IIT-Delhi Director: It’s time India internationalises the NIRF

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Updated: Jun 08, 2020 10:45 AM

The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) is transparent, and it should now have an international outlook. Probably we can identify 50 top universities in the world and compare our institutions with these 50 institutions.

Ramgopal Rao, Director, IIT Delhi

THE INDIAN INSTITUTE ofTechnology (IIT) Delhi, reportedly, hopes to get students back to the campus starting July 2 in a phased manner, but the date may change depending on how the Covid-19 situation unfolds.“These
are uncertain times. Students whose entire semesteris about taking lectures and no laboratory work, may study from home,” says V Ramgopal Rao, Director, IIT Delhi. In an interview with Vikram Chaudhary, he talks about the future of campus studies and why IITs are not happy with the way global rankings are devised.

There are different opinions globally on how universities should restart classes. What are your views?

Some American universities, I think, have gone overboard—they have said that till summer 2021 there won’t be physical classes. That is not going to work for IITs. At IIT Delhi, it will depend on how the Covid-19 situation evolves. At the same time, if a student has internet connectivity and can take lectures at home, I don’t see a reason for him/her to come to the campus right now. Our classes are usually jam-packed and it may be difficult to follow
social distancing norms. But engineering curriculum has a lot of laboratory work…

That can be done once students are back to the campus. For example, if they have to do 10 lab experiments in a semester, and earlier if they did one experiment per week, they can now do those 10 experiments in 10 days once they are here.

What about PhD students?

PhD students I think need to be here, because research cannot take a back seat, especially during current times. We are thinking of getting those research students to the campus whose work depends on experiments.IIT Delhi has about 3,500 PhD students, and we can maintain social distancing norms even with that number; our hostels can accommodate them.

Will Covid-19 permanently change colleges and universities?

A flipped classroom kind of model will become more popular, as will blended learning. Most students and faculty are already gettingusedtothat. But, on campus, a lot of peer learning also happens; that peer learning component is completely lost in an online mode. Our alumni so fondly talks about their attachment to hostels, and the friendships on the campus that last a lifetime. All these things aren’t possible online.

Why have IITs decided not to take part in THE (Times Higher Education) World University Rankings this year?

The biggest challenge with all these rankings— and not just THE, but even QS—is that the component‘ perceptions a very high weightage. Let’s take the example of JNU.  Now, if you go and ask somebody in Japan about JNU and that somebody hasn’t even heard of nu, on the ‘perception component JNU will be ranked low, and that will lower its overall rank.

Is this the right way to judge?

I agree that Ivy League universities are far ahead of us, and far older too, but keep those few universities aside
and compare any leading IIT withanyothersimilarAmerican university, maybe on publications per faculty or
citations per faculty,andyou will find that IITs compete verywell or even better. But when you add the ‘perception’ component, those universities get a higher rank. The problem is, in some rankings,50% weightage is given to
‘perception’, and there is not enough clarity on how that ‘perception’ part works.

So, what can be done?

The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) is transparent, and it should now have an international outlook. Probably we can identify 50 top universities in the world and compare our institutions with these 50 institutions—it can be done by the NIRF by joining hands with global ranking agencies, such as THE and QS. But
leave the ‘perception’ part out, and then benchmark the best of India with those select 50, but benchmark on metrics.
Because only then we will get to know where we lag, where we need to improve. Four years ago, at IIT Delhi we were
spending Rs 100 crore on research, and now we are touching Rs 500 crore. That’s huge growth, but it doesn’t reflect anywhere in any of the international rankings. That is the problem with them.

How many job offers of IIT Delhi students got cancelled due to Covid-19?

We had about a dozen students who lost their job offers, but the students who have lost internships is as lightly larger number, and we are conducting special placement sessions that will happen sometime in July.

How must engineering students prepare themselves in a post-Covid-19world?

When it comes to the prevention and detection of diseases, engineers have a major role to play. As far as jobs are concerned, much depends on the economy to recover, but there could be a reorientation of engineering jobs—the nature of jobs will change. Soft skills will be more in demand even among engineers.

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