Our Focus is Quality Faculty, Research Facility

IITs have the best lot of faculty members in the country, chosen after a rigorous exercise, and are a blend of sound fundamentals and updated research skills, says Prof Pradeep Mathur, Director, IIT Indore, in conversation with Rozelle Laha

Prof Pradeep Mathur has been appointed as the first director of IIT Indore. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Science (Chemistry Honours) from the Polytechnic of North London, University of North London, UK, in 1978 and the Doctor of Philosophy (Chemistry) from Keele University, UK, in 1983. He joined IIT Bombay as a member of the faculty in the Department of Chemistry in 1984 and moved over to IIT Indore as its Director in January 2010

What role can IITs play in improving the scenario of technological education in our country?
Although India boasts of a large number of engineering colleges on paper, the fact is that the quality of education imparted in these colleges is much below the required; and for a country like ours, there will be a massive shortfall of skilled manpower to run our growing industrial demands in the coming years. IITs are different from other engineering institutions. After Independence, setting up IITs as centres of excellence was mooted and they were modeled on the best institutions abroad. Over the years, they have maintained the standards and have excelled in teaching and research. One of the reasons for this has been a fair degree of autonomy with them. The best students in the country are taken and teaching faculty is also chosen very carefully. However, it is not important to have good students and faculty but adopting a good governance system like IIT can do well for other engineering institutions.

What kind of autonomy is needed for running a quality engineering college?

Autonomy of governance that is free from any interference of the government machinery and state powers in routine affairs of the institute is needed.There is a lot of interference of vested interests by politicians and vice chancellors in the recruitment of faculty and in the other day-to-day functioning of an engineering college. So, the administration of such institutions should be free from any kind of state interference and they should be given full autonomy for running the institution. All educational institutions should be kept free from any kind of political intervention. The IITs are different from other colleges in the country in the way that apart from teaching, their faculty is greatly involved in high-degree research projects that get recognition for publication in international journals. Teaching and research in IIT go hand-in-hand. In fact, faculty at all the leading universities of the world is engaged in frontline research. That is why such institutes are in the world’s top 10 or 20 institutions. So, research must be encouraged to get good quality teaching. At the IITs, our students have this facility and they get engaged in research laboratories in the third and fourth years. This opens up their minds and brings them out of the textbook parameter with innovative ideas. It not only makes a graduate, but also equips him with knowledge to deal with the new challenges while joining any industrial project or any research laboratory. The other factor for IITs to excel is that their faculty members have updated knowledge of teaching methods and trained in application of new educational tools. So, other engineering colleges should have training programmes for their faculty members for upgrading their teaching skills and adopting updated technology and curriculum to deliver the latest to their students.

Why are a large number of graduates not getting employment?
The reason is that companies do not find what they look for in their prospective employees. Students only fight for getting good grades in the examinations. Nowadays, companies not only look at how sound the basics of an applicant are, but also at how tech-friendly he is. We need to concentrate on producing quality teachers. If that is done, students will not find it a problem to get a good job.

Not many people are interested in taking up teaching as a profession nowadays. Why?
A lot of engineering colleges, particularly the private ones, do not pay their teachers well. Therefore, only those who badly need a job or are dedicated to the profession become teachers. Unfortunately, the second lot is scarce these days. There was a time when teaching was supposed to be a noble and prestigious job. But with the passage of time, it has now been taken as a profession in desperation.

Is this syndrome present in the newly opened IITs also? Are they getting quality faculty members?
No, I do not see any such syndrome affecting the IITs as they have a very good salary structure, much higher than the universities across the country. And because of the very tough norms for hiring faculty, there are a very dedicated lot of applicants applying for faculty positions there. Even for a junior faculty position in an IIT, an applicant should posses at least a doctorate and a three-year post- doctorate teaching experience. A lot of Indian scholars from abroad too apply for the post. So, getting quality faculty is not a problem for the newly opened IITs or for the proposed ones.

Students only fight for getting good grades in examinations. Nowadays, companies not only look at how sound the basics of an applicant are, but also at how tech-friendly he is. We need to concentrate on producing quality teachers. If that is done, students will not find it a problem to get a good job

 Why do less number of girls opt for engineering and how can we encourage them to take up a career in engineering?
In India, the problem is not with the number of girls taking up engineering but girls not taking up education. Our social system discourages girls to take up education as there is tremendous discrimination against girls. When it comes to engineering, even in the metros, there is a social stigma attached with girls opting for engineering. But things seem to be improving in cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Unfortunately, the percentage of girls getting into the IITs is quite low and this is because very few girls take the IIT entrance examination. Also, only two percent of people who take the IIT entrance exam get admission and the remaining 98 percent join other engineering colleges – another reason for fewer girl students in the IITs. This is something we need to address urgently. IIT Indore has the largest number of girl students among the new IITs that were set up last year.