Thursday, July 10, 2014

New IIM's and IIT's - why not University Towns

As I sat passively listening to various post budget discussions on Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha TV, one commentator struck a chord. It is fine to build new IIT's but without quality faculty, mediocrity will prevail. And why would well qualified people go to remote places?

In another discussion, one commentator, I believe an expert in economics, was asked about jobless growth. He ridiculed it and said that there was no such thing. You cannot have growth without jobs. It blew my mind. I wanted someone to question that comment but no one did. It is not just a problem of the rich countries with software eating jobs.

The government wants to create new IIT's, IIM's and urban centers of excellence. Nothing wrong with the idea itself.

So, what if instead of creating each institution in a separate place, the government creates university towns starting with a student population of 10,000 plus. Obviously, Berkeley and numerous small but well known towns in the US come to mind. However, our visit to Manipal had been a remarkably pleasant experience. Now one can even point to the CEO's of Microsoft and Nokia and suggest that Manipal may be an example worth emulating.

A university town ensures that academic and student populations of diverse disciplines interact and learn from each other and not just what is taught in classrooms. The size of IIT, Kanpur assured that there was just one restaurant, I think called Red Rose. It was dark & dingy and I saw rats running around. (I spent a year as a postdoc at IIT,K). An adequate student population ensures a lively, vibrant environment. These are fun environments for faculty and families as well.

The best way to prepare for the future is to learn and not based on the jobs available today, which is why I had thought that the Delhi university four year program was a worthwhile experiment. University towns may instead be tremendous opportunities for the young Indians.

Personal Experience:
Ropar is not all that remote just an hour's drive from Chandigarh. Yet, the IIT Ropar has a problem attracting faculty, at least in Computer Science. I enjoyed being able to experiment with content and style of teaching unlike in a traditional engineering college. Although I was not very happy with the outcomes, I was ready to try another experiment based on this video of Eric Mazur. However, the desire to experiment and see if students would learn better was not enough compensation to drive an hour each way for even three days a week.

Build one in Goa

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