BITSisan is the tag that every engineering aspirant in India aspires to achieve. Vivek Paul (Former Vice Chairman, Wipro), Baba Kalyani (Chairman of Bharat Forge), Manu Sawhney (Former MD of ESPN Star Sports and now Director at Manchester United), Gulu Mirchandani (Chairman and Founder, Onida), Ajay Waghray (CIO of Verizon Wireless) ï¿½the list of BITS alumni goes on and the institute\'s contribution to Indian Talent of the world of technology is massive.
Looking into the mesmerizing journey of BITS Pilani, it is evident that excellence in this institution did not emerge out of a magical fountain, but through years of hard work of bringing innovative ideas into practice. In 1964, when Late Shri G. D. Birla, a well known philanthropist, founded Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) in Pilani, he wanted to give a mandate to the directors and faculties of BITS, which became the driving mantra of the great BITS Pilani campus. He said \"this university (BITS Pilani) will differentiate itself by virtue of establishing strong connect with the industry.\" In the same year, benefiting from the Ford Foundation Grant, the University was developed in association with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), U.S. To make its founder\'s vision of connecting the industry with academia a reality, the institute introduced the program called \'Practice School\' in 1973. The program has been well appreciated by the industry and higher education sector since its inception and is considered as one of the most significant innovative ideas in the undergraduate level, carried out by any educational institution in the country. Under this program, the institute has been producing industry - ready professionals by connecting its students with the industry. The management of BITS has always been working hard to bring more concepts to the education world. As a result, programs like Work Integrated Learning Programs (WILP), Dual Degree Program, Technology Business Incubator, BITSAT and many more came into existence. Apart from those programs, the efforts of the institute for holistic development of the students make life inside a BITS campus vibrant in nature. That is the reason why BITSians say, \"By joining BITS, we will get a high quality academic life and the courage to face any tough challenge in our life.\"
Here in Higher Education Review, with the commitment to provide the right information to the large community of students in India, we made an effort to find out how BITS Pilani is delivering high quality education to its students and carrying out its role in building a bright future generation for the nation. We interviewed Prof. Bijendra Nath Jain (Vice Chancellor), Prof. G. Raghurama (Director, Pilani Campus), Prof. V.S. Rao (Director, Hyderabad Campus), Prof. R. N. Saha (Director, Dubai Campus), Prof. K.E. Raman (Acting Director, Goa Campus), Prof. G. Sundar (Director, Off Campus Programmes and Industry Engagement), Prof. R. K Mittal (Director, Special Projects), Prof. Shan Balasubramanian (Dean, Academic & Resource Planning) and Mr. Surya Rao ( Managing Director of Technology Business Incubator at Hyderabad campus) . They shared the little known secrets about BITS Pilani. The excerpts of these interviews can be read in the following pages.
Indian Universities need to focus more on research
With high quality faculty members and research activities, BITS Pilani has been continuously ranked amongst the best universities in India. Prof. Bijendra Nath Jain, Vice Chancellor, BITS Pilani University talks about the importance for institutes and faculties to invest time in research activities.
ï¿½ What is the reason behind the declining number of students opting for research in India?
While the older universities like BITS Pilani, Delhi University and IITs continue their focus on research, the newer universities and institutes do not have the same priorities. Now, students are also not keen on taking up research as career as they are more interested to go for a good job and live happily thereafter.
ï¿½ In terms of research activities, what are your plans to match up with the standards of global universities?
We know that there exists a huge gap between Indian universities and international standards in the higher education sector. Now, we have begun to fill those by focusing more on research outcomes. We are now insisting upon our faculty members and students that they must publish their work in the right journals to improve their visibility. To achieve this, we have aggressively recruited more faculty members and from this year onwards, we have opened up our admissions to international students. This will help our students in understanding what is happening outside and they can be prepared to work in the global arena.
ï¿½ How do you propagate the significance of investing time in research for a career growth in teaching among your faculty members?
There are two kinds of faculty members. One is the kind that only wants to teach and they are generally not the best. The other ones are individuals who want to undertake research activities along with teaching and they have a better standing in terms of quality. I believe that teachers need to keep abreast of what is happening as far as technology and science are concerned. Only then can they bring the latest information into the classroom, which will help students in understanding the developments that are happening around the world today. That is the reason why BITS has to invest more money into research so that we can attract more faculty members who are interested in research.
ï¿½ In terms of empowering research and faculty strength, does BITS have any prototypes that can be followed by other technical institutions in the country?
We provide flexibility to our faculty to choose how much time they want to invest in research and teaching. Apart from that, we provide a fund called \"Seed Grants,\" to promote research activities. Providing this kind of support in the right research environment is a perfect model that can be adopted by other institutes in India.
Prepare students for the future, placement is only an outcome
While the majority of engineering institutes in India are struggling to find adequate job opportunities for their students, BITS Pilani has more than 93 percentage of its students grabbing placements from the campus with lucrative packages ranging from Rs 13 lakhs to 1.4 crore per annum. Prof. G Raghurama, Director, Pilani Campus shares the institute\'s efforts to achieve these glorious numbers.
ï¿½ How does BITS prepare its students to match up to the requirements of industry? What is the secret training provided to the students who are achieving massive packages of 1.4 crore from the campus?
We get some of the brightest students from all over the country. Through our curriculum, students get a unique combination of strong Mathematics background and Computer technical skills. Here, they learn not only from classroom but also from outside. We send our students to the industry for a period of seven months under the program called \'Practice School.\' This allows students to learn more about the working environment. Other than this, the flexibility in our curriculum allows students to take electives from across disciplines regardless of their engineering discipline. Then, programs like Dual Degree and Practice School make our students better prepared. However, we do not train our students for a particular company.
ï¿½ What are the challenges in being the best in campus placements and maintaining it every year?
Ensuring that the right companies come in for recruiting, when the market is undergoing a rough patch is a tough challenge. However, we have not faced many difficulties in doing that so far.
As the BITS campuses in Dubai, Goa and Hyderabad are relatively new, we are making extra efforts to ensure that reputed companies visit these campuses as well so that all our graduates get equal opportunities in placement
ï¿½ How did you manage to get high placement rates even when the market was going through a tough time?
When the market is going through its peak, we will not be able to accommodate every company in the campus, as we do not have that many students for them. On the other end of the spectrum, if the market is dull and the major recruiters are not taking students in large numbers, then we try to bring in more companies to the campus. It is all about how we manage the inflow of recruiters in our campus.
ï¿½ Do you think a Placement oriented curriculum is the right way to go?
Now, many institutes are preparing students to meet the requirements of certain companies, which is not the right way. I suggest that those colleges focus more on curriculum design and try not to overplay on placements. Placements are important, but preparing students by making them strong in their fundamentals is more essential.
BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus Fosters Internationalization of Education
In 2000, BITS Pilani opened its branch in Dubai to offer high quality engineering education to the residents of UAE, Gulf and other countries. Today, the campus accommodates close to 1700 students, with an ability to grow up to 3000. Prof. R.N Saha, Director, BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus shares the uniqueness of this campus.
ï¿½ What was the idea behind setting up a campus in Dubai, which is away from its homeland?
BITS Pilani set up its Dubai campus mainly to cater to the higher education requirements of the large number of Indian and other expatriates, the local population of the U.A.E., and other Middle Eastern countries who did not have a good opportunity for higher education in Engineering in this region. Today, BITS Pilani is one of the largest Institutions in the GCC region, which is exclusively dedicated to Engineering Education, and attracts students not only from U.A.E. and other GCC countries, but also from India and other countries from the Asian, African and Far Eastern regions.
ï¿½ How is the Government of Dubai supporting this initiative from one of the top technical /educational institutions from India?
The Government of Dubai and U.A.E offered immense support and encouragement to us by setting up the Dubai Knowledge Village in 2003, with an aim to develop the region\'s talent pool and establish UAE as a knowledge-based economy. BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus was the very first academic institution to move into the Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV). Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), a regulatory authority of the Government of Dubai which is responsible for overlooking the quality of private education and learning in Dubai has licensed the institution and accredited our programs.
ï¿½ What would be the difference in learning that a student can experience from the Dubai campus when compared with other campuses in India?
The strategic location of Dubai is not only advantageous for trade and businesses, it also provides many opportunities to students enrolled in Dubai Campus of BITS Pilani to experience this cosmopolitan culture, to interact with professionals and to participate in internationally recognized conferences, symposia and workshops on wide ranging subjects of their interest. In addition to enjoying a strong academic environment like their counterparts on Indian campuses, the students on Dubai Campus are gaining the invaluable multi-cultural and international experiences.
ï¿½ What are the plans for BITS Pilani Dubai campus to foster internationalization of education?
BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus has embarked upon a journey to become one of the leading universities globally by the year 2020 through a new strategic plan titled Vision 2020 under which Mission 2012 is completed and Mission 2015 is underway. Under that, one of the top agendas of BITS Pilani is to foster Internationalization of education. Currently, the focus is on attracting International students from around the world in all campuses of BITS Pilani.
Our Students are independent thinkers
Started functioning in 2004, the BITS Pilani Goa Campus was renamed in April 2011 as BITS Pilani, K K Birla Goa Campus in the memory of Late Krishna Kumar Birla who was the Chancellor of BITS Pilani University. Sitting in the beautiful campus at Goa, Prof. K.E. Raman, Acting Director, BITS Pilani - K.K. Birla Goa Campus, talks about the life of BITSians inside the campus and many more facets.
ï¿½ What is the uniqueness of BITS Goa campus?
Though we planned the Goa campus to run undergraduate and postgraduate programs, the faculty members were given opportunities to do research activities to improve upon their sustainability and improve teaching abilities from the very beginning. As a result, within a short period of time, we got a big project from the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and it was a kick-start for our research activities. Since then, we have been conducting a good number of funded projects for government agencies as well as private industries.
ï¿½ It is important to give time to recreation in order to be fresh during the lessons. In this aspect what are the benefits that students enjoy in BITS?
Along with the academics, we give equal importance to the after 5 O\'clock activities. We have several students driven clubs to take care of these activities. Conducting all India level events is an opportunity for students to learn many things, which we cannot provide inside the classroom.
ï¿½ What goes into making a true BITSian, who is ready to face any tough challenge of life?
In the age of 17 or 18, when a student comes to our campus, it is our responsibility to make them independent thinkers. Here, we give them guidance and make them take their own decisions. For instance, from the first year onwards, students have to make their own timetable and find their own teachers. We give all the parameters and guidelines to choose the right path; however, the students need to choose what they want in their career.
ï¿½ How do you utilize your alumni strength?
As entrepreneurship is coming up in a big way in all the campuses of BITS, the active presence of our alumni members is necessary for us. Many of our alumni members have started their own ventures and they are actively mentoring our budding student entrepreneurs in the campus. Apart from that, they majorly contribute funds for various developmental activities in the institute.
ï¿½ What are the plans for BITS Goa campus in the near future?
We have plans to offer more programs for the benefit of students from the nearby regions of Goa. Along with that, programs like Environmental Engineering will be generated from the Goa campus.
Hyderabad Campus will Focus more on Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Established in 2008, BITS Pilani, Hyderabad campus is the latest addition among all the campuses of BITS. Initially planned for 2400 students, the campus now has approximately 3150 students with several unique programs, which are not available in other campuses of BITS. Prof. V. S. Rao, Director, BITS Pilani, Hyderabad campus talks about the special features of the campus and plans of expansion.
ï¿½ What are the special programs that are offered at Hyderabad Campus?
The Integrated Master\'s (M.E) program in Computer Science with specialization in Information Security is available only in the Hyderabad campus. It is a three-year course and a unique opportunity for B.Sc. students in the country to get a Master\'s degree in engineering right after their undergraduation. Students admitted to the Higher Degree program will also be considered for teaching assistantships to the tune of up to Rs. 8000 p.m. In addition, they are also eligible for the partial tuition fee waiver scheme starting from the third year. Further, B.E. in Electronics and Communication Engineering, which is not available in Pilani and Goa campuses, is offered at Hyderabad campus. BITS Hyderabad also offers M.E. and M.Pharm programs to professionals working in the industry, classes for which are held during weekends.
ï¿½ Can you highlight the research and innovation achievements of Hyderabad Campus?
With a focus on fundamental and applied research from day one, students and faculty of this campus were successful in obtaining sponsored research grants to the tune of Rs. 26 Crores from various funding agencies including DST, DBT, CSIR, UGC, ICMR and industries. Many of our professors have patents for their researches and we have commercialized some those technologies. The Technology Business Incubator currently has 7 full-time incubatees. Five of them have been funded by the Department of Biotechnology via BIRAC. As part of Mission 2015, we are building the BITS Sandboxx, a tinkering lab to promote, motivate and facilitate product based prototyping by the students, through hands on learning.
ï¿½ As a relatively new campus, what are the advanced infrastructural facilities that are available to the students at the Hyderabad Campus?
We now have ultra-modern features like well-equipped labs and a state-of-the-art auditorium. The Centre for Innovation, Incubation & Entrepreneurship was set up in August 2013, with a vision to foster innovation driven entrepreneurship, in alignment with BITS Pilani\'s Mission 2015 and Vision 2020. BITS Pilani, Hyderabad campus has set up the Technology Business Incubator (TBI) through a funding of Rs. 5 Crores from the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. TBI is promoting entrepreneurship at Hyderabad campus with focus areas in ICT for Healthcare, Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals.
ï¿½ What is your vision for BITS, Hyderabad\'s future? Can you tell us about the upcoming plans of the institute?
As a part of Vision 2020, we are now planning to raise the students\' strength from 3150 to 5300 in the next five years. We will be spending Rs. 370 crore to improve the physical infrastructure. In this expansion, we will have more postgraduate students compared to those in undergraduate programs, as we want to focus more on research, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Global rankings are vital in the present context
With campuses at Pilani, Goa, Hyderabad and Dubai, BITS Pilani is celebrating its golden jubilee. It has close to 1 million alumni members all over the world, which includes renowned scientists, successful entrepreneurs and CEOs, academicians and bureaucrats. Prof. R. K Mittal, Director, Special Projects, talks about the institute\'s plans to make its presence in the global rankings.
ï¿½ What are the hurdles for Indian universities to reach the top positions of the global rankings?
India has a good number of universities which offer decent education with no or negligible research, so they would not figure in global rankings that consider research as a major parameter. This results in poor ranking of Indian universities by global agencies. There are many hurdles faced by the Indian universities like dearth of funds, infrastructure, research, innovation, quality faculty, academic freedom, autonomy, motivation and many more. If we want Indian universities to improve their global rankings, India needs to invest heavily in research and innovation. It is a challenge for Indian institutions to get into top rankings and this cannot be achieved without the full support of the government through policies and funds, as is being done by many other countries.
ï¿½ What are the initiatives that have been taken by BITS to gain top ranks in the global university rankings?
To establish a presence in the global rankings, the Institute has embarked on a journey to become one of the leading universities in the world by the year 2020. The Vision 2020, focused first on six thrust areas ï¿½ Academic Programs and Pedagogy, People, Research & Consultancy, Campus Life, Infrastructure & Facilities and University Administration; and second, on seven imperatives ï¿½ Quality Assurance and Assessment, Technology Enablement, Industry Engagement, Internationalization, Faculty and Staff Development, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Interdisciplinary Research. All these are significant factors, which directly or indirectly contribute to the metrics used by the ranking agencies. To improve research and innovation, and earn a place in the top league, we have charted out plans to become a research-focused university by 2020 and have taken several initiatives like seed grants, industry immersion, and exposure to universities abroad to promote research.
ï¿½ What are the efforts from BITS to maintain quality in every service?
One of the seven imperatives of Mission 2015 is Quality Assurance and Assessment. This speaks volumes of the importance given by BITS Pilani to deliver quality services to its stakeholders. Another imperative focuses on the Faculty and Staff development, the two organs of any institution responsible for delivering and maintaining quality of services delivered. BITS Pilani has also embarked on a very ambitious growth and renovation plan. We will be investing Rs. 1,450 crore for the expansion of its three campuses at Pilani, Goa and Hyderabad by 2020, in a bid to compete globally.
ï¿½ What are the accreditations that BITS holds?
BITS Pilani was re-accredited by National Assessment and Accreditation Council, India in 2009, with 3.71 CGPA out of 4 and awarded \"A\" grade, for 5 years. In the QS University Rankings: BRICS 2014, BITS Pilani is among the top 100 universities in the BRICS countries and is 14th within India. The Higher Education Review (HER) magazine has ranked BITS Pilani at the top among private/deemed universities. Recently, BITS Pilani has been awarded the inaugural FICCI Higher Education Award 2014 for \"ICT Integration.\"
Education should be available at the student\'s convenience
In every semester BITS ï¿½ Pilani enrolls around 20,000 working professionals for their Work Integrated Learning Program (WILP), which is a helpful program for the candidates to gain formal degrees while continuing with their jobs. Prof. G. Sundar, Director (Off Campus Programmes and Industry Engagement), BITS Pilani, talks about the philosophy behind WILP.
ï¿½ What was the motive behind starting Work Integrated Learning Program (WILP)?
Since the establishment of BITS Pilani, the founder\'s vision was to establish a strong connection with the industry. With that in mind, we started \"Practice School\" in 1973, followed by Work Integrated Learning Program in 1979. There was a great need of continuing education among the employees of various industries and that cannot be fulfilled by traditional way of education, where they need to leave their job to invest time in the classrooms. It was a proposal from the industry to develop a program, which will help the industry in manpower development.
ï¿½ As most corporate entities have their own training programs, what is the relevance of WILP?
WILP is not a training program. It is more like a formal education, where existing employees can earn a degree at undergraduate or postgraduate level. Thus, we provide higher education leading to a formal degree by providing the instruction at the student\'s workplace so that students can work while they are in the process of securing education. For this purpose, we have adapted maximum flexibility in the instructions with huge support from modern technologies.
ï¿½ What are the predictable changes that can happen in WILP?
Like our plan to increase the number of students for the on campus program, we have plans to double the number of candidates who can join WILP. We are also looking forward to make changes in the curriculum of WILP so that it can be more relevant and sensitive to the industry. As technology is rapidly changing, there is a great need to provide education in a way which is convenient for students. We will be putting enormous efforts to provide electronic content in multiple formats, using cutting-edge technologies.
ï¿½ As BITS ï¿½ Pilani is planning to increase the intake of students, how will you ensure that the faculty student ratio remains unchanged?
I believe that the single biggest challenge for a higher education institution is the recruitment of faculty. That includes getting the right faculty and retaining them. For that purpose, we have a strong system which ensures fast processing of a candidate\'s evaluation and assessing of suitability. There is complete participation of concerned departments, leadership team and the assessment of external experts in a completely transparent way. It is a continuous process and the turnaround time for this is very less.
\"Curriculum at BITS is continually changing\"
BITS Pilani offers students several flexibilities - about 25 percent of students graduating every year from BITS graduate with two degrees - one in Sciences and one in Engineering ; about 95 percent of students spend 7 ï¿½months in the industry as part of their program; and all students get opportunities to pursue courses across multiple disciplines including Humanities & Social Sciences and pursue a minor program apart from their major discipline. With such programs, BITS is known for its innovative features in higher education sector. Prof. Shan Balasubramaniam , Dean, Academic & Resource Planning, BITS Pilani talks about the unique BITS curriculum.
ï¿½ What are the efforts from BITS to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and industry requirements?
A major part of the curriculum is stipulated as practical component of the coursework for any program. Each student spends 45 days in the industry during the summer between the second and the third year of the program, which is referred as Practice School-I. In the final year, they have another option of spending 5 ï¿½ months in the industry to work on a live project, which is referred to as Practice School-II. During this program, our faculty members reside all across India and evaluate each student throughout the project and award a grade accounting for 20 credits for this course.
ï¿½ As you are getting the best engineering aspirants in India, what are the advanced features that the students can expect in BITS curriculum?
Our students are required to do a minimum of five courses in Humanities and Management and are, in addition, required to take at least five open electives, which may be outside of their discipline or specialization so that students gain breadth. We also offer the option to pursue two different majors spending some additional time to obtain two degrees.
ï¿½ How often does BITS change its curriculum?
Curriculum at BITS is continually changing; new courses ï¿½ particularly elective courses are added every semester. In general, each course is defined sufficiently broadly to allow faculty to customize the specific topics in a course from semester to semester. We also receive constant feedback from industry via the placement process and via the Practice School component based on the performance of our students.
ï¿½ How is the emergence of IT sector as major job provider affecting the curriculum design of BITS?
This has not affected curriculum design fundamentally. However, it has resulted in several courses offered by the Computer Science Department targeted at students in other disciplines as well as students engaging in projects requiring software / computing skills.
ï¿½ What are the features that are added in the BITS curriculum with the changes in modern technology?
Each course has components that require the student to pursue exercises and assignments by using the library, laboratories, the Internet, simulations and other software tools, discussions, and team activities. We have put in place technology to enable our students to take specialized courses across our campuses to leverage faculty expertise available in niche areas by using our Tele presence classrooms. We are also introducing new pedagogic methods ï¿½ via flipped classrooms and blended classrooms ï¿½ by running SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses) for our own students. Over the last several years, we have been using web-based conferencing to deliver lectures to those of our students who are working professionals and we have supplemented that with additional content via online Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Moodle.
We need more Job Providers rather than Job Seekers
RedBus, an online platform for booking tickets now sells over a million tickets a month. The founder of this revolutionary startup, Phanindra Sama is an alumnus of BITS Pilani. With many promising startups waiting to come out from the campuses, Mr. Surya Rao, Managing Director of Technology Business Incubator at Hyderabad campus talks about the role of the institute in promoting entrepreneurship.
ï¿½ BITS has multiple bodies to promote entrepreneurship such as Technology Business Incubators (TBI) and Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL). How are they complimenting each other?
CEL is a student driven and led body and it has chapters in every BITS campus. In CEL, students organize guest lectures where people from the industry visit the campus and raise awareness among students about the importance of entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, most of the students\' ideas do not last for long for various reasons. On the other hand, TBI is a professional body, which has been setup with an aim of fostering real startups in the campus. When CEL gets some excellent ideas from students, they come to TBI where we help them with seed funding, incubation, mentoring and so on. However, our incubators are not just students focused. TBI has a broader vision and in order to make it a sustainable body, we have opened it up for local entrepreneurs. The incubators also work with faculty members to give them information about market trends and opportunities and help them in transforming their research into a commercial product.
ï¿½ What are the efforts from BITS to make more entrepreneurs in the campus?
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. We believe that whoever has the ability to become an entrepreneur needs the best possible platform to start his/her company. For this purpose, CEL comes into picture very early by conducting various programs to motivate the students. Then, TBI helps them to achieve their goals by offering necessary support and expert advice.
ï¿½ What makes BITS different in promoting entrepreneurship?
The class called New Venture Creation (NVC), which has been collaboratively taught by BITS faculty and BITS Alumni, has made significant changes in this segment. Through this course, we encourage students to build prototypes for their proposed business ideas. It is a great learning platform, where students can understand various aspects in establishing and running a new business successfully. Even if their ideas do not work, they will have a great process to follow.
ï¿½ How is BITS helping student entrepreneurs in sourcing capital for their businesses?
Typically, there is an innovation scheme on campus called \'Director\'s Innovation Scheme.\' That is enough to develop a small prototype. When they come to TBI, we support them and if the idea is developing progressively then we present them in front of various funding agencies. At present, we have three different kinds of funding mechanisms running on campus and another one is in the pipeline.
ï¿½ What is your advice to student entrepreneurs?
Students should do a few major things before starting a business, which include being excellent in one\'s subject, talking to customers and understanding customers\' needs. An Entrepreneur should always ask his customers for their feedback.