‘The kind of funding we get is dismal, affects research’: IIT Hyderabad director

CAG criticised the new IITs for slow growth, dependence on government grants. IIT Hyderabad director explains the challenges with funding, expansion.

B S Murty, director, Indian Institute of Technology, HyderabadB S Murty, director, Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad

Pritha Roy Choudhury | February 2, 2022 | 11:56 AM IST

New Delhi: In December, a report by the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) cast a shadow over some of India’s premier institutions – the Indian Institutes of Technology. The report on the performance of the “second generation” of IITs which came up 2008-09 said that they grew at a much slower pace than expected and that delays in infrastructure development led to increase in costs. Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad, ranked eighth in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) for engineering, was one of the new IITs and the audit report covered.

BS Murty, director, spoke to Careers360 about the challenges with funding, how that impacts the growth and functioning of the second generation IITs.

Q. The CAG report speaks of the new IITs still relying on public funds. What challenges do you face with funding?

A. If you look at most institutions that are in the top 100 in QS ranking, funding is significantly large for them. The kind of funding that we get, the second generation IITs, is dismal, I can't help but use a word like that.

Just today [Monday] I had a long meeting with all my faculty and they were all complaining about their research getting affected due to insufficient funding support. When an IIT starts, the government gives certain funding which is typically used by IITs not only for buildings but also to purchase a number of research facilities.

IITH has 250 faculty members in 14 different departments. We spent a lot of initial funds on equipment. The equipment we purchased is now five-10 years old. They need maintenance. Unfortunately, the extent of funding from the government on the maintenance of these equipment is minimal. We are not an institution like IIT Bombay or IIT Madras or IIT Kharagpur who have a large alumni base. While the first generation IITs have a good amount of alumni funding, such funding for second-generation IITs is very small because the alumni have just recently graduated and are still establishing themselves. Our first UG batch came out in 2012.

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Q. Is it possible to raise funds from industry?

A. CSR [corporate social responsibility] funding is another possible source of funding for carrying out research. However, industries are struggling for the last two years and so, we can't expect large CSR funding at the moment. It also takes time for the industry to recognise the calibre of the second generation IITs to invest heavily from their CSR funds.

For the second generation IITs, the major earning (other than MoE funding) is through tuition fees. However, as the number of students in Second Gen IITs being low, the earnings on this count is also low. Look at IIT Madras. They have 10,000 students where we have less than 4,000 students. Also, unlike older days, the MoE support has gone into HEFA-mode [Higher Education Finance Agency gives out infrastructure loans to institutions to replace government capital grants]. So, MoE funding for our research and other infrastructure development is not completely free.

Q. How has HEFA worked out for you?

A. While you can ask for HEFA loan, however second generation IITs need to pay 25% of HEFA loan back in 10 years. The more you take a HEFA loan, the more you have to pay back. The only thing the second generation IITs have is the tuition fee. Hence unless the number of students increase, you will not be able to take a loan, you cannot build the infrastructure to attract the students and faculty and hence it is a Chicken and Egg story.

In the last two years, due to COVID our MoE funding has been cut by 25 percent. Faculty do not join an IIT for a salary; if they join a good industry, they would get much more salary than this. They all join IITs with the intention of doing great research. It takes time for a faculty to get sponsored projects.

Thus, younger faculty needs to be supported. For the last two years, we have been providing Rs 25 lakhs as a seed grant. We want to increase it to Rs 50 lakh in the next few years. If IITH is taking 30 teachers in a year, which we have done in the last two years, and as we are giving Rs 25 lakh to each, the cost will be Rs 7.5 crore. At Rs 50 lakh, it will be close to Rs 15 crore. Where do we get that? Unless we get good funding from the MoE, it becomes difficult to support the research aspiration of our faculty.

The amount of research expenditure that our country makes is extremely small. Look at China, the amount of money they spend is amazing.

Q. Have you taken steps to create some channels of funding?

A. In February, we are inaugurating our Technology Research Park (TRP). It has 1.5 lakh square foot area. We want industries to come forward and take some space there for rent and collaborate with us. So, together we will be able to solve some problems. This way we can raise research funding to IITH. I should add here that our MoE has funded Rs. 75 crore each to five different IITs to establish the Research Park and IITH is one of them. We are grateful to MoE for this support.

Incidentally, we are also completing a Technology Innovation Park (TIP) for startups. This too has 1.5 lakh square foot area where we plan to mentor startups in this space. We want startups from all over the country to come and take space here and we will provide all the mentoring that is needed so that good, deep technology entrepreneurs can come out of it. We are doing this so that in the next five years we establish strong connections with the industry that would help us to contribute significantly to Atma Nirbhar Bharat.

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Q. The CAG report talks about the slow development of IIT Hyderabad’s infrastructure.

A. Unfortunately, in India, construction takes a long long time. Last two years, I have been working hard to ensure that our buildings get ready quickly so that our faculty and students get decent space for academics and research.

That is one of the reasons why the CAG report said that the second generation IITs are not doing well in infrastructure building. Attracting good faculty to an IIT is also connected with the availability of good teaching and research infrastructure. A good prospective faculty has 23 IITs to take him/her. Unless faculty join, the institute cannot build its facilities overnight and the institute is not a collection of buildings but of people. Many times, you see faculty who joined in second and third generation IITs move to first-generation IITs as soon as they get an offer because of the availability of better infrastructure. All second and third-generation IITs are working round the clock to ensure that they provide the necessary infrastructure to their faculty to motivate and retain them.

Among all the second generation IITs, we have the largest number of faculties and the largest number of students. We have 3,900 students. In the next six months, we are getting 2,500 more rooms ready.

By this August, we will have 5,000 capacity hostels ready so that we can further increase our strength in the next two years.

Government should look at the institutions which are doing well and give them more funding. The socialistic way of equal distribution will be de-motivating for those who work hard. Government should identify the institutes which are progressive and support them more so that more institutes from India get global recognition quickly.

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Q. Since you spoke about PhD students, the CAG reports have also noted the low representation of students from marginalised backgrounds in the research programmes.

A. Every year we maintain a roster to fill UG, PG and PhD seats at IITH as it is done at other IITs too. We do have a reasonable number of students from SC and OBC. However, we find it difficult to get ST students, particularly at the PhD level. I will always say that we need to strengthen our school education rather than giving significant reservations in higher education.

Recently, I was talking about this in a meeting, the government should give village compensation allowance to teachers. Any teacher who wants to work in a village should be given good accommodation and a high salary. We should make village education the best education for higher education. The village schools should have access to digital education. We are trying to adopt a few villages near IIT Hyderabad. We are trying to bring digital education into their classrooms. Our UG/PG/PhD students can teach the students of these schools online in evening hours. The fundamentals of school students need to be strengthened. Once we strengthen the education to socially weaker sections at the school level we won’t need reservations in future. The students will come up on their own provided we give the necessary support. We are trying our best in this direction.

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Q. The CAG report also noted the low levels of placements over 2014-19.

A. Now again, most companies tend to go to the first generation IITs first. But we are doing fairly well; in the last two years, we crossed 75 percent or so. We are connecting with the industries and trying to find where we need to improve.

For example, in the last two years, we have introduced several industry-oriented MTech programmes. We have introduced MTech in subjects like additive manufacturing, energy, smart mobility, e-waste management etc. These programmes we introduced after conducting brainstorming sessions with the industries, asking them what kind of human resource they are looking for. Recently we also introduced B.Tech in computational engineering. The programme provides computation knowledge in core engineering subjects like civil, mechanical, chemical etc. and not simply C++ or Java. So we are seeing the needs of the industry, creating programmes so that the placements automatically improve. I see IIT Hyderabad as one of the best in terms of placements in both B.Tech and M.Tech level.

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