Aiming for the top slot

Vice chancellor Bijendra Nath Jain wants BITS Pilani listed amongst the top 25 tech institutes in Asia by 2020. He shares his vision with Uma Keni Prabhu.

1. What should a university do to achieve the status of a “centre of excellence”?

Truly, the answer lies in whether the university wishes to be known as a university that is primarily focused on teaching and learning, or does it consider research to be an important part of its agenda. Globally, the better-known universities attempt to excel in both teaching and research. Needless to say, in either case, the focus should be on faculty development, student-faculty engagement, infrastructure development and research funding. It must equally focus on transparency, fairness, outcomes, and ethical behaviour.

2. How can we inculcate scientific temper in students?

Other than including physical and mathematical sciences in one’s curriculum, one must insist that students go through a number of courses in social sciences so that they can challenge and evaluate the impact that engineering solutions will have on society. Further, one must emphasize development of analytical skills for synthesizing or building things in the lab or outside the labs. Development of such skills must be part of every component of student training.

3. How do we internationalise our campuses?

This is a difficult area. Every university in India strives to internationalise, but has succeeded marginally at best. Three areas come to mind. These are (i) recruit students from outside India to ensure diversity (including those from Europe, China, the Middle East and Africa), (ii) employ faculty who are not of Indian origin (and this is the right time to do so, given the very high levels of unemployment of trained people in Europe), and (iii) undertake research or training in collaboration with universities abroad.

4. What exactly BITS is doing to achieve this?

BITS has recently made offers to three faculty members who are of German, Italian and Romanian origin. We plan to do more in this respect. Regarding recruiting foreign students, we have approached the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh to allow us to hold the BITSAT entrance exam in Dhaka and thus recruit their students. To avoid distortions in academic standards, we would not wish to recruit foreign students using a process other than the one we use for Indians. Among many other initiatives, we run a summer/winter school in Global Health in collaboration with faculty from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York for Indian and American students.

5. How do you plan to get BITS listed amongst the top tech institutes in the world and by when?

We wish to be listed amongst the top three tech-institutes in India by 2015-16 and amongst the top 25 in Asia by 2020-21. But, we are not going to wait. We are certainly pushing the envelope as much as we can, particularly in respect of growing the students body 60% by 2020 (with most of the growth taking place at PG and PhD levels) while transforming BITS into a research-focused university.

6. What is the response of faculty and students to your vision?

Clearly, the faculty, staff and the management is completely aligned on these goals as also on the means being adopted to achieve the goals. The means adopted include increased emphasis on faculty empowerment, student-friendly policies, staff training, industry engagement, a stable model for revenue generation, close monitoring of all our expenses.

7. Fundamental R&D requires money and time? How will you manage this?

As an independent university, BITS is self-sustaining in terms of funds that it needs to grow and transform itself. We do not receive any budgetary support from anyone. The funds are generated from the tuition fees. Yes, we compete for research grants given by different government agencies and industry. There is no alternative for an independent university except to innovate in this area.

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