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Titans trade jabs on research quality

On the eve of the showdown between the cricket champs, comes the clash of the rajas of research.

The Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) is gearing up for greater financial self-sufficiency, but not at the cost of research — like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), where research, it seems, has “gone down the drain”.

This was the line taken by director K.B. Sinha at the ISI-Industry Meet on Monday. “Most of the ISI alumni are in academics. There is no big money to be had in academics. The IITs receive so much funding because the alumni do well in business,” observed Sinha.

But this is not a model the ISI is keen to follow. “IIT Kharagpur has the largest corpus of funds… But their research has gone down the drain,” said Sinha.

An allegation IIT Kharagpur denies. “How will the ISI know this'” asked director S. K. Dube. “This can be judged by the number of publications and awards the institute has won. And going by that, IIT Kharagpur and Kanpur have been winning the leading scientific awards for years now, not the ISI.”

But Dube also cautioned that the premier technical institutes in India, as a whole, are doing “less research” compared with, say, China.

With money doing the talking for high-cost technical institutes, proactive management has become the need of the hour. The search for private funds has become necessary for the ISI, after a government review committee asked “inconvenient questions” relating to the administration of the institute. In 2002, the committee submitted a set of 76 recommendations about the running of institute.

The ISI receives Rs 60 crore annually from the Centre, which is roughly the amount IIT Kharagpur generates from its various external projects, while from the Centre, it receives between Rs 150 and 200 crore a year.

“We have contributed very meaningful research to both Isro and the defence department,” said Dube. Apart from these and other public agencies queuing up for IIT’s skills, are private companies like Coal India, Tata Sons and pharmaceutical firms. Already underway are efforts to start R&D for in-house production, enlisting outside help for marketing. This year, Dube expects internal revenue to touch Rs 100 crore.

By comparison, the ISI only generates around “Rs 2-3 crore” in revenue from projects. “Our faculty does a lot of work with the industry, but our charges are very low,” explained Sinha.

To regularise rates, corporates are being consulted now. The institute takes up around “250 projects” in the year, including those with Larsen and Toubro and Iranian car manufacturer Khodro. “We produce knowledge,” said Sinha. “How can the industry bosses help us market this knowledge'”

Some answers may be forthcoming from the likes of Infosys, TCS, Siemens, ITC and Eveready, that participated in Monday’s interface.

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