking about India.

In today’s world, if there is one country and one society which puts the ultimate priority and emphasis on education, it is that of our country, India. Where else in the world will you find a Goddess of Knowledge as in Maa Saraswati? Where else in the world will you find a God of Engineering and Architecture as in Lord Vishwakarma? Our nation has given Aryabhatta who gave the world the power of thinking  about ‘zero’. Our world gave the world Ramanujan who inspired the world of Mathematics. Our nation gave the world C.V. Raman who inspired the world with Physics. Our nation gave the world the late A.P.J. Kalam who talked about nuclear energy as a peaceful method of development.

Today when we talk about the Parliament as a temple of democracy, then, surely our IITs are the temples of science and technology. Therefore, I am proud of the service that our IITs have rendered over the last couple of decades. It was not easy to begin with. The IITs, in the beginning, were set up through foreign collaboration and international aid. Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur was set up with support from UNESCO. Various IITs were set up with support from Germany, the former Soviet Union, the United States of America and the United Kingdom and we are thankful for the aid of those countries that they extended at that point of time. But the first IIT which was indigenously developed by Indian academicians without any foreign collaboration, I am very proud to say, is IIT, Guwahati in the State of Assam. Over the last couple of years, in a very short span of time, IIT, Guwahati is ranked as one of the top 100 universities in the world which are of less than 50 years in age and I am very proud of this fact. When I am talking of IIT, Guwahati, then I cannot forget the contribution of the late Rajiv Gandhi who gave birth to IIT, Guwahati through the Assam Accord of 1985.

We are talking about science and technology and if there is one primary factor behind a globalised world, behind a rapidly changing world, it is that of technology. Technology has been able to flatten the world in unimaginable ways. When I was a young student in school, the computers were so big. There was a separate monitor, a separate key board, a separate central processing unit, a separate dot matrix printer and a separate scanner. A couple of years have passed and then you find that the computers became smaller. There were laptops. A couple of years down the line, now your entire computer is your palm. One mobile phone acts as a printer, the same phone acts as a camera, the same phone acts as a scanner, the same phone acts a modem and you can send email through the same phone. This is how fast the world has evolved and how technology has evolved.

Today, we have to understand what Pandit Nehru said. He said that IITs should be at the forefront of technology and that is my dream as a young Indian that our IITs are not just enablers of technological change that is taking place, but it is at the forefront, that we really have to see that what is happening in the world of technology, what are the latest inventions.

Today, cars do not need a driver. They are driving on their own. Cars are running on batteries. Today we can speak to our mobile phones. We can give voice commands to the fridge and we can give voice instructions to our TV. Today is a day of artificial intelligence. We are giving data from our mobiles as to where our location is. The latest mobile game Pokemon Go focuses on location based data. Today is the day of cloud computing. Gone are the days when one computer used to occupy an entire office. It is a whole new world now. The latest inventions are coming up. Therefore, if we really want to ensure that India is not behind the world in terms of technology but it is leading the world in terms of technology, then we must focus on our IITs and try to see how we can support them.

In this case, in 2010, the Anil Kakodkar Committee was set up. It outlined a path of how to make our IITs even more greater and how to make our IITs not just places where students come and get degree but how to make our IITs a source of wealth in terms of knowledge. It also outlined that if you really want to create knowledge in IITs or any higher educational institution, you must focus on your Ph.D. students. It is the Ph. D. students who, through their three or four years of research, really go into the depth and are able to create something new. In this case, we have much to achieve. If you see how many Ph.D. graduates come out of USA or China in the field of engineering and technology every year, their numbers are close to 8,000. But if you see the same thing as to how many Ph.Ds. every year do we create in the field of engineering and technology inIndia, it is just 1,000. So, the Anil Kakodkar Committee outlined a target, a very ambitious target I must say, that every IIT institute should have a faculty of 1,200 professors and should have close to 12,000 students. Where do we stand now? On an average, each IIT has close to 400 to 500 professors.

It is far away from 1,200. Every IIT has around 5,000 or 6,000 students on an average which is far from 12,000. If we really want to achieve a target where there are 40,000 Ph.D. students studying in one IIT; where 40,000 Masters students are studying in one IIT; where 80,000 Under-Graduate students are studying in one IIT; then we have a lot to do. How do we support this? We have to focus on research infrastructure. I hope,when we are talking about this Bill, we are not just talking about setting up or converting existing institutions into IITs but are really coming up with a long-term plan as to how to expand the research infrastructure so that our own Ph. D. students do not go to an

American or Canadian university to get access to their technology and their labs. The very same lab, the very same instrument, the very same high quality faculty support can be found in our domestic IITs. That should be the aim.

Just imagine that IITs have special laboratories which collaborate with State Governments or District Administrations on projects which are relevant to that State. If the IIT, Guwahati collaborates with the State Government of Assam on flood management; if the IIT in Delhi collaborates with Delhi on urban planning; if there is IIT in another State which collaborates with the State Government on climate change and agriculture or a new technology or a technology which is affordable or a technology which is contextual or a technology which is accessible then it could be a great thing.

Then, after special laboratories, the Kakodkar Committee talked about research parks. We must have a greater collaboration between the industry and the academia. If we want our domestic industry to come up with new technology, if we actually want start up India, if we want our Indian industries to innovate or invent then they must collaborate and must have the academic support. Therefore, these universities must have research parks where industries sponsor and fund research projects.

 I am a great believer of private philanthropy. I appreciate the sentiment and I acknowledge that every time a business family or a corporate in order to contribute to education sets up a different private engineering college or sets up a different school or a different college.

But instead of private corporate philanthropists setting up different schools or colleges, why can we not create a mechanism by which they contribute to our IITs or our IIMs? Why do the top Indian industrialists need to donate to American Universities and set up a $ 10 million chair? Why can they not give the same money to our IITs? Why cannot we create the same mechanism if it does not exist? Our universities should allow private philanthropists to donate to set up labs, to donate to set up hostels, to donate to set up canteen. I am a big believer of that.

The relationship turns sour and then we get into a relationship of conflict between an IIT director and the Ministry, or between the IIT council and the UGC. The IIT was set up as an Act of Parliament. Let us give it the respect that it deserves. When we talk about respect, what is the first thing that we should give? We should give autonomy. We have set up a Commission. It is very well, I understand, that a Commission has been set up. But, what is the Government’s view on that? What are the steps that they are going to implement? Why is it not clear? Why is it not transparent? How are they outlining? Yet, we hear astonishing news that instead of thinking about what is the future of IIT, what new laboratories will be set up, we hear what food will be served in the canteen. How is that a reform based approach towards IIT?

We need our IITs to be given the maximum support. For that, I appreciate that if in our times, in the UPA Government, when we really wanted to initiate a bold technology project such as the UID project, such as the Aadhaar project, we created a separate Department of UID and got someone who is well-experienced, got someone from industry background to set that up. You saw that within a short span, Aadhaar was enrolled. This Government, the current Government also wants to use the benefit of that technology platform only now. But, why cannot we do something similar? Why not we have a council headed by someone who is a specialist from the world of academia who can act as a bridge between the Government and the IITs and really formulate a plan with annual milestones and achievements?

I am only saying this because I feel that our students are not getting the support that they need. When I travel to foreign universities or meet professors from the best universities, they say, Ph.D. students in IITs are very smart, very brilliant, very good, very hard working. But then what are we doing with our students? We are increasing their fees. Their fees was initially Rs. 2 lakh to Rs. 2.5 lakh. This Government wants to now increase the fees to Rs. 4 lakh. How is that possible? If you really want to expand the infrastructure of IIT, please give the money yourself. Do not raise the money from students. These students come from very hard working families. Their families and their parents work really hard. As it is, they spend so much in the years preceding the IIT entrance exam because they have sent their students to coaching institutes. Earlier coaching students used to prepare for IIT from class 10, class 11.

These days they start preparing from class 8. From class 8 to class 12, they are spending close to Rs. 1 lakh on cracking one examination. So, already before they have paid your IIT’s tuition fees, they have spent close to Rs. 7 lakh to Rs. 8 lakh just preparing for the exam. Then, after getting into IIT, you want to increase the burden and increase the fees. That is absolutely not fair. We demand that the fees should not be increased. Rather the Government should give more scholarships; rather the Government should give more hostels. Rather the Government should ensure the students from all backgrounds, especially those who come from a poor background, irrespective of their caste or community, get the utmost attention and respect. These students are under tremendous pressure to crack the IIT exam. There are not enough IITs. So, there are so many applicants and finally when they enter, they are already suffering under tremendous pressure. Therefore, they need counselling. Counselling should be a very important part of our IIT educational system. It is very sad when a bright young life is lost because somebody commits suicide. It is very sad that when a bright young life is lost because of the academic pressure and the depression that comes after studying in IIT. We must offer more counselling and support to these students.

Recently in IIT Guwahati, there was a case in 2014 of a young boy, Tushar Yadav, who died under very mysterious circumstances. The parents of that boy are still running from door to door asking for clarity as to what happened. They thought that their future was secure after Tushar got entrance into IIT. But no, their future was dashed. What is the truth? I hope that this debate will talk about the pressure and academic-related stress on children.

We need a greater public debate on our temples of science and education. We want these temples to be producing scientists who would lead the world, producing thinkers who would change the world. Therefore, the focus must be on creating research projects and research parks. There is one research

park in IIT Madras. I have requested the HRD Minister to create a research park with a start-up capital of Rs.50 crore. The park can  contribute and work with the State Governments of the entire Northeast region.

Today when we talk about IITs, let us talk about it with a perspective of future. Let us remember what Pandit Nehru ji said: IITs must be our forefront and India must re-live its traditional role of being a source of wealth and knowledge for the entire world. Let us reclaim that position. That is our cultural history. That should be the priority of our foreign policy; that should be our education and approach.

Published by mpgauravgogoi

Member of Parliament, Kaliabor Lok Sabha.

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