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Education Plus

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The coming revolution in IT education

The Centre is fast giving shape to 20 new Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs), one of which is expected to be located in Thiruvananthapuram. ABDUL LATHEEF NAHA details the scope of the initiative and the steps that are now being taken to take it forward.


The country will soon have 20 new national centres of excellence catering exclusively to information technology (IT), to take IT education to newer heights. The Centre is keenly working on modalities to set up the Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs) in 20 locations with private partnership. The government move has been spurred by a report presented by the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), the premier trade body representing t he Indian IT-BPO industry. Thiruvananthapuram is among the locations suggested by Nasscom. The other centres proposed are Chennai, Coimbatore, Mangalore, Bangalore, Mysore, Visakhapatanam, Ahmedabad, Jammu, Chandigarh, Dehradun, Delhi, Lucknow, Patna, Shillong, Kolkata, Indore, Nagpur, Bhubaneshwar and Pune.

A high-level committee headed by M.D. Tiwari, director of IIIT, Allahabad, has been working for about a year on the configuration of the proposed institutes. The committee, after a couple of meetings in the past fortnight, has given a final shape for the IIITs.

PPP mode

The new IIITs will differ from the existing ones in having wider autonomy and less government interference. Each new IIIT will be established in active partnership with a group of private companies in public-private partnership (PPP) mode.

“The new IIITs will differ from others by identifying and concentrating on certain domain areas of industry,” said Mr. Tiwari. For example, he said, an institution to be set up in a place like Jamshedpur should choose steel industry as its domain area. A State like Kerala has several areas to choose from, including tourism, Mr. Tiwari said.

While the required investment for the IIITs can vary depending on the location, close to Rs.100 crore has been estimated for each institution. The partners in the new IT venture will be the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, governments of the respective States where the institutes will be established and industry members, who will have a definite say in deciding the country’s future course of IT education.

Explaining the financial structure in a telephonic interview to The Hindu-EducationPlus, Mr. Tiwari said that the partnering companies would give Rs.15.1 crore and the Central government would chip in Rs.14.9 crore. Thus, the Centre will have a minority stake in the new IIITs. Besides, each institute will get a special interest-free loan of up to Rs.90 crore from the government. The loans will have to be repaid over 10 years after a five-year moratorium, said Dr. Tiwari. The new institutes will also be free to raise funds from different other funding agencies. The State government will have a stake by way of providing land for the institution. The State will have to give a minimum of 50 acres of land. However, we demand 100 acres of land with an eye on future development, said Dr. Tiwari.

The Central government, according to sources in Delhi, is keen to see that the new IIITs become functional in three months. Classes, sources said, may be started from temporary campuses even before constructing own buildings. Over a dozen associations of various industries are to attend a meeting to be held on September 4 to finalise the modalities.

Centres of excellence

Each IIIT has been envisioned to become a world class academic institute and also evolve into technology or functional centres of excellence through a strong focus on research in frontier technology areas. To achieve this objective, says Nasscom, it is imperative to attract best-in-class faculty and students; develop sustainable linkages with industry; and provide an environment conducive for research excellence.

With a focus on research, the new IIITs will have a faculty-student ratio of 1:10, as in IITs. However, there has been no mention of any reservation for students from backward classes. While the industry wants merit to be the sole criterion for admission, the government has been pressing for reservations.

Considering the dire faculty crunch in the country, Nasscom has made it clear that faculty members must be given salaries prevalent in the market.

Nasscom wants that all programmes in an IIIT should be given equal importance. It has been suggested that postgraduate programmes, especially Ph.D. programmes, should not be compromised with. The Kerala government, like neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, too has begun its efforts to identify a location for the proposed IIIT. Land availability in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur is being examined, says Education Minister M.A. Baby. According to him, no location has been fixed yet.

Sources in Thiruvananthapuram point out that the State government was keenly watching the developments in Delhi with regard to the new IIITs, especially in the light of more active participation from private players. K.R. Sreevathsan, Director of IIITM-K, Thiruvananthapuram, however, insists that IT as a fast-expanding branch of knowledge should be taught differently in the new IIITs and not the way it is currently being taught in the engineering institutions. “At present, 80 per cent of our IT needs are not addressed in the IT studies,” he said.

Forerunners

IIITs were conceived to be forerunners in the IT education sector at a time when India was going through a phase of unprecedented boom in the software industry in the late 90s. The course curriculum at these institutes is on par with similar offerings at the computer science departments of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT).

In Kerala, the IIITM-K (Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management – Kerala) was set up as an autonomous institution by the State government in 2000. IIIT-Gwalior, the pioneer among the IT institutes, was recently renamed Atal Bihari Vajpayee IIITM-Gwalior. IIIT-Bangalore, a part of the IT policy of Karnataka government, and IIIT-Hyderabad follow a public-private partnership model with significantly larger participation from industry. Both became full-fledged universities in 2004-05 and were required by the University Grants Commission to change their names to International Institutes instead of Indian Institutes.

Other IIITs were established on the lines of Hyderabad and Bangalore IIITs, some by the Centre and some by respective State governments. IIIT-Allahabad, IIITM-K, and IIIT-Calcutta are other institutes graduating brilliant engineers every year. IIIT-Calcutta has been renamed School of Information Technology (SIT) and designated the IT Department of the West Bengal University of Technology-Kolkata. International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-Pune), International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-Bhubaneswar) and Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-Delhi) were set up in recent years.

The latest ones — Indian Institute of Information Technology Design and Manufacturing, Kancheepuram (IIIT-DM) and Indian Institute of Information Technology Design and Manufacturing, Jabalpur (IIIT-DM) — have a focus on design and manufacturing.

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