Prof.Damodar Acharya, alumnus and former Director of IIT Kharagpur, was the invited guest of the Director, Prof. V.K. Tewari, at the 17th Annual Alumni Meet. He participated in the brainstorming session with three other former directors to contemplate on the future of the Institute. Prof. Acharya has decided to pay for the renovation of the two hostel rooms he occupied, first as an MTech student in 1970-72, and then during his PhD from 1972-75. KGP Chronicle talks to him about his decision and his thoughts on his alma mater.
What prompted you to contribute to the renovation of the two rooms you occupied as a student of IIT Kharagpur?
Answer: Freshers to college, including their parents, get their first impression about the Institute as they enter the room allotted to them. Our hostel rooms were good and matched the taste of students of the period of their construction. With time and lack of proper upkeep, they are not as good as they used to be. Government gives money for new construction. But for renovation and upgradation hardly any budget is available. No doubt some of our alumni are contributing to renovate common facilities like kitchen, dining hall and common room with big ticket funding. During my period, efforts were made to improve toilets. However, the rooms could not be renovated. Renovation of a room, I understand, requires modest expenditure of about Rs 100,000 that most of our alumni can afford. In KGP every student is attached to his/her hall and to the room that he/she stays. By contributing a small sum for the renovation of the room where one has stayed, one contributes for a good cause and in a small way pays back to the alma mater.
I firmly believe that with this type of small donation from each of the alumni together can make a lot of difference and ensure involvement of a large number in Institute building. This consideration prompted me to contribute for the renovation of the two rooms where I stayed during my student days with the hope that many more like me with limited capability will join the movement,
IIT Kharagpur wants to be among the top 10 institutions of the world. Is there too much focus on global ranking?
Answer: Higher global ranking, whether we like it or not, has become a goal of any Institution that offers world class education. Higher ranking helps in attracting good students, both national and international, world class faculty, funding from national and international sources and excellent career for its alumni. Perusing higher ranking is the goal of any Institution and IIT Kharagpur cannot be an exception. Definitely the focus on higher ranking is not too much.
Becoming one amongst the top ten institutions in the world is no doubt a laudable long term goal. IIT Kharagpur has to strive to achieve this in the shortest possible time. However, this calls for charting a strategy and time bound actions to reach the achievable mile stones. Some universities have done so with amazing success in a very short period though most have hundred or more years of history.
What do you think IIT Kharagpur should change or improve if it has to improve its ranking?
Answer: Comparison scores of IIT Kharagpur with those of the Top ten Universities in each of the QS ranking parameters will reveal that we have to go long way. We have to improve our score in each of the parameters. A strategy and actionable plans with time bound implementation schedule have to be developed. To identify the action set, we have to learn from our bench mark Institutes. The process is not sequential. One has to attack from all fronts. Two most important ones will be the teaching-learning process and research. Both will require a paradigm shift in our approach and allocation of resources for faculty, students, infrastructure and money.
If you were to be the Director of IIT Kharagpur today, what is the immediate thing you would have liked to concentrate on?
Answer: If I were the Director today, to improve ranking I would select bench mark Institutes and bench mark departments to understand how they have done so well. For instance NTU Singapore, which achieved a QS ranking of 11 in a short period of 33 years, will be my bench mark Institute. Georgia Tech will be my bench mark for the Mechanical Engineering.
The Institute and each of the departments will have to develop the road map on how to come nearer to their benchmark Institute and Department in teaching-learning and research. Targets for five years, 10 years, 20 years and 25 years shall be set.
- The teaching-learning process has to be totally changed. The Institute has to change to outcome-based learning and use flipped class room, active learning, collaborative learning and experiential learning pedagogy to replace chalk and talk and ppt based delivery. Research will form an integral part of undergraduate and postgraduate education.
- Focused research on a few areas with global and national relevance has to be initiated with the clear objective of becoming a reference Department in that area,
- Attracting world class faculty and retaining them will be the other focus.
- Innovation and entrepreneurship culture has to be strengthened.
- Performance-based incentive system ought to be introduced.
Can you please share with us some anecdotes related to your time as Director of this institution?
Answer: I have been a workaholic and a private person throughout my life. In spite of my taking many path-breaking initiatives and doing work of long term value to the Institute, I was often misunderstood as a strict disciplinarian and insensitive person during my tenure. Frankly, I am just the opposite. My only limitation was that I am outspoken and did not know how not to tell a spade a spade. I was so deeply involved in work that I could not devote time for socializing. Therefore, I do not have many anecdotes to quote except the criticism I have faced for obvious reasons I do not want to quote and which I shall prefer to forget.