A FEW INSTITUTES of higher learning like the IITs, together produce about 3000-4000 world-class, first-degree engineers. About 2000 migrate abroad; another 500 drift to business management, points out F C Kohli.
Kohli believes in achieving a quantum jump in the number of quality engineering graduates and scientists: “if the quality of 50-60 colleges that admit students with 85 per cent plus score at 10+2 level is upgraded to the level of IITs, it is possible to produce 25,000-30,000 top-class engineers who would be excellent material for pursuing studies at the post-graduate and doctorate levels. Instead of the current scenario of India producing 600 PhDs a year, such a change can help turn out 6000 quality PhDs every year,” says Kohli.
CoEP – transformation into a class institute
Octogenarian Kohli is not a mere dreamer. He has set about the task of demonstrating the feasibility of such a transformation. The Government of Maharashtra invited him to head the College of Engineering, Pune (CoEP) which had its origin as the Poona Engineering Class and Mechanical School in 1854. Its contemporaries are the College of Engineering, Guindy and the Calcutta Civil Engineering College, which later evolved as the Bengal Engineering and Science University.
CoEP has several firsts to its credit — from affiliation to Bombay University for the licentiate course in civil engineering in 1866 to starting a civil engineering programme in 1908 to the first PG course in 1957. Through these years, the college has churned out 36,000 undergraduates, 7500 post-graduates and 45 doctorates.
Visionaries who triggered a change…
This institution, which is wholly-owned and run by the Maharashtra government, with large land and spacious buildings in the heart of Pune, lagged behind the IITs that were set up in the 1950s and 1960s .Visionary leaders in the Government of Maharashtra — the Minister for higher education and the secretaries in charge of administration — were keen to bring about a change. Benchmarking CoEP with IITs revealed several gaps: though student intake through common entrance tests was considered excellent, there were deficiencies concerning faculty strength and their qualifications. There was acute shortage of well-qualified professors. Outdated curriculum, lack of tutorials and a system of continuous evaluation, hardly-visible academic ambience in the form of library and computer centres, outdated laboratory facilities, less qualified support staff and severely inadequate funding affected the college’s growth. It should be admitted that the infrastructure, funding and management autonomy of the IITs were far higher than those of government-run institutions: an IIT enjoys the advantage of a sophisticated infrastructure, with a budget of Rs 200 crore from the Central Government, while the CoEP is allocated less than Rs 20 crore from the State Government, for salaries. The fee per student charged by the IITs is Rs 100,000 per annum while it is half at Rs 50,000 at CoEP.
Understandably, at the time the reforms were initiated eight years ago, faculty strength was just 59 against the sanctioned 111; assistant professors numbered 30 against 74; associate professors 11 against 48 making a total of just 100 against the sanctioned 233. With tight finances, the state government was not able to fill the vacancies on time. Recruitment was done through the State Public Service Commission with its limitations of choice and quality.
Active participation of board members
Kohli rued with concern: “the best of students are found at the entry level but at the end of four years why would they not be as good as the products of IITs?” A supportive state government, the UGC and AICTE, justly impressed by the stature and passion of Kohli, extended the needed support. At the base of the reform was the autonomy to govern, manage and expand. A prestigious board of governors comprising eminent public figures, including well- known business leaders, academics, administrators and professionals with high standing, was constituted under the chairmanship of Kohli. Against the usual experience of members of such boards, who are satisfied with just marking attendance at the board meetings, Kohli by his own example, ensured that each member of this board lent quality time of around 100 hours a year for assisting, streamlining and expanding the activities of the college. Director A D Sahasrabudhe provided several instances of the board members’ invaluable contribution: “Atul C Kirloskar, Chairman, Kirloskar Oil Engines Ltd. lent his expertise in renovation and expansion of dozens of college buildings. Prathap Pawar, CEO, Sakal Papers, ensures the college getting the best terms on the purchase of various equipment. Dr B S Sonde, the renowned academic, has been closely involved in the continuous upgradation of the curriculum.”
The list was long and impressive vouching for the passion and close involvement of the members of the board.
Dr Sahasrabudhe did his master’s and doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He is on deputation from the Indian Institute of Technology - Guwahati. Kohli’s close association with the IITs for several decades is well-known; he, along with the help of the illustrious team of academics and other leaders in the board of CoEP, established close rapport with IIT - Bombay.
Collaboration with IIT-B to enhance quality
The collaborative efforts of IIT-B and CoEP are bringing about electrifying changes. The college encouraged the faculty to update and upgrade their knowledge. A total of 17 members of the college attended one full semester course in IIT; 18 more were deputed to IITs/IISc for qualification upgradation. Faculty was also sent for short-term courses and training in other reputed institutes in India and abroad. There was also focus on recruiting faculty with better qualification. Kohli pointed to setting up a dedicated high-speed fibre optic cable connectivity with IIT-B that has enabled bridging the gap in the teaching – learning process. Online live interactive classes are conducted in 19 courses. The institute also taps the expertise of a large number of alumni settled in the US through special lectures, webinars, etc. With the lead of Kohli, there has been effective tapping of technology, eg. internet connectivity increased to 352 mbps from the earlier 2 mbps. Open and round-the-clock access is provided to the computer centre and access to the library provided between 8 am and 8 pm.
In my interactions with the CoEP faculty, I was impressed with their passion and involvement. Over the last ten years, faculty strength has nearly doubled to 193, faculty with doctorates has risen from 12 to 97. Faculty registered for PhD increased more than five’fold from six to thirty-two.
Top class facilities to try and test
Several alumni have been making liberal contributions to their alma mater: Narendra Kale, Sanjay Inamdar, Atul Kirloskar and Nikhil Jakatdar, each have contributed a crore of rupees or more. The Doshis (Premier Ltd) have upgraded the mechanical engineering lab with a generous contribution.
In my visit to the several labs, I could see massive efforts spent in the upgradation of equipment and facilities. At the electrical engineering lab, I was struck by the high degree of attention paid even to the environment. There was lot of greenery with lush vegetation. Prof Sanjay Dambhare and his colleagues showed with pride the all-in-one electrical machine test bench, the basic electrical engineering lab and the universal two-phase transformer developed by the department. The facilities newly created include high voltage transformers designed and erected by the department.
Advances in plumbing...
Another unique facility at the college is the plumbing lab. At this lab, manufacturers of a variety of sanitaryware and plumbing equipment demonstrate the advances and the right methods of construction with dozens of devices. Director Sahasrabudhe pointed to a simple improvisation in the water line with elongated tubing in each floor that would help ensure same pressure of water flow in all the floors.
Focus on R&D
The enthusiasm of students working at different labs was infectious; like the team that was busy developing a race car, over a dozen students from first year to fourth year working on robotics and so on.
The faculty ensured that the R& D efforts at the labs are continued long after the set of students graduate by involving students from all the four years and that the researchers, even after graduation, continued to show interest. Sahasrabudhe listed some major changes brought about in recent years: against the earlier practice of evaluation at the end of the semesters, credit - based semesters are followed. The curriculum is revised regularly (done thrice in the last eight years). There is stress on imparting science fundamentals, introducing a course in biology, a blend of science and humanity studies, transparency in evaluation and special attention to the needy students and constant benchmarking with IIT-B.
Autonomy in recruitment, finance…
With regard to administration, recruitment rules have been changed. A system of rotation has been introduced for deans and heads of departments, providing better opportunities to faculty. Rules relating to consultancy and R&D have been liberalised, more financial powers to heads and deans. The earlier practice, of doing every job in-house, has been done away with and services such as cleaning, sweeping, gardening and security have been outsourced.
Sahasrabudhe made a special reference to the efforts to ensure co-operation among government, industry, alumni and the college.
An independent board free of political pressure
The 160-year-old institution endowed with rich land and buildings has suffered due to encroachments and unauthorised uses. The 45-acre campus is not one large continuous piece; over the decades, the railways and highways have constructed permanent ways across land owned by the college. There are encroachments with around nine-acres under litigation. All these add to the burden on the administration, but the director and his team have been zealously guarding their turf. The powerful board of governors also acts as a strong buffer against interference by political and other pressure groups. There is the added advantage of the director not being an employee of the state government but a renowned academic, seconded by an IIT. Sahasrabudhe expressed satisfaction over the college enjoying autonomy up to the year 2016. Existing staff will continue to enjoy all service benefits. The college has been empowered to recruit faculty, with the government continuing to pay the salaries for sanctioned posts. The college is permitted to retain the fees collected and also to effect increase in fees annually as per norms and the freedom to generate its own funds.
The land and buildings will continue to belong to the government and the norms of reservation for social inclusiveness will be followed. The college has the freedom to start new programmes, to design new rules and regulations and to strive towards bringing up the institute to the level of the IITs.
The next milestone to cross is getting the status of a deemed university which will make it fully autonomous. Sahasrabudhe believed this will be granted soon.
Tie-ups with banks and industry
Of the annual budget of Rs 35 crore, around Rs 17 crore come from the government, Rs 16 crore from fees and Rs 2 crore from consultancy and donations. The college offers 700 seats each, in four streams in the undergraduate courses making a total of 2800; another 800 in PG courses and 160 in the PhD stream. The existing infrastructure can permit further intake of 1500 with attention paid to additional hostel facilities.
Kohli suggests an increase in the annual fees to Rs 100,000 from the present Rs 50,000 as in the IITs. Easy access to bank loans to the tune of Rs 100,000 per annum for students who need this, with repayment starting a couple of years after securing employment and extension of liberal scholarships to poor and meritorious students can enable smooth transition to the increased fee structure. Kohli convinced the Reserve Bank of India to make the regulatory norms for education loans more liberal. This has now become a reality with banks directed to provide loans for higher education without any collateral, lifting the burden off parents.
These measures will help meet the financial needs of the college all on its own, help in further enhancement of the quality of faculty and pave the way for building a prestigious graduate school: “we can provide a stipend equivalent to what one can get on employment. This will help him/her take to research and pursue for doctorate. Such a measure will pave way to expand the number of PhDs ten-fold. Upgrading 50 such colleges can enhance supply for post-graduate and doctoral work in an ample measure,” said Kohli.
A giant leap...
In Maharashtra, there is a 30 per cent reservation for girls in college admissions. A new ten-storey hostel building has been constructed for women. Sahasrabudhe referred with satisfaction to a couple of outcome indicators: first is the 95 per cent placement of CoEP graduates with salary packs in the range of Rs 3 lakh to 18 lakh; second, 10 to 15 per cent of the undergraduate students pursuing post-graduate and PhD courses in renowned universities across the globe. Thus, CoEP is within a striking distance of replicating the achievements of the IITs.
I noticed another welcome initiative at CoEP: imparting soft skills through interactive sessions with the students thereby improving their communications skills, attitudes and enhancing expectation levels and ambition. In the same breath, I feel there should be efforts to expand the knowledge horizons on current and emerging issues in the general knowledge field. For this, an adequate background of economics is essential. Undergraduate students need to be apprised of various aspects of industrial economics.
The Kohli model for PPP
For one from Tamil Nadu witnessing a disconnect between business and administration in the realm of higher education, the CoEP experiment was a refreshing contrast. In Tamil Nadu higher education is a prosperous business-owned mostly by politicians, contractors, real estate magnates... with black money ruling the roost. Imagine the College of Engineering, Guindy managed by a board of independent members enjoying full autonomy! The appointment of vice-chancellors under political influence affects the quality of the students graduating from the college.
The stature of Kohli is a major factor in ensuring autonomy and the spectacular transformation brought about in less than a decade. This model needs to be replicated quickly to make up for the time lost over the last six decades failing to build high-class institutions across the country. Lack of resources has come in the way of multiplying the IITs manifold; but the Kohli model can help upgrade the dozens of government colleges through the Public-Private Partnership mode in quick time.
The CoEP time line
1854: The Poona Engineering Class and Mechanical School was opened in July 1854 and the accommodation consisted of three small, detached houses for teaching purpose and a separate house for Principal.
1866: The college was affiliated to the University of Bombay for the degree of Licentiate of Civil Engineering(LCE).
1884: Sir M Visvesvaraya passed LCE, standing first in class.
1911: College renamed as College of Engineering, Poona and the first B.E.(Civil) graduated.
1939: First woman student admitted.
2004: Board of Governors constituted.
2005: The Institute renamed as College of Engineering, Pune