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IITs knock on global club door

New Delhi, Jan. 28: The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) may soon formally enter the global elite of engineering schools under an international treaty India has signed and which may kick in later this year.

The institutes’ top decision-making body today sanctioned their entry into a group of engineering schools from countries that are signatories to the Washington Accord.

Professional degrees recognised by the national accreditation agency of the signatory countries are granted equivalence by all other members of the accord. The IIT Council today appointed the National Board of Accreditation in charge of guiding the institutes into the accord later this year, higher education secretary R.P. Agrawal said.

The board, an arm of the All India Council of Technical Education, represents the country at the accord, which accepted India as a provisional member in June 2007.

The two-year provisional membership ends this June 2009, when India will try and convince other members that qualifications recognised by its accreditation process are “substantially equivalent” to the ones accredited by existing members. If it succeeds, degrees from institutions accredited by the board will be treated equivalent to those in other signatory countries.

The Centre wants the IITs to lead the pack of Indian institutions that will try and seek equivalence, if the country is accepted as a full member of the accord. The US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Ireland, Japan, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Hong Kong, Singapore and South Africa are the current members of the accord. Germany, Malaysia, Russia and Sri Lanka are the provisional members other than India.

The council today also “ratified” the appointments of directors, under a cloud following an adverse judgment from Madras High Court in December 2008. Under the IIT Act, only the council has the power to appoint directors. But each of the seven directors of the older IITs were appointed by HRD minister Arjun Singh, the council’s chairman, without informing the other members.

The council approved also a proposal to start combined masters and Ph.D programmes in the sciences and in engineering, reported first by The Telegraph on January 22, 2009. The IITs can now offer combined M.Tech./Ph.D and M.Sc./Ph.D programmes.

This move is aimed at stalling the flow of research to foreign universities offering combined programmes that are often shorter than the total time required for a masters degree and a doctoral degree. A combined programme also saves students the hassle of reapplying for a doctoral programme after their post-graduation.

The council asked directors to implement a new scheme, called the Faculty Induction and Development Programme, to meet the acute shortage of teachers. Under the scheme, the IITs will identify “bright students” on the verge of completing their doctoral research or doing post-doctoral work in India or abroad. The council also sanctioned the hiring of research and development professionals as adjunct faculty and recently retired faculty members on contract.

Directors to six new IITs were also appointed at today’s meeting. U.B. Desai, an electrical engineer from IIT Bombay, will head IIT Hyderabad. M.K. Surappa, who teaches metallurgy at IIT Delhi, will be the director of IIT Roopnagar (Punjab). IIT Kanpur civil engineer Sudhir Jain will head the IIT in Gandhinagar. Anil Bhowmick, from IIT Kharagpur’s rubber technology centre, will be the director of IIT Patna. IIT Kharagpur deputy director Madhusudan Chakraborty will head IIT Bhubaneswar.

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