‘The best practices of IIT Madras are being implemented in NIT Mizoram’

S Sundar is implementing reforms, increasing NIT Mizoram’s contact with foreign institutions and hoping to shift to the permanent campus by 2026.

S Sundar, Director, NIT Mizoram ( Image: S Sundar)S Sundar, Director, NIT Mizoram ( Image: S Sundar)

Pritha Roy Choudhury | April 17, 2024 | 04:49 PM IST

NEW DELHI: The National Institute of Technology (NIT) Mizoram was established in 2010 and despite initial hiccups, it is performing well – academically and otherwise. Director S Sundar spoke to Careers 360 about implementing reforms tried and tested at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, increasing ‘international footfall’ at NIT Mizoram, its low-stress environment and more. Edited excerpts

Q. You have a very rich background of teaching at various IITs, the last being IIT Madras. What are your goals for NIT Mizoram?

A. Here, I took this as an opportunity to implement the best practices of IIT Madras for over 30 years. I wanted to take it as a part of nation-building. For example, IIT Madras was started in 1915, with help from Germany. Most of the IITs started with some help. Now we are independent. It is our responsibility to develop our institutes in India. As director of NIT Mizoram, it is my responsibility to make sure that the good practices at IIT Madras are now implemented here. Although very small, NIT Mizoram is a very good institute.

We offer all core courses and last year, we started BTech in Maths and Computing. We have several interdisciplinary MTech programmes and a very strong PhD programme in all departments.

Q. Can you tell us about the campus?

A. Presently, we are functioning from the temporary campus in Aizawl city. We have the land but will be able to move only when we get the environmental clearance, which should happen in a month or two. The permanent campus will be near the Lengpui Airport. We have a very good plan for the campus. If we start soon, we will be able to shift to the permanent campus by late 2026 or early 2027.

In the temporary campus, we have every department. We also have three boys’ and one girls’ hostels. Since the buildings are spread across the city, there are buses that help students commute. There is a good number of female students from across India at the BTech level; there are over 1,000 students. Overall, the ambience here is very good, peaceful and student-friendly.

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Q. Do you have enough faculties? Did you face any issues with recruitment?

A. Yes, there were issues when I joined. Initially, there were huge delays in recruitment. One of the important things I took over immediately was faculty recruitment. Within these two years, I have recruited teachers three times. The system will be healthy when our faculty is healthy. There were 14 vacant faculty positions when I joined; now there are only four vacancies which I will fill this June. The applications were all from abroad, IITs and NITs with good postdoctoral experience. Our faculty-student ratio should be 1:10. Then only we can give you a quality research-oriented NIT.

We have signed an agreement with IIT Madras wherein the top 10% of BTech students will be able to do PhD from IIT Madras. Students who get a CGPA above eight in the third year of BTech get to spend their final year at IIT Madras. If they perform well, they will be taken directly for PhD in IIT Madras. They need not do a postgraduate programme in between.

Q. You were talking about the introduction of minor courses.

A. NIT Mizoram did not have a minor stream. We introduced the minor stream in 2023 so that students get exposure [beyond their own branches]. A mechanical engineering student might want to do a minor in computer science and vice versa.

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Q. How was the response to the PhD-after-BTech offer?

A. Out of 11 students who went to IIT Madras, two expressed their interest in continuing with PhD. The rest opted for jobs. For those who opt for a PhD, the final semester project is converted to an initial phase of their PhD. This year, 17 students are eligible to go for the final year in IIT Madras. They will be going in August.

Q. Does NIT Mizoram have international exposure?

A. Yes, in the first week of March this year, seven experts from Germany came to Aizwal. Last year when I visited Germany, I had requested them to visit. I asked them to stay with us and organise an Indo-German workshop on advances in modelling and computing. And for the first time in NIT Mizoram, such an international team arrived and stayed with our students. We also had a workshop for our PhD students. Such initiatives will continue.

International footfall is very important. I will also work on the concept of extramural lectures (EML) now and implement it in NIT Mizoram.

IIT Madras has a concept of EML where experts visit the institute to give popular talks. This will happen in NIT Mizoram as well now and students from outside are also welcome. These are usually interactive sessions; the lectures need not be from the scientific or engineering field. Professor C Arnold from the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor Ashis SenGupta from the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Calcutta visited the institute on February 15 this year to give lectures on advances in statistical methods and machine learning.

Q. Do you also have postdoctoral fellows?

A. Yes, I have introduced that as I feel every department should have one post-doctoral fellow. In turn, we will have a good number of publications. We are also going to have an exchange programme with Germany for collaborative research. We also have a professor of practice and a visiting professor who took a sabbatical from IIT Madras. I have introduced seed research grants for all faculty members. Basically, whatever good practices are there in IIT Madras are being introduced here.

Q. How does NIT Mizoram do on placements?

A. We are very rigorous in putting our students in proper companies for internships. Last year we had 100% placements. This year, already 80% of placement is over with most grabbing a package of around Rs 22 lakh. They are placed in top companies. Last year I sent two students to Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) for a two-month internship. It is one of the top institutes.

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Q. How do you take care of the mental health of students?

A. We have a counsellor and we have a nice, small health centre. Whenever students face any issues, we talk to them and try to make sure that the student is taken care of. Moreover, I made it a point to make things very flexible so that students are not stressed. When I took over NIT Mizoram, I was also surprised to see that the students were very well taken care of, especially from the exam point of view. If there is a backlog, they need not fear as they have a contact course from the faculty and can complete the other regular courses simultaneously.

Q. When do you think the institute will find a place in the National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF)?

A. We have drastically improved our points. This year, we have computed our score. We have improved 10 points which is happening because of the activities at NIT Mizoram now. One of the important factors is perception. Now, people will at least know that there is one NIT Mizoram. It is one of the leading institutes in the northeast, which is not visible in the NIRF ranking. But NIT Mizoram is definitely going to be among the top 50 in three years, when data is collected thoroughly. I have set up a strong team and they have mastered the art. Also, if an institute does well, the population of the state benefits.

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