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Golden Jubilee Reunion Panel Discussion

Panel discussion on 4th Jan at SOM auditorium during Golden Jubilee Reunion(of joining) of batch of 1967

Reunion Pic


Participants: Prof M.M. Sharma, Padma Vibhushan, Dr Lalit Kanodia, Chairman Datamatics Ltd, Mr A.K.(Dunu) Roy, Social activist

Moderator: Prof Devang Khakhar, Director IIT Bombay

Master of ceremonies: Mr Jayant Pendharkar, Batch of 1967

Director Khakhar:

Visit to campus must be making you feel 17 years old again! Hope to see you all once more for your real Golden Jubilee Reunion in 2017

Campus is greener than in your days. Institute strength has grown from 1500 to 7800 today. Change in thrust from UG education to R&D & postgrad education. PhD students are 1800 a number now, a marked change from your days.

Externally sponsored projects at IIT Bombay attracted Rs 180 cr funding last year. Very good laboratories. World class e.g. Centre of excellence in Nanoelectronics with 25 faculty members, National centre for Solar energy R&D, Solar thermal prototype of 1MW capacity, Aerospace innovation & research etc.

Marked impact on Indian industry and society is beginning to happen.

Looking back, one can go to 1946 when Sarkar committee made their recommendation to Government to set up Higher technical institutes in India as per their blueprint. IIT Bombay was the second such IIT after IIT Kharagpur to be set up. Benchmarks were Univ of Manchester in UK and MIT in the US.

Very bright students right from the start, world standard.

A sizeable proportion of students took up higher studies after B.Tech from IIT Bombay. This was right through 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

In 1960’s “Brain drain” was an issue. Sukhatme study found that 34% of them did not come back to India and settled abroad, largely in the USA. However, by 1990’s things had turned around. The early alumni of 1960’s and 1970’s had reached top positions in institutions abroad and this went with a much higher profile for the “IIT brand”.

During the early years most of those who emigrated did their post graduate studies in top US universities.  Naturally USA benefited substantially from their efforts. To this, in all fairness, it was not just their IIT education but their postgraduate education in US universities that contributed. However, US congress has passed an act that IIT’s are institutes of National importance to the US, and hence today’s debate.

Those who stayed back have contributed substantially to India as teachers, industry executives, social work and even politics.

Prof M.M. Sharma:

GJR reminds me of a similar reunion of my 1958 batch from UDCT which we had in 2004 to celebrate 50 years since we joined our Alma Mater. We followed it up in 2008 with the “real” Golden Jubilee of our graduation.

Engineers become very productive after they turn 50. Latest data indicates that across all IIT’s nearly 50% of the engineering graduates take up postgrad studies in India or overseas.

There are now approximately 200,000 IIT graduates in the world today. Naturally their influence on society has been significant.( Although the NRI’s among them have maintained close linkages with India and indirectly benefited India also, their contributions to their adopted countries have naturally been more substantial. See for example the resolution passed in the US House of Representatives in 2005).

I would however like to demolish the myth that IIT graduates on the whole have benefited US society more. We have high profile examples who have worked entirely in India in various fields, Nandan NIlekani, Jairam Ramesh and even late Jagmohan Mundhra in films come to mind as conspicuous examples. There are any number of unsung entrepreneurs among IIT graduates, they have generated cumulatively millions of jobs through their efforts.

Research is catching up in the older IIT’s including IIT Bombay. There is healthy competition in R&D among various IIT’s. In 5-7 years time there will be in India over 3000 home grown PHD’s of which 70% are in engineering and the rest in applied sciences.

At IIT Madras where I am currently chairman of the Board of Governors, the recruitment of students nowadays is mostly from Indian companies.

IIT Bombay is next to Powai lake and has the best campus location among IIT’s. This attracts the best of talents as a place to live. There is an increasing flood of Alumni donations to improve campus infrastructure. In this respect IIT Kharagpur is ahead of IIT Bombay. There is therefore scope to pinch Alumni more. I believe the most useful long term donations to IIT would be in the form of an Endowment as in the case of foreign universities. The interest income from such endowments could become a valuable source of additional financial strength in the years to come.

I recall the beginnings of IIT Bombay in the late 1950’s when visiting Russian experts were put up temporarily in older technical institutions like UDCT and SASMIRA in Mumbai when IIT’s Powai campus was still under construction.

There is a need to project more strongly the positive contributions to India of the unsung heroes among IITB alumni. India has benefited and will continue to benefit from a large number of such alumni particularly the entrepreneurs in uncharted areas like Pharma industry as well as software services. The IIM’s have done a better job in publicizing the societal impact of its own alumni, but keep in mind that 70% of IIM’s intake are engineers of which 50% are B.Tech’s from IIT’s! We need to collect more hard data to substantiate our message. (A start was made with the pan IIT sponsored “Impact study” in 2008).

We should seek to impact the psyche of Indian society with the above message.

Dr Lalit Kanodia:

If I had stayed back in the US, I may have chosen to be Professor of mathematics in a US university. But I came back and went on to make an impact first in TCS and late in founding my own company Datamatics Ltd. I am grateful to IITB for giving me my early foundation in engineering.

India took a giant step when IIT’s and later IIM’s were set up. However, it is paradoxical that they function in a society where ¼ to 1/3 Indians are still illiterate.

We have to seek inspiration from India’s heritage in world class education going back to ancient universities like Taxila and Nalanda which had in those days 10000 student campuses of students from all over the world.

Regarding the topic under discussion today, this must be seen in the context of 22 million Indians who live overseas(of which 2.5-3.2 million are in the US). This has happened because talent seeks out opportunities and borders are getting porous. The NRI’s including the IITians who migrated are a great asset to India. Remittances from abroad constitute the largest source of foreign exchange for India’s balance of payments and were computed recently as USD 59 billion/yr.

The question is how to use diaspora to India’s benefit. In future years we must also reduce the Brain drain. When individuals make a choice on where to live, we must address the root cause of why so many talented Indians want to live abroad. At the apex of such talent are Nobel laureates and even industrialists who prefer to base their work in foreign lands. But with all such people, in their heart of hearts they still sing for India “This is my own, my native land”.

IIT’s need to raise the bar on excellence, they need big endowments to achieve this. MIT in the US receives USD 300 million/yr worth of endowments. Ratan Tata recently contributed USD 50 million to Harvard, Anand Mahindra likewise gave USD 10 million. Today IIT’s are not the epitome of higher technical education by world standards, otherwise they should be competing with the likes of MIT for such endowments.

Need to push IIT faculty to consult. Need to motivate them to achieve world class. We need to leverage bright minds.

Invite eminent NRI educationists like Nitin Nohria(an IITB alumnus) to be Guest Dean for 1 year.

Need to correct the perception that India is not entrepreneur friendly. SME’s have created in developed economies 100% of new jobs in last 50 years.


Dunu Roy:

Good to see many old professors of mine in the audience. On a lighter note, if I have committed mistakes in my life, they are to blame.

Let us reflect on what we have collectively done for India in last 50 years for the PEOPLE of India.

In my own life, I have had wide experience in directly serving rural people through Vidushak Karkhana my NGO in Madhya Pradesh

My approach in using technology for people is different and more direct as compared to that of the establishment. I can illustrate it with anecdotes about use of Chain surveys to settle land disputes and of flow measurements to settle issues of submergence of agricultural land by large dams.

What have IIT’s done for the people? Precious little, however, the impact has been more indirect and through contributions of my generation of Alumni to the manufacturing sector in India.

I deplore the present rush towards service sector jobs by IITians. When US made the transition in the 1990’s from Manufacturing to a service based economy, IITians made a big contribution. But this may not be a lasting one as US is discovering that its insecure economy lacks basic strengths in Manufacturing (where China is racing ahead). My advice to Alumni is that for lasting benefits to Indian society, take the lead in modernizing Manufacturing and making it world class!

Reference from press reports:

April 26, 2005.        Text of Resolution 227 passed in US Congress

”Whereas the United States is deeply enriched by its Indian-American residents;

Whereas the Indian-American community and the graduates of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in the United States have made valuable and significant contributions to society in every profession and discipline; and

Whereas IIT graduates are highly committed and dedicated to research, innovation, and promotion of trade and international cooperation between India and the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the valuable and significant contributions of Indian-Americans to American society;

(2) honors the economic innovation attributable to graduates of the Indian Institutes of Technology; and

(3) urges all Americans to recognize the contributions of Indian-Americans and have a greater appreciation of the role Indian-Americans have played in helping to advance and enrich American society.

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On Jan 4th 2011, the panel at IIT adopted a similar view on the benefits that unsung alumni of 1967 and other IITB batches have made to India as well.

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