IIT-Kanpur steps up visibility

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Many of India's premier institutes have slipped in ranking in the latest Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) global league table of top universities. In the first of a four-part series, Business Standard looks at what went wrong and how these institutes could beat global peers

It has been as bumpy a ride for the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT-K) in getting internationally recognised as when reaching its campus on the Grand Trunk Road, about 100 km from Lucknow.

While lack of air connectivity, coupled with poor roads and other infrastructure, haven't deterred marquee recruiters (mostly domestic) from visiting the sprawling (1,055 acres) campus, the institute admits it was content till recently on its international recognition through rankings.

Not any more. The recent slip from 271st position to 302nd in the latest QS World University Rankings 2016-17 pushed it out of the top 300 list. And, the institute wants to get back. It plans to do so through efforts in multiple directions, primarily led by improvement in data collation and transparency with the ranking agencies, as well as enhancing research on campus, both through faculty and students.

IIT Kanpur has now set up a Global Ranking Committee as an institutional framework for interfacing with the rankings organisations and providing statistics. Acting as a single point of contact for collation of data from various departments on the campus on key parameters that influence one's position in these rankings, the panel would disseminate these to the agencies.

Key parameters which the institute had so far found hard to collate or lacked depth were faculty to student ratio, number of international faculty, number of research citations by faculty, and number of doctoral and post-doctoral students on campus, among others.

A K Chaturvedi, deputy director admits to a higher and widening faculty to student ratio, and a low number of doctoral researchers at the campus. These, he says, impacted the institute's position in rankings such as the one compiled by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), the higher education think-tank.

"In the past four-five years, the number of students have increased by almost 2,000 or 25 per cent in the campus, while the strength of faculty increased by only 10-15 per cent," he told Business Standard.

As against the sanctioned strength of about 650, it has 400-odd faculty to teach cumulative students' strength of 6,400, a ratio over 1:16. According to directors and senior faculty at several IITs, a healthy faculty-student ratio is 1:10.

Another focus area for improving performance and visibility is in research. Chaturvedi says the fall in position in the latest QS rankings was partly due to the low number of PhD students in the campus vis-a-vis other IITs.

"The low number over the years was due to historical reasons, as IIT-K had been according more importance to quality than quantity. But, we now have more students on the campus and a greater number pursuing PhDs," he stated.

As against 150 PhD degrees awarded last year, it hopes to give 175 this year, a number expected to rise gradually in the coming years. However, the institute was not forthcoming on the status and plans on research citations by each faculty member, though an institute source said the numbers were improving. The faculty has been asked to contribute to better research work, publications and academics, to "cultivate a more positive image" of the institute in the global academic and professional circuit.

On the upside, IIT-K has seen almost 350 applications filed for patents, of which 41 are international and 10 design ones. Of these, 34 patents have been granted so far and 53 technologies licensed for commercialisation.

Funding for research and development (R&D) has been a concern. The current figure is around Rs 500 crore, including sponsored projects worth Rs 100 crore. Most of these have been disbursed by central government ministries and agencies. Apart from the roughly Rs 450 crore allotted by the government as its annual budget, both under the plan and non-plan heads, the institute has earned about Rs 200 crore a year under various heads -endowment fund, holding of exams, R&D, visitors and hostel fees. However, about 60 per cent of its annual funds alone go for salaries and other administrative expenses. While the annual fund requirement varies, it has been barely met with annual grants and funds, leaving a big for R&D, faculty recruitments, setting up of facilities and infrastructure.

Lately, however, IIT-K has begun shoring up its sponsored projects and connecting with alumni to overcome the funding shortage and create a more positive buzz. And, reaching out to the governments, central and state (Uttar Pradesh), apart from industry, for both funding and collaboration. With much of its efforts to improve rankings being quite recent, it hopes to reap the benefits over the next few years. There are definite timelines for the goals, said Chaturvedi.

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