We would like to establish a global IIT

Written by Malvika Chandan | Updated: Jun 8 2009, 05:49am hrs
Professor UB Desai started his tenure a few days ago as the director of IIT, Hyderabad, moving from IIT, Bombay, where he was faculty in the department of electrical engineering. A lifelong Bombayite, Desai is not worried about settling into Hyderabad, a major metro and cosmopolitan city. IIT Hyderabad, started last year is temporarily housed at an ordinance factory campus for another one and a half to two years till it moves to its own 500-acre campus. While it will take time for the institute to reach its optimal level in terms of faculty, infrastructure and students, Desai is optimistic that the new IIT will reach world-class levels. In an interview with FEs Malvika Chandan, Desai speaks about the priority areas for the new IIT. Excerpts:

What has been the progress made at IIT Hyderabad since last year

As per our master plan IIT Hyderabad has a 550-acre allotment from the government and at full capacity we will be able to house 10,000 plus students across streams and batches. While the master plan has a 50-year horizon we already have architects working on the construction of the campus that will be ready by December 2010 or early 2011. The structure we are using in the interim has sheds which has been converted to labs, classrooms with interactivity and basic infrastructure at a scaled down level. Last year in June, 120 BTech students were inducted into IIT Hyderabad in the mechanical, electrical and computer science streams. This year the math stream also took off and in addition to 120 BTech students, 35 MTech and 10 PhD students were given admission.

What are your priorities as director

One of the key challenges will be to recruit good faculty and create a conducive ambience for them. This will be the top most priority. Currently there are no faculty at IIT Hyderabad. All teaching is being done by IIT Chennai faculty. We have received 2000 applicants and if we are able to hire 40 faculty members by the end of the year then I will be satisfied. Infrastructure will also be a big priority along with forming strong research partnerships with industry. IIT Bombay is a role model in this regard where industry participation is quite impressive. For instance, the institute got a huge grant from the ministry of IT to the tune of Rs 49 crore and with the help from Applied Materials who gave IIT Mumbai equipment, a world-class nano electronic lab was built on campus. This is available for usage by IIT and other institutes. We need to have more such partnerships taking place naturally across streams in nano, materials, chemicals, physics and electrical engineering. We would also like to inculcate a culture of innovation on campus wherein students feel free to experiment with their ideas and form ventures. We hope to emulate from the West in IIT Hyderabad the cross disciplinary culture where students can choose from an intersection of various disciplines.

What is your expectation from mentor IITs and other established IITs

Expectation from our mentor IIT, IIT Chennai would be to allow research to be done at the mentor IITs and also all teaching to be done by mentor IIT faculty. Additional administrative support, process related support such as form filling etc would be valuable. Hyderabad has Chennai to fall back on for this support just as the new IIT Gandhinagar has Bombay.

As time goes by and we are able to find our feet the relationship will continue but with less structure. There is no formal time frame for this but we anticipate in the next four years or so we would have our critical staff in place and our dependence will be a little less. As a new director assigned to give my whole and soul to IIT Hyderabad, I would like to see relationships with other IITs continue and to develop joint projects with established IITs for our new professors.

What are you doing to attract high calibre faculty

For faculty we hope to create in Hyderabad what we have been able to create in IIT Mumbai which has not only broadened opportunities for but also supplemented compensation to faculty. IIT Mumbai faculty are part of several industry sponsored researches on campus and also deployed for consultancy projects and some also work with companies on a retainer basis.

There is going to be a thrust on research at IIT Hyderabad which is why we have started MTech programmes effective August 2009. Our PhDs are being mentored by IIT Chennai faculty and as faculty we realise that to do good research we need good students and hopefully in the coming years faculty will encourage more students to take up PhDs. The corporate sector will also have their role to play in this effort wherein companies such as TCS have already stepped forward providing large number of fellowships to MTechs students studying electrical engineering in IIT Bombay. These companies are investing in research and teaching labs. We would like to establish the new IIT as a global IIT and encourage new modes of interaction with global colleges and also smaller colleges in our neighbourhood.

Last year, IIT Bombay put out 200 PhDs and this year IIT Kharagpur will graduate 240 PhDs. IIT Bombay has more students graduating with MTech than BTech and this is a result of more R&D companies offering jobs to students with these qualifications.