VIT Founder & Chancellor Dr G Vishwanathan discusses the prospects of higher education in India, highlighting the parallel need for intervention and autonomy.
Vellore Institute of Technology has today etched its imprint as one of the finest institutions of higher learning in India. After receiving laurels from across the globe and training some of the sharpest minds in the country, Chancellor Dr G Vishwanathan discusses the future of the University, prospects of engineering in India and the need to reform higher education to match global standards of excellence.
What are your plans to further the vision of VIT?
Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) is a 33-year-old institution and as a University it has been 16-years since our accreditation, in 2001. I want to make VIT a world-class university providing global facilities. We are constantly updating our curriculum by introducing innovation in teaching while also developing our infrastructure. We learn from other universities to introduce the best practices in our institution and hone the skills of our students entering the competitive world. As a part of my routine, I visit all the leading universities on my foreign trips. We also send our Deans, Professors and Vice-Chancellors, Pro-Vice-Chancellors to various universities to learn their best practices.
The best aspect is our quality of students, who are all selected after passing rigorous competitive examinations. We also try to provide them with the best facilities –whether academic or residential.
VIT's rankings have stupendously improved to now stand at 13, on the list of the best engineering universities. How do you interpret this success and what is your way forward to make VIT both nationally and globally viable?
This growth has been a result of the dedication of our faculty and our students. It is a fact that no other Indian university finds themselves in a top slot in the global rankings. VIT has not only attained a certain position in India, but it has also etched its mark at the global level. VIT has been ranked at the first position among private universities and 13th among overall institutions, including both public and private universities. VIT is the only Indian university which has a four-star rating and a British accreditation. Also, we were the first university to get an ABET accreditation and now we are aiming for a five-star rating.
There is a paucity of quality jobs in the engineering sector as qualified engineers are not securing positions complementing their portfolio. What are your views?
It is a fact that there is a scarcity of jobs in the country as we are producing simple engineers; there is no value addition to their courses. Since I see this as an opportunity to serve the country, our goal is to produce a model citizen rather than just a qualified technocrat. No doubt, an engineer has to take care of the family, but at the same time, they have to exhibit their responsibility towards society and the country too.
Students at VIT not only receive lessons on subjects, they also learn punctuality, discipline and other ethos. At the institute, they are holistically trained for the world market. We also try to rope in the help of other universities and industries. We have foreign students from 52 countries, this helps in honing the skills of our own students as they are introduced to diverse cultures. VIT also offers seven foreign language courses so that students can opt to work in foreign countries, without any hassle.
We want our all students to find suitable placements, as at present, only all eligible BTech students have been placed. We want the students of MSc, MTech, to also get jobs of their choice as that fulfils the basic requirement of parents who spend money on their children's education. Since we are committed to the nation, it is our duty to find them better jobs. Our students at VIT have been placed among the best spots across the globe.
How do you view the government's move to develop 20 world class universities?
I hail the decision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to set up 20 world-class universities. It is a positive decision that can be achieved only with the help of the government. We want to develop our institutions to parallel world-class standards, but not at the cost of our autonomy. It (autonomy) should never be taken away. We want more autonomy, as in other developed countries like the USA; the government doesn't touch the autonomy of universities—whereas, in India, we have to go through the affiliation system which is the root cause of corruption.
In India, higher education is governed by affiliation, approval, NOC, permission and recognition, but in the USA, none of these is in existence and their education system far outweighs ours, as they believe in only accreditation. The duty of the government – whether federal or state – is to recognise an accreditation agency and their job comes to an end. Thereafter, it is the job of the accreditation agency to visit institutions, verify infrastructure, meet the students, teachers, and finally produce its report on the institution, which is then accepted by the state government or federal government and the people.
It is a known fact that too many regulators introduce corruption into the education system. Even our Vice President had raised the issue by saying that 'regulators should not become strangulators'. We have so many regulatory bodies in the country that we are over-regulated and under-governed. This was the phrase that was used by our Prime Minister some time ago. It applies to education too. We want reforms in higher education. We have been introducing reforms in economics, industry, business, but not in education.
What could have been the impact of GST on the education system, particularly higher education?
This system implemented by our Prime Minister Modiji, made us the 166th country to implement GST. We have problems with the GST as we don't want our fees to escalate. We had a serious deliberation over this and also made a presentation to the government. The school education has been exempted from the GST, but it is applicable to higher education, which would subsequently increase the fees. Since outsourcing services will come under the 18 per cent GST slab, it will ultimately increase the fees for students, thereby adding to their financial burden. In a country, where the poor and middle-class students are anyway averse to higher education, the GST would discourage them. Our Gross Enrollment Ratio is just 24 per cent as per the 2011 census and out of the 14 crore children who are eligible for higher education only 3.5 crore are in the education system –whether it be college or university.
Many engineering colleges are facing closure due to a sharp decrease in the number of students opting for their courses. What are your comments?
There are certain states where we have more seats available than are required. For example, in Tamil Nadu, there are about 2.60 lakh engineering seats and the applicants are less than 1.5 lakh. We have to then depend upon students of other states and other countries. India should become a hub of global education, which has not yet happened. We have around 35,000-40,000 students from foreign countries studying here, which is not even one per cent of the total body of international students. My request to the government is to initiate steps that would encourage more foreigners to come and study here, apart from our own students.
There was a time when there was a huge craze for engineering and as job opportunities reduced students started opting out of engineering courses. We must make the best use of our young minds and they should also be trained to serve outside the country. There are many countries where there is a high demand for engineers. I request the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) and the Ministry of External Affairs to work in tandem and locate the requirements of other countries. Engineering graduates can be trained and sent abroad by the government. It will brighten the prospects of our own students.
(The interviewer is Special Correspondent with Millennium Post.)