Prof. Rangan Banerjee, Director, IIT Delhi, talks about the technological changes that have taken place in in his institute, transformation in the academic ecosystem and new skill sets in the post-Covid world. Selected and edited excerpts from the interview.
Coming out of the Covid Era
Initially when we were struck with the pandemic, we were struggling. In the initial phase we were getting used to a different mode of delivery. We started training our faculty. Over a period of time, we took to this. It became something where we picked up a lot of tools and techniques related to the online system. However, there is nothing like coming back to live classrooms. But the challenge has always been even during pre-Covid, about exciting the students.
IIT Delhi is co-ordinating a project called Virtual Labs, in which about 1200 different experiments are taking place in many science and engineering fields. There, you get a feel of the experiment, and you can control it. This was started before Covid but got a fillip during the pandemic. It has shown us that when we are faced with a challenge, there are many things we can do differently, and we can think differently. Some of these lessons will come in handy as we move forward.
In terms of industry and collaborations, there was an initial drop but that has again picked up. We are looking at seeing how the country can grow; where we can have a strategic advantage and see how we can work together with industry in some of the emerging areas.
The importance of digital education
We have to engage seriously with digital education because we have a problem of reach. We are today a little more than 600 faculty members and about 12,000 students. We have a campus of 320 acres. Our physical infrastructure is the constraint. Our selectivity is at the JEE level is less than 1%. How do we create and increase our reach? Very clearly there are many digital offerings that we can do.
This does not mean that digital is only solution. We will definitely explore more with digital. We are looking at diplomas and specialized courses. Education is an all-round experience that we give. We try to transform people’s lives, influence their thinking, and look at giving them certain skill sets. It’s not just about information but certain perspectives and capabilities, so that they become future ready.
It is going to be a blend of in person and online. We also know that today’s young generation is very comfortable with online and digital. The ideal thing is we give some choice where people can have this blend.
On techceleration & learning being a lifelong process
Learning is a lifelong process, and it has always been so. Techceleration (technological acceleration) in this present day and age is not just about information which you have learnt. It is about relearning. We are exploring specialized courses for alumni. We are looking at modules for working professionals.
As technologies change, as perspectives change, we need to have the flexibility and ability to adapt. We believe our curriculum must be something that provides people with that ability. They can refresh their skill sets. It is also about the attitude and way in which you look at a problem.
The importance of industry
In specialized areas, we would like to have many courses which are linked with industry. For instance, we have an MTech programme in VSLI design and technologies. A large proportion of the batch are sponsored by the industry. Even those who are not sponsored are working on industry projects.
We have an international MTech programme on renewables and energy management taken from students from all over the world, each one funded by their governments. It’s funded by an international solar agency.
We have a number of people from industry who are coming in as professors of practice. We have cutting edge research facilities. We want to configure some of the new programmes in consultation with the industry so that we can meet future needs and current skill gaps. We would like to see industry coming and spending time here in terms of sabbaticals.
The critical thing in all of this is that if India is to be Atmanirbhar, we in academia must work along with industry to provide our industry with competitive advantage. This has to happen through good quality people and good quality inputs in terms of knowledge and research. We have to create that roadmap and it is an ongoing journey and we are very excited about it.
(Catch the complete interview on the Dataquest India YouTube channel)
Prof. Rangan Banerjee
Director, IIT Delhi
By Sunil Rajguru