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IBM pact with eye on pie

Calcutta, June 20: If there is scent of a big business, one doesn’t need to woo the multinationals, they come on their own.

After expressing its “keen interest” in helping trouble-torn Indian Institute of Information and Technology (IIIT), Calcutta, IBM today signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with West Bengal University of Technology to “advance IT learning initiatives” in the state.

Frank Luksic, country executive, software group and developer relations, IBM India, and Samir Bandyopadhyay, the varsity’s registrar, signed the MoU at Writers’ Buildings in the presence of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and infotech minister Manab Mukherjee.

Based on a proposal submitted by the global IT company, the four-page document is an outline of how IBM plans to lend its weight behind IIIT and other higher technical educational institutions in the state.

“This is just the beginning. It has been decided that they will submit a concrete proposal — describing details of their plans — in three months. An expert group will be set up to review the proposal and, based on its suggestions, we will start negotiating with IBM,” said higher education secretary Jawhar Sirkar.

The fact that IIIT will be completely under government control hasn’t been a concern for IBM, which already has a significant presence in the state. It is part of the computer literacy programme in 200 schools. But with the government deciding to take computer education to 7,000 schools — a business of 70,000 computers — IBM is eyeing the biggest slice of the pie, which explains their “keen” interest in IIIT.

From providing free software and helping in teachers’ training to employing the IIIT pass-outs and drawing up an industry-oriented curriculum, the IBM proposal takes care of the main concerns of the government. Besides, IBM has also committed to set up a centre of excellence at the IIIT campus in Salt Lake.

Though the IBM brand name and its long list of promises will do a world of good to the institute, the government is not taking chances and wants everything on paper. “We will closely examine their detailed proposal and keep the option open for further negotiation,” said Sirkar.

The IBM association is a boon for the institute, said Bikram Dasgupta of Globsyn. He, along with two other promoters, chipped in with Rs 50,00,000 each to set up the institute in 2000. But a string of problems — from affiliation with the All India Council of Technical Education to absence of a campus and full-time faculties — marred the government’s intention of making it a centre of excellence in IT training.

Efforts to rope in the Ambanis failed and the institute was transferred from technical education to the higher education department. Recently, IIIT became the computer science department of the technology varsity.

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