We speak to our Director, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, to give you some clarity about the recent fee hike in the IITs and the NIRF Rankings (where we emerged as #1) and its implications for the future.
First of all, what are your views on IIT Madras being ranked the best engineering college in the country by NIRF?
All the IITs are in the top 10 in the NIRF rankings and are pretty close, which is not surprising. Of course, it is nice to come out as number one but it just means we are up there; we can’t take anything for granted. It’s a good feeling- anybody who places first in class feels good as well! It’s pretty much the same feeling. Nothing more.
Do you think this recognition might help us attract more applicants for our faculty positions as well as for our postgraduate programmes?
To some extent, yes. I think people will do more due diligence. But obviously, when something like this happens, along with the sustenance of the quality here in terms of faculty and such- they’re both pointing in the same direction so it will help. It would not be the determining factor, though. Anyone applying for faculty positions will talk to current faculty members, so unless they say good things about the institute as well, the rank wouldn’t mean anything. If the two are in the same direction then it would definitely help.
As is the case with a lot of other college rankings worldwide, once the parameters and the ranking methodology is made public, institutes start trying to channelize their efforts to optimize the parameters rather than aim for overall growth. Do you think the same can happen with the NIRF rankings in the future?
To some extent, yes, but I don’t know if IITs will get into that. We will definitely look at the parameters and if there’s something to learn from that, we will learn. I don’t think we can really do much to fix these numbers. We have a strategic plan that we have been focusing on. If the targets are implemented, it will improve the rankings because they’re more or less measuring the same things- it’s incidental. We have to improve everywhere, and our board monitors the targets every year.
With regards to the recent fee hike for IITs, would the hike be applicable only to the next incoming batch or to every batch of students?
The hike would only be applicable for the batches joining next year onwards. The current students shall continue to pay the existing fees.
Though there are proposals of easy student loans being made available, do you think the loans may discourage people from exploring alternate career options like further studies, entrepreneurship or civil services as they would be forced to take up jobs to repay the loans?
People are already spending 4 lacs- now it’s going to be 8. It may turn out that some people who want to study further may first want to repay their loans. Even from a professional point of view, it isn’t a bad option to get some experience before studying further. A large number of people are going for jobs anyway. Considering the median salaries being offered, the loan amount shouldn’t be an issue since interest-free loans are being offered. The number of people going for higher studies and entrepreneurship right out of college are smaller and special support to partly or fully repay the loans, can and will emerge. Either from private donors or from the government. These are the kind of things for which people would like to donate. Statistically, it is not a bad scheme, a few individuals might face problems and it is possible to find targeted solutions for those who need it.
At this juncture, permit us to ask- how do you think this will affect the students from the Humanities department, especially considering the fact that most of them would be more inclined towards research and higher studies and thus may need to invest more, if not repay existing loans? After all, it isn’t a very conventional line of study.
I can see that for the humanities students, the fee could be very high compared to the other institutions. We are the only IIT offering a humanities degree. I don’t think they (the MHRD) had these small number of students in mind while coming up with this fee hike. I agree with you. That is an issue that has to be looked into. Humanities students probably won’t get into jobs immediately after the completion of their courses. We do have to think about it indeed. One thing to consider is that it is only in this IIT that an Integrated MA programme is offered. I believe it is likely that the outliers were not considered, as they were only looking at the bulk of the engineering students. It is something for which viable solutions need to be formulated.
Several international universities provide part-time working opportunities to the students. Now that the IIT fees have been hiked, does our institute plan to introduce more TAship/RAship and similar part-time opportunities for the students, even in the junior years, to help ease the financial burden?
You need to understand that the scenario in the International universities is quite different from the scene here. Most undergrads over there work in places like the cafeteria. And the money they get through those kinds of jobs over there might help them pay for their dorms. Most of them generally take loans for the academic fees. Whereas in India, such jobs don’t pay much. Taking this into consideration, we have opportunities like web-designing, coding jobs for students of third year and above; however the number of such opportunities is limited. We also offer Teaching Assistant (TA) positions for Dual Degree students in their final year, which pay significantly higher amounts. Another concern is that we have a lot of TAs right now; more than the number we need. Hence, we can’t offer more TA positions to students.
Several of the new IITs, including the ones being mentored by IITM are yet to establish a brand name. Given that these institutes do not have a proven track record of placements yet, do you think the fee hike may discourage students from applying to those institutes, thereby limiting their growth?
I recently attended the institute day of IIT Tirupati and they have done reasonably well. If you look at the NIRF rankings, IIT Hyderabad is at number 7 on the list, Gandhinagar is at 8, Ropar at 9 and Patna at 10. So they doing are pretty good. By now, we know what we need to do to establish a good IIT and everything else will follow. We need good faculty and good infrastructure and good leadership from day 1. They have done a good job in identifying good leaders for the new IITs. The Infrastructure is coming up quite well as well. When it comes to hiring faculty, the new IITs are as stringent as the old ones and are not lowering the standards in any way.
The fee hike would create additional funds for the institute from the coming year. Would the additional fund be compensated by lesser funding from the MHRD or would the fund be used for infrastructural development?
The MHRD has already indicated in their letter that the fee hike is not going to offset the grant from the government. Traditionally, whatever fee is collected is subtracted from the expenses and the remaining is given by the govt. Now, the increased fee will have to be used to raise a multiplier from the recently incorporated Higher Education Funding Agency(HEFA) that was announced in the recent union budget. Next year, if the fee hike creates an additional availability of x crores, 4x crores could be provided by the funding agency, which could be repaid every year from the fee collected from that batch. This money could help us develop new infrastructure in the institute. We already have plans for setting up another academic building, a second dining hall, setting up more rooms for female students etc. The additional funds would ensure the availability of sufficient funds for these projects and help us complete them quickly.
Now that the academic year is almost coming to an end, how would you like to review the year for IITM in hindsight?
We’ve done reasonably well. Running an institute as big as an IIT is a long term commitment. That’s why strategic plans are important. If you live from year to year you wouldn’t know where you’re going. Our board expects me to present the outcomes every year and I think we have done pretty well this year. The new curriculum has been implemented, new faculty have joined. The qualitative targets are well on track as well. We’re well on our track to meet the goals of the strategic plan 2020.