The New, Standalone Economics Dept. at IITK

In a historical and pioneering step, IIT Kanpur established the first ever Department of Economics among all the IITs, about a month ago. Earlier, what people knew to be the Economics department at IIT Kanpur was not a department per se. It was a part of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) department, just as Microelectronics is recognised as part of the Electrical Engineering department. Since it was the only field within HSS to offer an independent degree, it had it’s own DUGC Convener. All this will now change as the campus gears up to welcome a new department.

Prof. Joydeep Dutta was appointed as it’s maiden Head of Department (HoD). Prof. Dutta, a mathematician turned economist, explains how an economics department fits in a technological institute, the dire need to have one at IIT Kanpur, the immediate effects and various positives of this remarkable step. Following are the excerpts from our tête-à-tête with him.

Need of the hour

When I was the DUGC convener, I noticed that many students who went for higher studies abroad or to any other university, wrote Dept. of Economics, IIT Kanpur in their CVs. Although the DoAA allowed this practice to continue to give more opportunities to students, the institute did not recognize any such department, which created an issue.

The identity of students and faculty is of prime importance. If any new professor of economics joins the institute, he would like to be in Economics Dept. rather than the HSS Dept. Every subject has its own niche.

The growing interest of the students, which is reflected by the increase in dual degree applications and JEE cutoffs, was another factor. We had around 600 students demanding ECO minors last time. But with such a small faculty strength, it is not possible for us. Being independent will allow us to have larger number of faculty members and avail better resources.

Fitting into the System; Definitely not a Mismatch

Establishing the ECO department was not an overnight task and involved consultations with several institutes. (IIM Indore, TIFR and a professor from Stanford). At IIT Kanpur the department won’t focus on journalistic economics but the modern mainstream economics. It has links with computational game theory (computer science), sustainable development (earth sciences), transportation engineering (civil engineering) etc. I realized it myself when I shifted to the ECO department in 2014 (then under HSS). Hence, economics is very well placed within the structure of this technical institute. In the future, we would like it to be one of the major interdisciplinary departments of IIT.

Immediate Effects

There will no longer be any economics courses offered as HSS courses as part of the lottery. These will be available as OEs. Moreover from Y17 batch onwards, ECO 101(Microeconomics) will be taught as a compulsory course to 1st year students, for half the students in 1st semester and the other half in next.

Several Positives

With more faculty members, we will be starting interdisciplinary programmes one to two years down the line. Moreover, a huge number of good applicants have come forward for the faculty positions, which never came earlier. We have become a pioneer in the sense that many other institutes will be thinking of doing the same now. In the future, we will try to call top level economists and policy makers, even the Nobel laureates for institute talks.

PHDs

We believe the quality of Ph.D. students we get will improve very quickly. We have planned measures for that too. For example, we will start hiring only in June and stop hiring in December. A proper course structure will be set up. We will also be hiring some visiting faculty members (who shall come for short period e.g. 6 months).

Written by Harshit Agarwal and Rahul Agrawal