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Plan to build 20 IIITs is stuck

In a time of global uncertainty, a plan to set up 20 new institutes that could solve a nervous Indian tech sector’s biggest problem is stuck. All because the government does not want to cede control to industry, reports Prasad Nichenametla.

delhi Updated: Sep 22, 2008 00:54 IST
Prasad Nichenametla

In a time of global uncertainty, a plan to set up 20 new institutes that could solve a nervous Indian tech sector’s biggest problem is stuck. All because the government does not want to cede control to industry.

The plan is exciting. Twenty Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs) to provide top-quality infotech education to thousands of aspirants and address in large part the tech sector’s key issue: crores spent on retraining ill-trained techies.

This is particularly important as global financial turmoil pressures bottom lines and forces Indian IT to become leaner and meaner.

If it is to retain its global footprint, Indian IT — which contributed to 5 per cent of India’s GDP — needs 2.3 million skilled staff by 2010, up 300,000 from the 2 million it employs now.

With this need in mind, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) in the 11th plan document proposed the 20 IIITs, operated through a public-private partnership.

But the HRD ministry wants control of that partnership.

The ministry’s argument: we’re providing the land, much of the money, (half of the direct) loans and other benefits like tax exemptions.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), the umbrella body for the IT sector, has proposed an independent authority to oversee the 20 IIITs to ensure autonomy, flexibility and transparency.

That, Nasscom said in a May report to the government, would allow the highest standards and the building of Brand IIIT, much like Brand IIT, India’s cutting-edge engineering institutes, which — with about 7,000 graduates per year — are in no position to keep Indian IT supplied with staff. “There is a question over who will run these institutes,” a source in the ministry told HT. “We want government representatives on board, as we cannot leave everything in their [industry] control. Obviously, after providing all the benefits the government cannot be pushed aside.”

Nasscom also wants deemed university status for the each institute — the IIIT set up between the Centre, state and the corporate partner.

Apart from money, corporate partners will spur links with industry, provide adjunct faculty, help with job placements, managerial expertise and infrastructure.

A similar standoff unfolded last year when a private-public project to upgrade 1,396 Industrial Training Institutes across India ran aground. Industry bodies faced opposition from states who did not want to cede their control over these institutes, which churn out lakhs of students ill-qualified for India's globalised industries.

The Nasscom report also cautions government against “political expediency”, in fixing IIIT locations. Meaning: set them up near IT parks and companies, not in political constituencies. ran aground. Industry bodies faced opposition from state governments who did not want to cede their traditional control over these institutes, which churn out lakhs of students ill-qualified for India’s globalised industries.