G Viswanathan, chancellor, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), spoke to HT Horizons during a recent visit to Delhi. Some excerpts:
Tell us about VIT’s tie-up for research programmes with ISRO and the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR)?
We have very close relations with IGCAR, Kalpakkam. Many of our BTech and MTech students go there for research projects because they have practical knowledge and our faculty has theoretical knowledge. Some of their employees, as well as others from companies such as Wipro and Cognizant, come to VIT for their masters.
Do PhD candidates and researchers get the UGC/ CSIR’s junior and senior research fellowships?
That’s our complaint against the government. We don’t get these because we are a private institute. Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology, ISRO don’t discriminate. We try to give scholarships — R5,000 to R15,000 to those who join us. Government institutes take a limited number of students. Each IIT has about 5000-6000 students. A number of students are going (to VIT) because the government is not expanding.
What does the ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, US) tag on your study programmes mean for Indians?
India produces youth who go and serve in the global market. We can’t accommodate everybody. So, we deliberately prepare them for the world market.
For BTech, we have a SAP (Semester Abroad Programme). We encourage students to do projects in foreign countries. Some foreign universities pay them. Otherwise, if a student cannot afford it, then we provide air tickets. This year, we are expecting 500 students to go.
We teach five foreign languages — French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese.
In 2005, we went for British recognition from IET, Institution of Engineering Technology, UK.
In the case of ABET, students who have undergone ABET-accredited courses can practise in the US and they get preference for admission to top US universities. In Commonwealth countries, there’s a good recognition of these two accreditations.
Our civil and mechanical engineering programmes are ABET-accredited.
What about affordability? Private institutes are expensive.
If you get government grants, then you can charge less. Or give directly to the student. What I want is that the government give the money to the students.
We do give scholarships. Last year, we gave 1,700 scholarships, merit-based as well as need-based. We have STARS - Support for Advancement of Rural Students. I come from a village. We select a boy and a girl topper from a village through the chief education officer. We give them free education, boarding and lodging. We take 62 students per year. The programme is in the third year now. We spend R1.5 crore on them.
Unless we give the youth quality higher education, the demographic dividend will become a liability. So, education has to expand, especially in a country which believes in a knowledge economy. In Delhi, those with above 90% marks couldn’t get admission. Expansion in higher education is not taking place.
What do you say about the higher education scenario in the country?
I want the (human resource development) ministry to facilitate the expansion of higher education. We are trying to meet the parliamentary committee. It (a bill) looks more like the Indian Penal Code - there’s a fine of R50 lakh or jail. It’s totally negative. With this kind of punishment, who will come (to invest) in higher education?