June 13, 2013

iT in Bangalore


Today, I met with academics at an institution in the field for which Bangalore is known; IT. Initially my meeting had been set up with the director of IIITB (International Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore); he, however, had to travel, and so I met instead with Prof. S. Rajagopalan and a number of other faculty members. IIIT is interesting; largely postgraduate, with a 5 year integrated M.Tech degree, but they largely work with people with engineering bachelor's. They have 2000 applicants for 150 seats, and they are able, with those relatively small numbers of students, to do a lot of research with them. That is, as Prof. Rajagopalan said, what they're known for- their research. After providing a good overview of the history of higher education, he brought up two particular issues that resonated with me. One was what he sees as a tension in higher education between developing more specialized institutes (like IIIT) or more broader educational institutions which bring people from a wider set of disciplines to the same university campus. Recently there has been movement in both directions- which doesn't necessarily strike me as bad or wrong, but ideally there would certainly be a plan for some sort of balance (I haven't read through all the material I've got to see if perhaps there is), and also some sort of formal linkage between the specialized institute and some nearby "general" college or university so that exchange (of students, ideas, expertise, courses), when necessary and productive, could happen easily. 
He also spoke of the issue of scale as regards an educational model with strong emphasis on research. The faculty to student ratio he felt was a threshhold to be able to pull that off was 1:15. Mentoring 15 students, though I know people do, sounds incredibly taxing to me! It also really brings into stark relief the trouble here finding qualified faculty...with those kinds of ratios, and given the number of students, it is going to be exceedingly hard to find enough professors to substantively expand on that model. However, I at least still think (and I believe I've said it before) that getting undergraduates involved in research is the best (?only) way to create a faculty pipeline. So this problem is hard to solve!
Then I had a very pleasant lunch with Prof. Rishi Krishnan of IIMB, author of "8 steps to innovation" and "From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation" (he gave me signed copied of both, which was very generous). Principally, I wanted to know how his ideas on innovation could be applied to higher education. He felt that a key problem in India that impedes innovation within higher education is faculty motivation. There is little incentive to create new curricula, course models, etc. so bottom up reform is unlikely. That would seem to be at least similar to the US; the bulk, though not all of the people I can think if off the top of my head who have gone above and beyond in terms of innovative pedagogy have done it out of their care for students and for the material they're teaching. So certainly more formalized support, and recognition would be a place to start. 
Rishi spoke of a workshop he and a colleague are running in July on training in innovation as part of an M.B.A program; I'll be interested to hear how that goes. We also spoke of a two day workshop that IIMB has their MBA students do just before they start their second year (final); it's designed to help them process their summer internship, reevaluate what they've learned in their first year, and adapt their plans and goals for the second year. He said it's hard to keep their attention for two days, and I believe that would be true anywhere, but still...that kind of reflection and conscious integration of work experience with academic experience sounds powerful. We do some things like that...but I wonder where the sweet spot is in terms of intensity and length of experience that would have a real impact on students without being so long or involved that it is a burden or a turnoff...

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