BITS Pilani will apply for global rankings next year

Navadha Pandey
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We want to increase the number of on-campus students and industry professionals, says Vice-Chancellor B.N. Jain

B.N. Jain, Vice-Chancellor, BITS Pilani. — Ramesh Sharma
B.N. Jain, Vice-Chancellor, BITS Pilani. — Ramesh Sharma

Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) aims to be among the top 25 technology institutions in Asia by 2020. It plans to achieve this by increasing focus on research and industry engagement.

In an interview with Business Line, BITS Vice-Chancellor B.N. Jain spoke about plans to renovate and expand the Pilani campus while also improving infrastructure at its Goa and Hyderabad campuses. This will require investment of over Rs 1,000 crore over next 5 years. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you plan to be featured in Asia’s top institutions?

We are open to be assessed and ranked by external agencies. We want to achieve this by remaining focussed on two things: research and industry engagement. We do want to grow. But growth should be as a better known research institution. Our USP is deeper form of industry engagement – all our students have an option of spending six months in the industry We also have an effective programme to train industry professionals.

We have over 20,000 industry professionals studying with us across four campuses (Pilani, Goa, Hyderabad and Dubai), although our on-campus student strength is around 11,000. We want both these numbers to increase. From 11,000 in the last academic year, we want to raise our on-campus student strength to about 18,000 and our off-campus industry professionals from 20,000 to about 38,000 by 2020.

On campus, the growth from post graduate and Ph.D programmes is going to be very significant. Ph.D programmes should grow 5 times. Undergraduate programme strength will grow about 30 per cent and post graduate strength by 150 per cent.

How do you plan to increase focus on research?

We are working with our faculty to ensure that they seek competitive research grants from Government or industry to support their own research. We also encourage our faculty members to spend some time in the industry. They are expected to bring these lessons from the industry to the classroom. Hopefully, they will also identify research problems for themselves, which they can work on. The industry may also fund the research problem if they find it interesting.

Why does India lag behind in published research?

If you look at India, the number of universities varies from 600 to 800. But not many are research-focussed. The mandate of most universities is to just teach. As a result, their output in terms of research is small. Though this category is growing, growth is in the wrong direction. There are publishing companies in India and abroad that publish papers as soon as you submit one and that is not a good way to measure research. You measure it by the number of citations each paper or number of citations for each faculty member.

Do you feel the mushrooming of universities is bringing the quality of education down?

Whenever such growth happens it is near certain that there will be many universities that will offer decent quality education. But it is also certain that there will be many more that will offer terrible quality. We have been a little relaxed in ensuring that our colleges deliver on quality. Our methods of assessing quality have not been the best. You can’t measure quality with the number of lectures or academic programmes. Placement ratios, student feedback, industry feedback on programmes are a better measure of assessment.

Why don’t Indian universities feature in global rankings?

Honestly, most Indian universities don’t care. Rankings are also about perception. I don’t know how well Indian universities are perceived abroad. It is a chicken and egg problem -- if you are not on the list, your perception will be missed and if your perception is missed, you won’t be on that list.

Of course, the fundamental problem is the number of citations for each paper is low and income from industry is not great. But, give us five more years, some of our institutions will be on these lists. Even BITS Pilani has never submitted documents for these lists so far, but we will do so in the next year.

What sort of handholding do incubators provide for start-ups across campuses?

At the Pilani campus, we have had an incubator for a long-time. My guess is about 20-25 students have started off companies. In Hyderabad, we now have a major incubator with significant funding from us and the Department of Science and Technology. Now we are beginning to put in place systems through which we can buy resources for those incubated. Apart from physical resources, we offer services such as access to industry professionals. BITS Pilani will not give them a loan or a grant in Hyderabad, but in Goa and Pilani we have a programme from the Department of Information Technology where a certain amount of money is available to be given to these start-ups.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 24, 2013)
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