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President misses world-class learning

President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday likened himself to a parrot as he reiterated his regret that no Indian educational institution has made it to the top league internationally.

“It saddens me when I find that not a single Indian institute — whether a university or an IIT or an NIT — figures in the list of 200 top world-class universities prepared by internationally reputable grading organisations,” Mukherjee said while inaugurating the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology (IIEST), Shibpur.

Mukherjee has expressed his disappointment on the matter on several occasions before and, at the IIEST programme, he admitted that he has been repeating the point at almost every academic programme he has attended over the past few years since he has noticed that the standard of higher education in the country is “abysmally low compared with international benchmarks”.

“This… saddens me most and so almost like a parrot I repeat my concern on the issue at every academic congregation I attend,” the President said.

He also expressed concern that no scholar from any of the country’s institutions has won the Nobel Prize for more than 83 years. “Ever since C.V. Raman, who taught physics at Calcutta University won the Nobel in 1930, no Indian university has produced a Nobel Laureate,” he said. Speaking of subsequent Indian Nobel recipients such as Har Gobind Khorana, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Amartya Sen, he reminded that “they have all worked in institutions outside India”.

Mukherjee stressed the need for greater investment in research to produce world- class scholars and scientists.

The Shibpur landmark, earlier known as Bengal Engineering and Science University, was upgraded from a state-aided institution to IIEST status in March. The 158-year-old institution is expected to undergo all-round change in structure of study programmes, admission procedure, governance and administration, fee structure and collaborations.

What sets the IIEST apart is its dual-degree programme. Instead of offering the conventional four-year and two-year courses, it has started offering five-year integrated dual-degree programmes from the current academic session that started in July.

Students will be admitted to the IIEST through the JEE Advanced, same as the 15 IITs, from next year. This year, however, students were admitted through the state JEE.

The fee structure of the institute has also been revised. A student is being charged Rs 44,500 in the first semester and the fee would come down to Rs 36,500 from the subsequent semesters. In its previous status as a state university, students were charged around Rs 12,000 a semester.

The IIEST also aims to offer full scholarships to as many students as possible at least for two years to draw the best of talent. In terms of administrative structure, the IIEST will follow the IIT model of several deans and associate deans to take most of the academic decisions.

The number of research collaborations at the institute is expected to increase, a source in the IIEST said.

Justice Manjula Chellur, chief justice of Calcutta High Court, Partha Chatterjee, state education minister, M. Anandkrishnan, the chairman of the board of governors at IIT Kanpur, Abhijit Mukherjee, MP and son of President Pranab Mukherjee, and Tarun Vijay, a member of the Rajya Sabha, also addressed the programme.