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‘Incubation centres of IITs are heavily tilted towards IT’

Two eminent scientists talk about the need for more civil and mechanical engineers in India and how students can bring about a change.

education Updated: Apr 09, 2013 14:45 IST
Gauri Kohli

After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently announced the new science and technology policy, HT Education spoke to Pradeep Khosla, chancellor, University of California, USA, and Ashish Lele, winner of the Infosys Prize 2012 for Engineering and Computer Science, about the engineering education scenario in India.

How will India fare in the field of science and technology in the next decade?
Khosla: I don’t see India being a power in the science and technology domain in the next decade. It’s not because of a dearth of talent, but because there aren’t any strong policies supportive of creating enough talented people.

Lele: It is a challenge for the scientists to strike a balance between both fundamental and applied sciences. The problem areas are energy and healthcare. Taking innovative projects to the masses is another hurdle. The challenge is to get institutes from many disciplines together to be able to address these.

A lot of students come up with innovative projects in many engineering institutions such as the IITs, but very few get the chance to take them to the next level. What would you suggest to these students?
Khosla: We need to work on getting people who can look at an idea and monetise it. The Indian government is investing a lot in research but it does not have an integrated policy that addresses this issue.

Lele: You need to have an ecosystem in place for this. A strong intellectual property cell and regular funding are some of the important things we need.

Which disciplines in science and engineering need more attention in the next few years?
Khosla: There is a need for material and civil engineers. But when you talk about the work coming out of IITs, all of it is significantly distorted because you are mainly aimed at the IT sector. There are a number of engineers who get educated but never practice what they learn.

Lele: If you look at the incubation centres of the IITs, they are heavily tilted Stowards IT. The first preference of IIT graduates is to work in banks, the finance and IT sectors. Engineering comes in as a third option and that too for areas like computer science. We really need more civil and mechanical engineers to give an impetus to the manufacturing sector.

Do collaborations with foreign institutes really help Indian institutes?
Khosla: I think it will have an impact but the problem is that a lot of such tie-ups are not solving the real problem. Solving that problem would mean bringing that style of education to this country and I don’t see that happening right now. The brand name of an institute holds greater importance in Indian ethos.

It’s important to get the pedagogy, innovation and research capacities here.

How are the new engineering areas growing? Where are the jobs?
Lele: Both the public sector and the private sector are investing heavily on R&D. This will allow engineers to enjoy the freedom to innovate and also give them funds for research. Companies like the Aditya Birla Group, Reliance Industries, L&T and Indian Oil Corporation are some examples.

How should a student choose the discipline in engineering?
Khosla: It should be based on their passion. The institutes should also understand what the students want. In the US, if a student joins an engineering programme he has the freedom to study other disciplines as well. So a computer engineering student can go for civil engineering as well. This makes learning interdisciplinary.