In Conversation with the Director – Part 2

Prof. Abhay Karandikar was appointed six months ago to serve as the Director of the institute. Joining at a very crucial juncture, it has been a challenging and exciting tenure so far for him. Vox Populi got the chance to have a conversation with Prof. Karandikar to gain an insight into his perspective and plans for the future.

This is the second part of the Director’s interview. The first part can be accessed here.

What do you see as the fundamental difference between IIT Kanpur and IIT Bombay? What are some lacunae that you see in the IITK system which can be filled by learning from IITB?

Fundamentally there is no difference, IITK looks the same as IITB. But, IITB being located in Mumbai does enjoy some inherent advantages. It has more industry connects and gets more visitors from the industry. This promotes an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and startups. This, in turn, leads to a greater inclination towards entrepreneurship for students in IITB than in IITK. Mumbai also has the advantage of more international visitors, people who have better International Relations and connections. IITB is also 1.5 times bigger as far as students and faculty are concerned (12,000 students in IITB, 420 faculty members in IITK vis-a-vis 700 in IITB). As a result, they have more programmes and more departments that have helped it grow and flourish.
IITK has a better UG programme in terms of flexibility while the number of UG students is more or less the same. The course curriculum for UGs and the academic rules and regulations are also similar. The difference becomes apparent in the graduate programmes. IITB has more graduate programmes and more sponsored projects. This is assisted by the industry connect and international visitors. Additionally, media coverage is much better in Mumbai.
Regarding improvement, we have to grow regarding improving the research that affects society and the nation. We need to get more sponsored projects and improve on our industry connects. Boosting our entrepreneurship culture and strengthening our academic curriculum at the same time will take the institute to the next level.

What are the key agendas that you intend to execute during your tenure? What are some steps you have taken in your tenure till now which have created a big impact or have the potential to do so?

Our focus will on improving upon our faculty hiring as the faculty base forms the backbone of any institute. They bring projects, initiatives and industry connect. We also plan to hire a greater number of Ph.D. students, bring in more projects that have the potential to impact society and fuel the startup ecosystem. Further, our alumni engagements call for improvement as the alumni relations are not as strong as they should be. We are optimistic as all the right ingredients are already here – a strong ethos of academic scholarships, 60 years of existence, strong alumni base and a strong academic programme. We were the premier institute for over 30-40 years, but changes over the last decade have enabled IITD and IITB overtake us. Nevertheless, we should be able to pull ahead now.

IITD has administrative support for entrepreneurship endeavors. Students there can opt for start-up instead of the thesis. Can we do the same?

Yes. We can do that, and we will look for ways to support the culture of start-ups in the institute. This is one thing that can be done.

Prof. Abhay Karandikar. Director, IITK

Talking of outreach, alumni of IITK have expressed their displeasure with the institute due to lack of connect with their alma mater. The same is reflected through figures of funding received from Alumni. How do you aim to resolve this? What steps can you take to ensure that IITK students take advantage of our strong alumni network?

We are thinking of reaching out to our alums by reaching out to them to formalize our relations in a more structured way. We want to engage them in faculty hiring and in improving our industrial relations. Many of our alums are top corporate leaders and if they assist us in our endeavours, we will most certainly be able to realize our goals. Our alumni network can be utilized to give much more benefits than just mentorship. We need to utilize our networks and extract the maximum benefit we can.

The year before the start of your tenure saw some incidents (Dismissal of VH workers from service, the alleged overreach of the security section, an incident of ragging) in which distrust of certain sections of the campus community with the institute administration was reflected. To what extent do you feel the issue of loss in faith has been resolved? And what steps are you taking to ensure that all members of the community positively accept the decisions in the future?

Of late, the institute has been portrayed in a negative light in the media. We are considering  multiple ways to tackle this. The first step is strengthening our Media and Publication cell to improve our visibility in the print and the social media. We are also looking to appoint full time media consultants and public relations officers.

I believe that the student community can also actively help in our outreach. The JEE ranking hierarchy is the result of a false perception which stems out of people having a myopic view of the UG programs. IITK provides much better campus facilities like the hostels and the sport complexes as compared to the other IITs. No other IIT has three sports fields. UG students can help by informing the JEE qualified students about the facilities available. Most of the old IITs are equally good, with each institute excelling in some areas. The perception of IITK being the premier IIT has taken a hit by the negativity spread by the media. Historically, American programmes and collaborations with MIT professors cultivated high regard for the institute. The lead with the CSE programme also strengthened our standing among other IITs. A lot of these factors do not play an integral role in the UG programme of the students. The difference becomes important in the research programmes.

Are you planning on improving International relations / foreign collaborations?

Yes we are planning to do so, we are planning multiple things for strengthening international relations including joint PhD programmes and creating a post for the Dean of IR, to head the office of IR which is currently headed by the associate Dean.

What are some of your non-academic interests?

I have a lot of non academic interests like playing badminton and reading fiction. I am enthusiastic about start-ups too. I left IIT Bombay in 2002 to work on my start-up. Even now I’m mentoring startups for my students. I have contributed towards programmes on digital empowerment in rural villagI’m also keen on implementing telecom policies which will help transform India from an importer of technology to driving force. I simply don’t find enough time to pursue these things actively, as being involved in IITK administration implies a busy schedule. I’m also unable to find time to read fiction and non fiction novels. These are the things I plan to pursue post retirement, I don’t intend to be free after this job.

Credits : Ankur Banga, Ayush Agrawal, Hemant Kejriwal, Kushagra Gupta, Smit Chaudhary