Event ReportsPublished on Aug 21, 2008
Some of the country's most prominent scientists, academicians, policy makers and industry leaders have pledged to come together to explore ways to strengthen research-oriented higher studies in engineering education in India. At a panel discussion on 'India's Leadership in Manufacturing: Role of Engineering Education' organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India's leading
Public-Private partnership way forward for engineering education

Some of the country’s most prominent scientists, academicians, policy makers and industry leaders have pledged to come together to explore ways to strengthen research-oriented higher studies in engineering education in India. At a panel discussion on ‘India’s Leadership in Manufacturing: Role of Engineering Education’ organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India’s leading public policy think tank, at its campus in New Delhi on Thursday, August 21, 2008, eminent participants concluded that the engineering education system in the country was broken, and it was time all stakeholders united in their efforts to repair it.

The panel discussion, which witnessed a stimulating exchange of views between the participants, was based on a study report on Engineering Education in India commissioned by ORF and conducted by Professor Rangan Banerjee, Head of the Department of Energy Science and Engineering, IIT, Bombay and Mr. Vinayak Muley, Researcher.

Delivering an insightful and incisive keynote address at this gathering, Dr. Samir Brahmachari, Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), lamented the lack of a scholarly environment in today’s engineering education system. Dr. Brahmachari said, “It is critical to build a scholarly environment within the engineering education system. For this, we have no choice but to engage the Indian industry in Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) to enhance the quality of engineering education through an integrated approach.” He urged that premiere educational and research institutions like CSIR, BARC, ISRO and the IITs should take the lead in creation of research universities in India.

The participants in the panel discussion were: Prof. V. S. Ramamurthy, Chairman, Board of Governors, IIT-Delhi and former Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India; Mr. Rajeev Katyal, Director Education, Microsoft; Mr. Anuj Sinha, Adviser and Head, National Council for Science and Technology Communication, DST; Prof. P. N. Srivastava, Chairman, National Board of Accreditation for Engineering and Technology, former Vice Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University and former Member, Planning Commission; Prof. K. L. Chopra, Emeritus Professor, IIT Delhi and former Director, IIT Kharagpur; Mr. Rajdeep Sherawat, Vice-President, NASSCOM; Prof. P. B. Sharma, Director, Delhi College of Engineering; Prof. Abid Haleem, Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Jamia Millia Islamia; Mr. Anjan Das, Senior Director and Head of Technology and IPR Division, CII and Dr. D. R. Somashekar, Director, Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Technology.

Presenting the salient findings and key policy recommendations made by the ORF study, Prof. Rangan Banerjee said, “India has the potential to become a global technology giant and lead the world in manufacturing. Whether we are able to realize this potential will largely depend on the size and the quality of our engineering manpower. Partnerships between industry, academia and government are critical in this context. This will certainly not happen in a business-as-usual scenario.”

Prof. Chopra of IIT Delhi highlighted the current constraints on the educational system and called for total autonomy for all premier institutions of engineering education excellence in the country. He said, “We need an environment where total autonomy would breed competition among all IITs and other educational institutions. Autonomy will help us unlock the intellectual power of these institutions.”

Prof. P. B. Sharma of Delhi College of Engineering did not mince words while criticizing the restrictions on the functioning of the universities. “We have to the break the conventional barriers and upgrade the quality of education imparted in the existing engineering institutions first.” He also advocated the need to nurture an environment of research at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Mr. Anuj Sinha of the National Council for Science and Technology Communication, said that one of the ways to tide of the shortage of faculty would be involve bodies like the National Institute of Technical Teachers’ Training and Research (NITTTR) to set up internship programmes where future faculty would get exposure to actual working environment.

Mr. Rajdeep Sherawat of NASSCOM said that India’s IT sector was currently investing $ 1 billion per annum in the basic training of new recruits as a vast majority of them did not have basic job skills at the time of joining. “To remain globally competitive, India will have to create innovative IT technology, not just IT applications. This will be possible only if the number of PhDs and research publications in the field of computer science is considerably enhanced. At present, the research done in this area is not worth even mentioning compared to global figures,” he said. He informed that NASSCOM, together with the Department of Science and Technology and the HRD Ministry had prepared a blueprint to establish autonomous triple IITs based on PPP models to help the industry overcome this problem.

Mr. Rajeev Katyal of Microsoft echoed the views of the participants and emphasized on the need for the academic ecosystem and industry to collectively solve the problem of faculty shortage. He said that modern technological tools like e-learning and web-based learning modules should be exploited to successfully implement a faculty development programme. He also underlined the need to make the engineering curriculum more in sync with industry demands and expose B. Tech and M. Tech students to the rigours of the industry as part of their study courses. “Something on the lines of NASSCOM and the work that it is doing should start across the spectrum of the industry,” he said.

Lauding the ORF study, Mr. Anjan Das of CII urged ORF and Prof. Banerjee to do another study to map the demand side of the output in terms of postgraduates from engineering colleges in the country. He urged that India should start a National Faculty Development Programme to ensure that quality teachers are made available to all the present and proposed engineering colleges and institutions.

Prof. Rangan Banerjee’s study has made several recommendations on strategic policy interventions to upgrade engineering education in India, with emphasis on research-oriented higher education in the following areas:

  1. Number of PhDs in engineering in India: How to increase the quality and number to meet increasing demand in teaching and R&D
  2. Faculty recruitment and retention: There is a dearth of quality faculty in national institutes of technologies, public and private engineering colleges. Even IITs and IISc need large number of faculty. The supply from within India is very limited. What needs to be done?
  3. Research partnership: PhD guidance & post-doctoral research with reputed researchers from abroad.
  4. Government—Industry—Academia Partnership: Develop effective and mutually beneficial partnerships to generate a new breed of professionals—sound in theory with strong practical skills, ready for the market.
  5. Quality engineering and science education to large numbers: How to cater to the aspirations of a million motivated youngsters given the existing limitations of faculty and infrastructure?
  6. Role of IITs, IISc, and other reputed institutions: How to elevate the quality of engineering education?
  7. Paradigm shift in teaching: From teacher-centric education to student-centric learning.
  8. Emphasis on creativity and innovation: From engineering science-based curriculum to systems engineering based curriculum—conceptualization to designing affordable solutions.

One of the key recommendations of the ORF study is to launch a ‘National Engineering Ph.D. Initiative’ to expand doctoral research in engineering and science 10-fold in the next 10 years. Some of the steps recommended to commence the National Ph.D. Initiative are:

  1. Fellowships of the amount of Rs. 12 lakh per student per annum
  2. Industry support for 5,000 Fellowships per year
  3. Enhanced Government Fellowships
  4. Establishment of National PhD Initiative steering committee with industry, government and academia representatives
  5. Government funding for a high visibility publicity and outreach campaign

The ORF study has also made recommendations on how to enhance the number of quality faculty by incentivising performance and quality improvement programmes, strengthening of Masters programmes through industry linkages, introduction of a periodic review and feedback mechanism and skill upgradation.

This panel discussion was the second in a series of such meetings being organised to discuss and debate the findings and recommendations made by the ORF study. The first panel discussion, with the objective to get a firsthand industry feedback, was organised in Mumbai on May 31, 2008. Padma Vibhushan Dr. R. Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, who inaugurated the conference, had highlighted the need for establishing a “coherent synergy” among industry, academia and the government to make research more relevant. Industry leaders representing the entire spectrum of the industry had unanimously agreed to do everything possible to help the academia and government to bridge the gap between the engineering output of universities and industry demand.

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