Q: So where do you think IITs must focus - Teaching or Research?
A: You are basically debating between a Humboldtian and Land-grant model. No, I would rather follow a model of my own because both these are meant for foreign universities where you have all the comforts of education and living. But I would mostly go on the basics, that is what we have at the moment and how do we go further in excelling.
Q: Should we do more basic research? Should institutes like IITs do only applied research?
A: It is an engineering and technological institute. So, my emphasis will be more on research on engineering and technology with reference to basic science. This is because unless you have full grasp of basic sciences you cannot do excellent research in engineering and technology. And then one can utilise the knowledge of basic sciences/fundamentals to solve a problem or develop a product or look at finding a remedy to societal problems.
Q: Tell us more about IIT Patna.
A: It is at par with any other larger IIT. Yes, we are new; we are buying everything new, new machinery and the labs are state-of-the-art, and most modern ones. Most students think that a new IIT would not be well-equipped and not have adequate facilities but this is not true. We have all the facilities for a B.Tech programme, we have teachers for all the courses and contrary to the newspaper reports, where it is mentioned that smaller IITs face lot of problem for faculty. There is no dearth of faculty members here. We have 359 students and 55 teachers. Thus unlike other IITs where the student teacher ratio is 11 or 10:1, IIT Patna maintains a healthy ratio of 6.5:1. We also have 60 research scholars, probably the highest among the new IITs, so each faculty member would have at least one research scholar.
Q: Many IITs offer courses in medicine, agriculture and development. Should they become full-fledged universities?
A: Well, I would not comment on what other IITs/ universities are doing. My aim and ambition should be to focus on a few and become a leader in that. But having said that, I understand, that academic institutions should be dynamic. Interaction with students from different fields also helps a lot. Students also get an opportunity to choose different courses from different disciplines. But one must have mechanisms to do that and it should be manageable.
Q: What are your views on the idea of knowledge creation?
A: It is very important in today’s scenario. It is the knowledge that dictates the society. You imagine Japan, for instance, is such a small country - it does not have aluminium but is a world leader in that, they do not have oil but are number one in oil products - they became economic superpower because they banked on knowledge. I am also very happy that we in India are moving in the right direction and the government is making a lot of effort in knowledge creation, dissemination and making sure that knowledge is protected. Our companies are doing well and IITs are also doing so well. But we need to do more and we should not remain satisfied.