IITs: What does the future behold
February 18, 2007 2 Comments
The Times of India today carried a Special Report on how the IITs are facing a faculty crunch. Since the faculty salaries are linked to the pay commission, the IITs have to pay their faculty on par with Central Government employees everywhere else. What that means is that they can’t pay professors even if they have enough money.
The hostel facilities are deteriorating by the year (I can vouch for that). The additional reservations and the 54% increase in seats is not going to help that cause since the increase in seats has to happen within a year or so and it is humanly impossible to build so much of additional infrastructure. In fact, I remember a professor once asking a very innocent question:
“Will our drainage and sewerage system be able to handle all these new students?“
Most IITs have stepped up efforts to receive funds from alumni. There have been generous grants from individuals such as Kanwal Rekhi ($5m to IIT B), Vinod Gupta ($5m to IIT KGP), Nandan Nilekani (IIT B), Vinod Khosla, Arun Sarin, Arjun Malhotra and many others. However, the alumni foundations have not been able to put their acts together and create the kind of endowments that US Universities enjoy ($25B for Harvard). I am not sure if IITs can create such endowments primarily because they don’t have the 300 year histories that these US schools have. Creating an endowment which can sustain the annual budget of an IIT (which I am sure will be to the tune of hundreds of crores) with its interest amount, will require at least a billion dollars in endowment. It’s not an easy task.
There is another hope. As the Chinese proverb goes, Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Lately, IITs have started earning revenue by licensing technology and performing sponsored research (see end of this article). IIT Kharagpur’s Sponsored Research and Industrial Consultancy division has been a pioneer in this area having already handled tons of sponsored projects. I feel this might be the right way forward for IITs since this will provide a constant revenue stream. By sharing project benefits with professors, the IITs will be able to tackle the issue with the professor’s salaries as well. They could try to kill two birds with one stone!
Another area the IITs can develop is entrepreneurship. Nobody doubts that IIT produces some of the smartest undergraduates in the country. By providing sufficient mentoring and support, the IITs could channelize their energies toward commercial successes. Material benefits for all stake holders, students, professors and the IITs is only a natural consequence. Entrepreneurship Cells have started mushrooming in many IITs. One only hopes to see major successes shortly.