Prof. B.N. Jain, vice chancellor of all four BITS-Pilani campuses, was recently in the San Francisco Bay area to meet with fellow BITSians regarding the new university’s new Vision 2020 Plan, the mandate for which has come from Chancellor Kumarmangalam Birla. Over the past 10 years, BITS has increased its student strength from 3,500 to 10,500 across the four campuses, created its own entrance exam, is revamping its curriculum, and has increased focus on research amongst students.
Along with Prof. V.S. Rao, director of BITS-Pilani’s Hyderabad campus, Jain was on a West Coast tour for recruiting faculty and talking more about Vision 2020. Following are excerpts of an interview with Jain conducted by India-West here June 23.
India-West: Please share with us the main objectives of the Vision 20/20 Plan.
B.N. Jain: We are focusing on developing our undergraduate program in engineering and the sciences by including more opportunities for research. As part of the Vision 20/20 Plan, we are striving to become one of the top three technical universities in India and one of the top 25 technical universities in Asia. We are also exploring new disciplines and combining disciplines, such as electronics, biology, computer science, energy, transportation, health, water, telecom and health sciences.
Q: How did BITS go from 3,500 to 10,590 students?
A: There has been a drastic increase in the number of students taking the AIEEE entrance exam in India for technical disciplines. For instance, the number has gone from 50,000 in 1965 to 1 million in 2010. The response by various Indian universities has been quite different. For example, the Indian Institute of Technology only grew by 2% per year in response to this significant increase in demand. By contrast, the Birla Institute of Technology grew by 200% between 2000 and 2010. BITS also expanded from one to four campuses, including one campus overseas in Dubai, UAE.
Q: What have you done to revamp the curriculum?
A: BITS conducted a comparison of its curriculum to other universities around the world. As a result, BITS implemented more disciplines such as humanities and social sciences and more hands-on lab and experimental work. This was done between 2009 and 2011.
Q: Please share with us your strategy in recruiting faculty members from abroad.
A: We use a formalized process with a centralized selection committee that includes outside experts from institutions such as IIT Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University. In the last one year, BITS has received 5,000 applications. BITS has thus far offered positions to 144 applicants. Our new strategy is to spread the word to ensure people are aware of our recruitment efforts. For instance, we recently visited Stanford University, UC Berkeley and UC Davis for this purpose and are scheduled to visit eight more universities in the coming weeks. Additionally, we have been encouraging our faculty members to spend time overseas for research opportunities.
Q: What are the most crucial aspects of BITS Connect 2.0, which our readers should be aware of?
A: We would like our exposure and outreach to spread beyond our physical campuses. For this reason we are engaged in a variety of off-campus programs. For example, we send 4,000 students on an 8-week training program to 160 companies, such as Cypress Semiconductors. We are also placing our faculty in industry to work on specific technical problems and research projects. BITS Connect. 1.0 included developing local area networks within the BITS campuses. This led to greater connectivity for faculty and students. BITS Connect 2.0 is taking this a big step forward with Cisco Telepresence, thanks to a $1.5M investment (jointly by the alumni and the institute). Now, faculty and students can interact with each other throughout the world using this new and exciting technology. Lectures can now be shared with anyone who has access, anywhere in the world.
Following the interview with India-West, Jain spoke to the audience about some of BITS’ recent accomplishments, in addition to their short-term and long-term goals. There were several BITS faculty members who have recently won Distinguished Alumni Awards. For instance, Prof. Balasubramanian ('55 Chemistry), who is the director of LV Prasad Eye Hospital and a former director of CCMB, Hyderabad, is a recipient of this award. He has taught in a number of universities around the world and has been honored with a "Padmashri” by the Government of India in 2002, among numerous other awards.
Jain also informed the gathering that Chancellor Birla has announced the creation of seven chair professorships to promote excellence and leadership in teaching, innovation and research. One of the recipients is Prof. Mehta (Chemistry), who is a National Research Professor in Hyderabad and former director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He has made notable contributions in chemical sciences and specializes in the area of organic chemistry. He is a recipient of the Humboldt Research Prize of Germany, the first Indian to receive the honor.
Jain went on to describe his objective of increasing BITS’ ranking from number 5 in 2012 to number 3 in 2015 among various science and technology universities in India, emphasizing that BITS has witnessed excellent growth in the last 40 years. By 2020, their student intake is expected to grow by 64%, with a significant increase in Ph.D. students. Currently, BITS has a faculty to student ratio of 16:1. Jain stressed that in order to enhance their undergraduate programs, they need to expand their research projects, and as such, Entrepreneurship Centers have been set up with the support of grants from the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Information Technology (Government of India).
Project Parivartan, an $80 million campus modernization plan, includes plans to revamp academic buildings, recreation and other facilities such as student and faculty housing.
In conclusion, Jain spoke about the upcoming BITS 50th anniversary, in preparation for which he has proposed four projects for BITS alumni and friends in America. He would like 100 alumni volunteers to devote 10-100 hours over 100 weeks on BITS initiatives. He would also like help in acquiring 10 million frequent flyer miles, which can be used by faculty, staff and students. The vice chancellor would also like to raise funds and support for a brand new $5 M sports complex at the Pilani campus. Interested alumni and friends of BITS should get in touch with the BITS Alumni Association (BITSAA) International to take these projects forward.
Stay tuned for some upcoming video content from IndiaWest LIVE! and BITS Connect.