ICT | Creating its own space amid fierce competition
Mumbai: The Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs, are the Holy Grail for hundreds of thousands of students all over India aspiring to become engineers. A seat in these world-famous institutions is seen as a ticket to an attractive career, and a path to wealth and fame.
At par: Though the laboratories at ICT seem to be a relic of the past to the untrained eye, students insist they have all the facilities that are available at the best universities in the world. Ashesh Shah / Mint
Tucked away in a corner in Matunga, a low-brow Mumbai suburb, is the Institute of Chemical Technology, or ICT, which aspires to stand shoulder to shoulder with the IITs.
Compared with the IITs, the institute seems almost parochial, with reservation for Maharashtra and Mumbai students and clinging to old university traditions. But for its faculty and students, ICT is the best in India when it comes to chemical engineering—its core competency.
“We are a compact institute with focus on chemical and allied industries and our industrial connectivity is better,” says G.D. Yadav, director of the institute.
Of late, Things have only gotten better, says Yadav. ICT was given the status of a deemed university last year, giving it freedom from government controls on coursework, admissions and fees, and better access to funds from the University Grants Commission.
Also, in the past year, the school has landed some Rs150 crore worth of research projects from quasi-government institutions such as the Indira Gandhi Centre of Atomic Research, the department of biotechnology and the department of science and technology. That’s impressive for an institute that specializes in one branch of engineering—chemical technology.
To gain some perspective, compare this with IIT Kharagpur, another research-focused institute with area of proficiency ranging from electronics to crop science, which in 2007-08 had Rs350 crore worth of projects.
Research is at the heart of ICT’s existence, say professors and students alike. “Science has to be translated to commercial reality,” says Arvind M. Lalli, who heads a new biotechnology facility that was built this year. “The main idea is to generate people and nicely bridge the gap between academia and industry.” According to Lalli, on average, every professor in his department is working on 10-12 projects at the same time. Typically, each project involves two or more students at the PhD or master’s level, and often they are interdisciplinary in nature.
On a muggy June afternoon when this reporter visited the campus, one could see scores of researchers peering over notes and sweating over beakers in laboratories nearly 60 years old, that have clearly seen better days.
“The institute allows us a lot of freedom in pursuing research,” says Umesh Suryavanshi, a PhD scholar. Though the laboratories seem to be a relic of the past to an untrained eye, Suryavanshi insists they have all the facilities available to the best universities in the world.
“Things are only going to get better with the new projects and funding,” adds Suryavanshi, who left IIT Bombay a month after he joined the PhD programme because he felt the approach there was too theoretical.
“Around 10% of engineering PhDs in the country every year are from our institute,” claims Lalli. “The industry requirement is still around 1,000 PhDs a year,” he adds dryly, adding that “we have a long way to go”.
Researchers here engage in a variety of projects that touch our lives in ways we don’t typically think about. For instance, when Dow Chemicals, a company with interests in packaging, wanted to increase the shelf life of food products, it approached ICT’s food technology department.
This is but one example. Companies such as Cadbury India Ltd, Reliance Industries Ltd, India Glycols Ltd, Pepsico Inc. and Mitsubishi Chemicals Corp. also flock to the campus to find solutions to niggling little problems. For the companies, the solution comes at a relatively low cost. For the institute, the companies are a source of funding that enables it to upgrade facilities and labs while supporting more scholars.
In some case, it reaps more rewards because it patents its findings and is able to license them.
Like in the case of Lalli’s department. It had a breakthrough in a purification process for monoclonal antibodies used to treat cancer. Around 10 scholars worked for a year to develop cheaper alternatives for purification. This will sharply bring down the cost of cancer treatment from about Rs10 lakh per patient per year to Rs1 lakh, says Lalli. The department has licensed this process to Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp., though the professor wouldn’t say for how much.
When the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research wanted to figure out a way to reduce the cost of purifying metals such as thorium from industrial and nuclear plant effluent, it approached professor S.R. Shukla. His team of researchers has come out with an alternative whose main ingredient is dried orange peels. With success at the lab stage, the team is now working to scale it up to the factory level.
“Research is the lifeline of our institute,” says Shukla. “We are doing better than most university departments because our faculty are all researchers, they bring new knowledge into teaching, plus there is connectivity to the industry.”
The institute now wants to bring research to the undergraduate level, and plans to start a centre for undergraduate research in engineering.
“Postgrad students tend to be more careful with their research,” says Yadav. “This centre, where I have got support for 25 students this year, will let them try crazy ideas and do some kite-flying. ”
— Ravi Krishnan
Jadavpur University | An affordable melting pot with rich heritage
Kolkata: An institute launched by intellectuals in 1906 for the advancement of technical education became Jadavpur University 50 years later. And over the next few decades, it emerged as the premier institute for technical education in eastern India after the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.
With as many as 17 departments under its faculty of engineering and technology, it has been granted five-star status by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, which rates colleges—a recognition of its academic excellence.
The university, students say, is a melting pot of social backgrounds. For instance, Chitradeep Sengupta, a second-year student of metallurgical engineering, is the son of a Kolkata-based doctor, and he counts among his best friends classmate Animesh Ganguly, whose father is a textile trader in Durgapur town, 180km from Kolkata.
“Jadavpur (University) teaches you to share space with people from diverse backgrounds which, for me, was a very important lesson,” says Sengupta.
What makes it accessible to even underprivileged students is its fee structure. A four-year bachelor of engineering (BE) course or a three-year bachelor of technology (BTech) programme costs as little as Rs2,400 a year, whereas in private colleges in West Bengal, a BE course costs at least Rs41,000 a year.
The undergraduate programme in information technology (IT) engineering at Jadavpur University is more expensive at Rs30,000 a year, but for those who cannot afford this fee, the institute offers need-based scholarships and fee waivers.
“No deserving candidate has ever been turned away from Jadavpur because he or she couldn’t afford the fees,” says Manoj Kumar Mitra, dean of the faculty. The only requirement is academic excellence. Nearly 100,000 students sit for the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination every year; only the best manage to secure admission in Jadavpur University.
The most sought-after are the university’s electrical engineering, chemical, electronics, IT, mechanical and architecture departments. The university has around 1,000 seats under its faculty of engineering and technology, and for admission to any of its 17 departments, a student must rank among the top 1,500. Students can choose to study more subjects than those that are compulsory under a programme, but they have to attend classes outside college hours.
“Our aim is to integrate different streams of engineering…exposure to other streams helps students in the long run,” says Siddhartha Datta, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor.
IT firms such as Infosys Technologies Ltd, Wipro Ltd, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and the Indian unit of Cognizant Technology Solution Corp. hire from across departments, according to Datta.
— Aveek Datta
College of Engineering, Anna University | 2 centuries old, but open to new ideas
What do the milk revolution and Indian cricket have in common?
The College of Engineering at Anna University.
The college counts as alumni both Verghese Kurien, the man behind the Amul brand and Operation Flood of the 1970s that made India the world’s largest milk producer, and Krishnamachari “Kris” Srikkanth, the power-hitting opener for the Indian cricket team of the 1980s. Kurien, now 87, specialized in mechanical engineering, and Srikkanth, 49, in electrical engineering.
Nurturing talent: Students at College of Engineering, Anna University. The college gets 165,000 applications a year for its 1,000 seats. Sharp Image
The 215-year-old college lives up to its heritage. It gets 165,000 applications a year for its 1,000 engineering seats— translating into an acceptance rate of 0.6%.
For Deepak Anbazhagan, an engineering student who will graduate next year with a specialization in electronics and communications, Anna University was the first choice.
“It is considered to be one of the best engineering schools, and some professors in our departments do involve students in their consulting projects, which is a useful experience,” said Anbazhagan, 20, who is from Chennai. The college attracts not only students, but also faculty. It has one teacher for every 12 students.
“The school has all the required facilities, including well-equipped labs,” said dean M. Sekhar. “Professors are attracted to the school because of its location in the city as well as the facilities to do research.”
The university’s main campus is situated in the southern part of Chennai, adjoining the Adyar river and the Raj Bhavan, the official residence of the governor of Tamil Nadu.
The faculty does research work as well as consulting. The school has worked with government departments to create cyclone warning systems in the 1970s; it helped the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board set up light-weight transmission lines in the 1980s, more recently, its professors have been involved in research in information technology.
Some students are critical of what the college offers or doesn’t offer.
One student, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of getting into trouble with the faculty, gave an example of a teacher who confessed to not knowing about a subject.
The teacher, said the student, encouraged the class to learn the subject by themselves. But the student also said this was the only such instance in his three years at the college.
The alumni are more forthcoming. “I expected so much. I was expecting a lot in terms of teaching and faculty, and was sorely disappointed,” said 21-year-old Neeraja Nagarajan, who graduated in 2009 with a specialization in geoinformatics, a combination of geography and information systems that involves mapping and surveying.
But Nagarajan is not sorry about her choice. “It is the best thing that happened to me,” said Nagarajan, who got placed at technology consulting firm Accenture as a software analyst. She will draw an annual salary of Rs3 lakh.
The college has also its share of archaic rules, but Anbazhagan said relaxation of campus regulations by vice-chancellor P. Mannar Jawahar, who took office last year, has made the college student-friendly again.
He made a strict dress code lenient and lifted a ban on the use of cellphones in the campus. Anbazhagan said the “no jeans, no T-shirts” policy has been relaxed and students can carry cellphones provided they switch them off in class.
Dean Sekhar is working on intertwining the engineering school’s courses—the school has 14 undergraduate departments, each running one-two programmes. He also wants to promote fledgling businesses set up by his students.
“Right now the courses are compartmentalized. I’d like there to be more connection between all departments,” said Sekhar. “There is also scope for incubation units to be set up within the university.”
— Anupama Chandrasekaran