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Q&A: Sudhir Jain, Director, IIT-Gandhinagar

'We now have our own senate, faculty and staff'

Sudhir Jain
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By becoming, perhaps, the first among the new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to offer students an opportunity to change their branches in their second year, IIT-Gandhinagar (IIT-Gn) has chosen a liberal path. The institute clearly intends to stand out by offering better pay packages over and above the government salaries to attract faculty. Sudhir Jain, director of IIT-Gandhinagar talks to Vinay Umarji on what are the institute's learnings from the older IITs. Edited excerpts:

IIT-Gandhinagar (IIT-Gn) is entering its third year. How has the journey been?
When I took it up, it was like a baby. Things were handled by IIT-Bombay (IIT-B), which is our mentor. Today, IIT-Gn can be said to be an adolescent and we are doing things on our own. But, once in a while, we do look up to IIT-B. Now, we do have our own senate, faculty and staff etc and most of the things are being taken care of by us. But, we are still not totally independent. For instance, this semester, a faculty member from the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology will be teaching electrical engineering while another from IIT-B will be teaching mathematics.

People and infrastructure were your main concerns when the institute was set up...
Compared to June 2009, we are in a better situation as far as the people are concerned. Apart from hiring a young brigade, retired faculty from like Bombay and Kanpur have joined us. We have also recruited our own permanent staff. However, we are in an industry where you should never be satisfied. I am still conscious that we can do far better.

In terms of infrastructure, we have built a 1,000 sq mt building which will be inaugurated soon while a similar one is expected to be ready by November. Tender has been floated for construction of the latter. Both will be used for research. We have also started developing some very fine laboratories comprising brand new equipment and technology as compared to other 30-year- old laboratories. As for our own campus, about 500 acres of land has been identified by the state government near Palej. We are looking forward to be in our own campus within two years from the time the formalities for allotment of the land are completed.

What innovative steps are you taking with respect to faculty and students alike?
Perhaps, we became the first IIT to give students the change of branch they wanted. After first year students were given a choice to change their branch from either of the electrical, mechanical and chemical branches. About 14 of 109 students applied and all were granted the change. This has been made possible thanks to the liberal policies we took ever since we began functioning. We have also introduced a compulsory course on an equitable study of chemical, mechanical and electrical for all branch students and this has had a great impact. For the faculty members, we are able to offer them pay packages over and above their government salaries from donations. This way we have been able to attract good talent as faculty.

We have 199 students in all, with 109 of them in their first year and 90 of them in the second year. The new batch this year will be 135-140, taking the total number of students to 335. Plus, we have about 40 faculty members, giving us a favourable faculty-student ratio. Meanwhile, what reflects the goodwill of the Gandhinagar campus is also the fact that we have one of the largest number of girls among the new IITs. Out of the 120 students, 18 are girls as compared to other IITs where the average is only 10-12.

Most of the existing IITs have been around since 50 years now. What has been IIT-Gn learning from them so far?
There have been many things to learn from the older IITs. For example, in many of them, the challenge is to retain the non-teaching staff. Usually, the non-teaching staff is not given much importance, so the faculty ends up doing staff’s work as well, resulting in the former getting demoralised. We are trying not to repeat this and instead building a strong team since everybody’s role is important.

What is the status of research activities on the campus?
Research activities are picking up. We have 14 PhD scholars already and last month, 10 more were offered admission. We have also given a liberal amount of equipment money to our faculty and students to encourage research work. We have ensured that faculty takes up research work along with the regular teaching.

There were protests by students of Vishwakarma Engineering College from whose campus IIT-Gn is currently functioning...
There were rumours the government is planning to ask Vishwakarma College to vacate the campus for IIT-Gn which agitated the students and hence the protest. Since, there was no truth in it, the protests died down later. In fact, we have understood that asking for more space from Vishwakarma is not fair. Also, we decided for new buildings much before the issue came up.

What is the status of the institute’s corpus?
The government has been giving us a fair amount of money. As of now, there is no such thing as a corpus with us. However, IIT-Gn has a charitable foundation in US where 100 per cent tax exemption is allowed on donation. Perhaps, we are the only new IIT to do so. We received our first contribution of $100,000 (around Rs 45 lakh) part of which we have used to attract faculty by giving over and above the government salary. If we get more money, we can use it for infrastructure related activities. Discussions are on with people in US apart from Indian sources for such contributions.

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