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As part of a 2 day program to review various aspects of the institute, a committee consisting of select eminent personalities came down to IIT Bombay and interacted with representatives of the student community on 31st July, 2014.


The committee consisted of Prof. M.S Ananth who served as the Director of IIT Madras from 2001 to 2011, Prof. Pramod Khargonekar who served as the Dean of College of Engineering at the University of Florida and who is also an IITB Alumnus, Prof. Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath who is a Professor and Chair at the Centre for Neuroscience at IISc Bangalore and Prof. Indira Samarasekara who is the current president and vice chancellor of the University of Alberta.

All representatives of the the student body had been called, including the General Secretaries of Academic, Hostel and Cultural Affairs and members of their council, Overall Coordinators and Core Group Members and Managers of Mood Indigo, Techfest, E-Cell and SARC. Representatives of Insight, ISMP, ISCP, IRSCP and social bodies such as Abhyudaya were also invited to what was an interaction session between the students and the committee to gauge the problems on campus and possible steps to solve them.

Initially, academic issues plaguing the campus were discussed thoroughly and in a highly interactive manner by the students and the members of the committee. The discussion started out with Kanish Soni, GSAA, stating that academics and research may not have the same incentives for students to pursue as compared to cultural activities or sports. A lot of points were discussed between the committee and students and the Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Prof. Anindya Datta pointed out the concept of URA, which serves as an incentive to pursue research.

Transitioning to English based learning

Post this discussion, the well known problem of language barriers which impedes students who are not fluent in English from grasping concepts taught in college was discussed. Prof Khargonekar added that these students may have written their JEE in Hindi and may have been attending regional language medium schools throughout their life and only because of their lack of English skills they miss out on a lot of high quality education. When asked about the number of students who face such issues, It was pointed out by some of the cabinet mentors of the Institute Student Mentorship Program (ISMP), who are responsible for the English Training Program among freshmen, that problems in understanding and communicating in English are huge among the freshmen and may account for around one-tenth of the freshmen population. Resultantly, their academics inside IITB are likely to take a turn for the worse. Currently, the ISMP tries to solve this issue by conducting English classes for students who are identified as weak in the language as soon as they enter the institute. Till last year, senior students used to volunteer to teach the freshmen as part of the IPE. Talks are ongoing with the British Council this year who can conduct formal structured classes for the freshmen weak in English. This issue prompted a serious discussion among the committee and the students as to what steps could be taken to further ensure that students are fluent in basic English communication before they enter IIT. A lot of points were put forward, including revamping the Indian Education System or including testing of English skills in the JEE itself. However, the committee believed that this would put a majority of students of our country studying in regional language medium schools at an unfair disadvantage. It was acknowledged that any solution that will be implemented must start at the grassroots level and will take a long period of time to bring about change.

Is a good job what all students care for?

Following that, there was a detailed discussion on the average time a student spends on self-study (all time excluding lecture and lab hours). Prof. Ananth, the former director of IIT-Madras mentioned that he would expect a student to study for a total of 48 hours a week (including lecture and lab hours). It was a strange observation for them that the average time spent per student per week other than his classes is just close to 4 hours. The audience were then questioned about what inspires a student to pursue his academics seriously and majority of the people pointed out that placements have become a priority for students rather than the scientific temper to pursue the courses seriously. It was then suggested by students that an industrial approach is mandatory for every course so that student develops his interest towards that particular field and it was also suggested to them that making a part of the course being taught by an industry expert could be made compulsory because the industry seminars that are optional generally go unattended and hence don’t serve the purpose for which they are being conducted. Another observation was brought in by students when they have agreed that their preparation is examination-oriented and the panel pointed out that knowledge is retained better when one studied regularly and the habit adopted by the students shall prove to be a major disadvantage over the due course of time.

IITBians as future global leaders

The committee then was curious as to how the representative students of IIT-Bombay think and what kind of issues are discussed among their everyday conversations. Prof. Khargonekar mentioned that the world has to deal with Grand Challenges in the future and the students of IIT-B are the people who must rise in the future and become global leaders to solve these problems. The committee went on to mention significant problems that we must deal with as potential leaders of the future generations including facts such as the population of the world will exponentially rise to 9 billion people by 2050 and by this time around 30% of the world will face a significant crunch of resources including water. Moreover, global warming will also become a pressing environmental concern needing an immediate redressal. Hence, the committee wanted to know our thought process in our discussions as to whether we take these issues seriously and whether students plan long term. However, most of the students agreed unfortunately that majority of the students of IIT Bombay have a very placement-centric attitude and that very few people think long term. The students said that they are well acquainted with the fact that they have entered a rat-race and everyone fights for the jobs that come first. Listening to this bitter truth, the committee strongly encouraged the students to focus on the long term and the big picture to solve the big problems or the grand challenges heading our way. Prof. Khargoenekar also reminded us that we are not running a 100m dash but a 26 mile marathon.

Academic Integrity – A Culture of Copying?

Towards the end of the interaction, students raised a very pertinent issue regarding lack of academic ethics and widespread plagiarism in assignments and examinations by students across departments. Prof. Khargonekar and Prof. Samarasekara said that the only way to tackle this issue was to impose strict action against such cases so that no student ever attempts to plagiarize or violate any sort of academic ethics code. At University of Alberta students may face expulsion for a semester if caught cheating or found to have copied in an assignment. Such strict measures definitely serve to reduce cases of copying and it was agreed that strict rules must be implemented in IIT Bombay as well. It was pointed out by some students that the Department of Chemical Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering take cases of plagiarism and copying quite seriously with students getting fail grades once caught. The committee and the rest of the students strongly agreed that the above mentioned departments have taken initiatives to be vigil and also that there should be a normalized procedure and rules across departments to deal with such issues.