the world's strongest economy, the three-letter abbreviation that
symbolises India best isn't UPA or NDA but IIT. This was evident
at the third global Pan-IIT conference held at Washington dc in
the third weekend of May. Pan-IIT is a not for-profit umbrella
organisation that merges the various chapters of the IIT family.
And the run-up to this, the third conference, had been perfect:
the us Congress had bestowed it an official pat on the back (see
Time For Recognition), the state governments of Maryland and Virginia
followed suit, and then, there were the speakers scheduled to
speak at the meet: Larry Summers, Jack Welch, C.K. Prahalad and
The 1,200 alumni who gathered for the conference
from all parts of the world networked heavily, partied hard and
managed to strike a blow for the IITs. The government of India
did enough to suggest that it was well on track to initiating
measures to address some of the issues and challenges facing India's
best-known technology schools. "The IITs are now aspiring
to become international research institutions," said Arjun
Singh, India's minister in charge of Human Resource Development
in a written speech that was read out (he had to skip the Washington
do). "For this ambitions transformation, we need the help,
support and contributions of all, including alumni." His
speech then proceeded to list some of these measures (coincidentally,
the same as the recommendations suggested by the Rama Rao Committee
that the government set up to study the challenges facing the
IITs; the recommendations have just been submitted): allowing
alumni to directly route funds to their alma mater without routing
them through the Bharat Shiksha Kosh, a fund set up by the previous
HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi; permitting the schools to recruit
adjunct faculty from other countries; and allowing faculty members
to consult with companies in other countries. While none of these
translates into the government relinquishing control, each is
just the kind of thing the IITs have been clamouring for. In many
ways, the third conference marks the culmination of one phase,
and hopefully the beginning of another, of the IIT story that
began, in the month of May, without much fanfare 55 years ago.
How It All Began
The first Indian Institute of Technology
came up at Kharagpur. The construction of the institute began
in May, 1950, at the site of what was the Hijli Detention Camp,
where political prisoners, including Jawaharlal Nehru, India's
then Prime Minister, were incarcerated by the British. The institute
was formally inaugurated on August 18, 1951. In fact, the prime
minister was around when the first convocation was held in 1956.
At that time Nehru had remarked, "Here in the place of that
Hijli Detention Camp stands this fine monument of India, representing
India's urges, India's future in the making. This pictures seems
to be symbolic of changes that are coming to India."
| TIME FOR RECOGNITION
| In may, the
us congress put its official seal on what the American corporate
sector has already acknowledged many times over about the
singular contribution to the US economy of the near 40,000-plus
IIT alumni. Almost simultaneously, the state governments of
Maryland and Virginia, in individual proclamations, declared
May, 2005 as the Global IIT-India American Heritage month,
joining the chorus, as it were.
Without mincing words, Congressman Tom Davis, while moving
the resolution, told the House: "IIT graduates are
estimated to have created 150,000 jobs in the US, and a
large number of new start-up ventures (60 per cent by one
count) in Silicon Valley have at least one IIT graduate
in their "C" Executive Suite. In India, the statistics
are more impressive, over 1 million jobs created and several
IIT alumni in senior management positions in almost every
major company. In short, the impact of IIT, through its
graduates, is felt broadly and deeply around the globe."
Significant, especially given that officially Pan-IIT
is not even a lobby presence on Capitol Hill.
Nehru's words were to prove prescient; however,
the real change the IITs have wrought is in the way the world
sees India. The US was the first country to be affected by this
change. Attracted by better opportunities in the United States,
graduates from the IIT family began to make their way to this
country. Here, they began to script the more modern history of
Indian immigrants in the United States. And here, unknown to most
people, they became a very important cog in the technology and
managerial revolution that was beginning to take root in the 1960s
and 1970s. Today, India too has made the cut (the process started
in the 1990s), and the network of the IIT alumni-estimated at
about 150,000-spans the globe, from Australia to the us, with
the single largest chunk, about a third, located in the last.
"As a brand, IIT is pretty strong already in the technological
circles," says Pradeep Kaul, Executive Vice President, Hughes
In public perception, the IIT story has been
linked to Silicon Valley and the dot-com boom that engendered
the single biggest burst of millionaires of Indian origin. Interestingly,
however, the real IIT story goes much beyond Silicon Valley. Even
within the US, IIT alumni can be found in leadership and managerial
positions in a raft of private companies and institutions, even
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). "One
thing that we have clearly established in this country and globally
is that IIT is not just about engineers and technologists,"
says Rajat Gupta, the former McKinsey Chief and presently co-chair
of the Pan-IIT governing body. "It is a training ground for
leaders. Its selection system and fairly well rounded programme
has given us the ability to make a difference to the institutions
that we join."
Gupta should know as he was among the first
to break the glass ceiling when he took over the reins at McKinsey.
Since then, there have been others like Arun Sarin, who took over
as the boss at Vodafone, Muktesh Pant, who until recently was
the Chief Marketing Officer at Reebok International, Rakesh Gangawal,
former CEO of us Airways, Rono Datta, former CEO of United Airlines
and Victor Menezes of Citibank, who have chosen to chart a different,
but equally successful, path other than in technology.
They are all 'former' but
IIT is very current: (L to R) Former Union minister
Arun Shourie, former GE CEO Jack Welch, and Rajat Gupta,
former MD, McKinsey at the third Pan-IIT conference in Washington
Miles To Go Still
The variegated membership has turned the
alumni body into a strong entity. Together with the fortuitous
shift in circumstances, wherein India is now viewed as the next
economic destination, it has given the IIT fraternity an opportunity
to write a fresh chapter in its impressive history.
To realise their potential in a very globalised
world, the IITs understand that there are several hurdles to be
tided over. Nearly two decades after the first review panel-under
Hiten Bhaya-pointed out the lacunae, the very same issues continue
to challenge these institutions. They have, if anything, become
even more acute.
Money isn't a constraint at the institutional
level, yet it continues to wreak havoc at the individual level.
For instance, at IIT Chennai about 120 staffers have been added
to the faculty over the last four years; in the same period, about
90 people have retired; given this attrition rate, the school
has about 80-100 vacancies in its faculty. The prime reason for
poor recruitment to the faculty has been the inability of the
school (and other IITs) to provide an enticing compensation package.
This, when they compete for talent with schools like MIT and Harvard
that not only possess huge endowments, but are also able to offer
flexible compensation packages. Unlike in India, in the US compensation
is based on classroom lectures, sponsored research and outside
consulting. It is only recently that the Indian government has
allowed the professors to do outside consulting.
"The other problem (just like the review
panel had reported) is that we do not have sufficient number of
PhDs being created in the system who specialise in technical issues,"
says Dr K.N. Satyanarayana, Professor, Building Technology &
Construction Management Division, Department of Civil Engineering,
IIT Chennai. "In fact, there are more Engineering PhDs, former
IIT students, being created in the us."
| RAMA RAO PANEL PROPOSES...
A review of the pay and perks of the IIT faculty;
provide incentives; raise the retirement age
recruitment of People of Indian Origin to the faculty; to
be a precursor to allow recruitment of foreign personnel.
the faculty induction process
up research funding by offering generous fellowships
multi-disciplinary research and studies keeping in mind the
emergence of biotechnology as a frontier area; biology should
be introduced on par with chemistry, physics and mathematics.
for joint research with industrial houses; emphasis on generating
intellectual property to pave the way for entrepreneurial
research in the IITs.
revamp existing infrastructure to provide world-class research
facilities within the campus
with international institutions to create quality research
institutions in foreign countries.
closely with Pan-IIT.
government-nominated officials on the governing board of IITs
with technology professionals.
up new IITs.
| ...AND THE GOVERNMENT RESPONDS.
Abolishes clause wherein alumni funding of the
alma mater had to be routed through the Bharat Shiksha Kosh.
of adjunct faculty from abroad to be allowed.
to be permitted to consult with companies in Europe and America.
However, there has been one significant shift
in circumstances since the Hiten Bhaya Review Panel had first
addressed these issues. Today, India is a global destination,
not just for technology, but also increasingly for manufacture.
This has clearly mitigated the factors that made it almost impossible
to wean away IIT alumni from lucrative occupations abroad to the
more challenging environment back in India.
Typically, what happens in the life cycle
of a technology country like India is that in the initial years
it is viewed as a resource pool, a country with a wonderful education
system that churns out world class engineers. It was this phase
that led to the creation of technology migrants, most of whom
belong to the IIT fraternity. Now India is gearing up to move
to the next level, wherein a larger number of graduates from institutions
like the IITs are staying on in India to take advantage of the
emerging opportunities. This cycle is all but complete. "The
industries within India are beginning to grow and expand,"
says Kaul. "Not only are services being exported, but also
intellectual property is now being developed in India. The next
wave will see India being seen as a world class provider of products-creating
and servicing them."
Pointers To The Future
The conference generated pointers for the
direction of change. In his keynote address, Larry Summers, the
former Treasury Secretary and at present President of Harvard
University, maintained that the hallmark of a world-class institution
was protecting and fostering fundamental values, and fostering
a genuine platform for debate. According to Professor C.K. Prahalad,
a professor at the University of Michigan and a management guru,
the focus of the IITs should be driven by the objective of generating
"local solutions with global standards". Outlining his
pet argument of seeing the economically-disenfranchised five billion
of the global population as an opportunity rather than as a challenge,
he said, "A good university would be successful if it allowed
for access, affordability and availability."
Creating global leaders:
Students at IIT Kanpur's computer lab
The third conference clearly underlined the
momentum that the pan-IIT organisation has generated ever since
the first meeting in San Francisco three years ago. The fortuitous
shift in circumstances, wherein India is now viewed as the next
economic miracle, has made it much easier to channellise the energies
of the alumni. Unlike an MIT or Carnegie Melon, where the students
are of multinational descent, the Indian origin of the nearly
140,000 alumni has no doubt given the IITs a very unique status
in the world. The launch of the pan-IIT card, wherein a portion
of the money spent would be earmarked for the alma mater, will
no doubt ensure a steady stream of resources. About 600-of the
1,200 who turned up-alumni had already signed up for the card
by the final day of the conference.
The next few years will surely spell out
how successful the triumvirate of government, IIT management and
alumni has been in realising the potential of the institutions
along with that of the country. As Prahalad put it: "There
are two types of bragging rights. One is to generate Nobel Prize
winners. The other is to provide the largest technical manpower
pool in the world. We have the potential to do it. It will not
only make a difference to itself (India) but also to the rest
of the world."