If connectivity is ever considered a top criterion for selecting sites to set up new IITs and IIMs, those in the pipeline will miss the bus.
The squabbling over a suitable site in Odisha following the NDA government’s decision to open five new IITs and an equal number of IIMs has sparked a debate over location because some such national institutes that came up between 2009 and 2011 in small towns were apparently struggling to find and retain good faculty and arrange logistics.
Most of these are located in towns which aren’t connected to good road or rail networks, let alone airports. The nearest airport for Kashipur in Uttarakhand, which has the youngest IIM, is 70km away at Pantnagar. The town has only two daily trains connecting Delhi, about 200km away.
“Getting faculty and companies to visit us is a challenge. Companies need enormous persuasion to visit campuses of new IIMs, especially those at unfavourable locations,” said Gautum Sinha, the director of IIM Kashipur.
IIM Trichy in Tamil Nadu has a similar problem because there are fewer domestic flights from the town than those to Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Mandi in Himachal Pradesh, the site for a new IIT, doesn’t even have a direct train from any major city. Chandigarh, 185km by road, is the nearest railhead and airport.
Gautam Biswas, the director of IIT Guwahati that was established in 1994, said the institute has struggled to attract faculty because no night flight operates from the airport in the Northeast’s main city. “There is seldom a flight from Guwahati after 7pm. Flights (at night) to Delhi and Mumbai are needed.”
For IIT Ropar in Punjab, some member of its staff is always travelling to Chandigarh and New Delhi to either procure equipment or for mundane maintenance tasks.
MK Surappa, the institute’s director, said lack of good schools, hospitals or jobs for spouses in the town have been prompting most of the faculty members to avoid permanent postings.
The institute had 38 vacant teaching positions out of 90 sanctioned posts, according to figures in 2013. “Sometimes teachers quit in the middle of the session,” Surappa said.
The absence of good hotels and campus accommodations are also keeping visiting lecturers away from many such institutes. “Arranging accommodation for faculty from abroad is a problem because there is hardly any good facility here. Most of the new IIMs are still functioning from temporary campuses, which may also deter recruiters,” said P Rameshan, the director of IIM Rohtak.
IIT Bhubaneswar has started offering 30% more pay than the older IITs to plug the faculty drain, while Kanpur has virtual lectures to make up for the shortage. But those in favour of a network of IITs and IIMs attribute the faculty crunch to teaching generally losing its attraction as a sought-after profession. They said institutes located even in the remotest town could bring companies for placement through good public relations.
Sudhir Jain, the director of IIT Gandhinagar gave perspective to the debate: “All institutes have teething problems and these are being overcome.”