Research, internationalise and innovate

BN Jain, Vice Chancellor, BITS Pilani shares his views on what Indian institutions can do to strive for excellence

Among the various fields that a university must excel in to be counted among the top institutions, the three areas that stand out as the most important are research and innovation, internationalisation, and entrepreneurship.

The first, and possibly the most important among the three, is a universitys contribution to the field of research and innovation. It must have a strong PhD programme, one that is supported by an active seekand -succeed-sponsor research grants. Clearly, such a programme cannot be considered strong or active unless translated into publications in journals of international repute and ones that are cited by peers.

The second area of excellence is borne out by the presence of international students and faculty on the campus. While the percentage of foreign students and faculty are the generally agreed metrics, it actually translates into the impact that a diverse group of faculty and students with different viewpoints have on students development as also on the quality of research. The third area is innovation and entrepreneurship. It is expected of professors and students to be undertaking research and innovation and translate the outcome into a business venture, or to transfer the technology to industry.

A dichotomy of purpose arises in Indian institutions as being formal educational undertakings they do not perceive that their focus should also be on research and innovation. Any university that does not see research and innovation as a part of its larger purpose of existence would never be counted amongst the world-class institutions. Having said that, there are several institutions in India that consider research and innovation to be very much part of their mandate. This of course includes IISc, some of the IITs, some of the IIITs, as also BITS Pilani. These institutions are now promoting

innovation and entrepreneurship by establishing incubation centres. But they still have a long way to go to become truly international.


Aim to excel

The first step for any university to step up the ladder of excellence is to explicitly spell it out in its vision statement. Say, put it down in the vision plan that it will aim to be listed among the top 200 or 400 world-class universities by 2020, and then work towards it. What exactly BITS is doing: It envisions to be listed amongst the top 25 science and technology institutions in Asia by 2020.

To achieve this, the institution has renewed its focus on research, innovation and industry with great vigour. BITS

Pilani insists that its faculty spend 20 to 40 per cent of their time on research by way of guiding PhD students, seeking sponsored research grants and publishing papers in top journals. It has linked its promotions and performance-linked pay system to actual performance in these areas. On its part, BITS encourages and provides incentives for seeking sponsored research grants.

For decades our institutions have not focussed on research or innovation. As a result, teaching has remained textbook-based. Recognising this fallacy, BITS is implementing an aggressive industry immersion programme for its younger faculty. It also proposes to sponsor a small set of faculty to spend 8 to 10 weeks with researchers abroad. The institution is also establishing an incubation centre on all its campuses with significant financial support from DST and DIT.

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