22 April 2022 03:08:29 IST

IIT Madras plans online degree in applied electronics 

IIT Madras

Getting a degree from an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) is the dream of millions of students, but to many — especially those from rural areas — getting into the intellectually sophisticated environs could be an intimidating, task.

Very few — 15,000 out of 1.5 million who try — make it past the entry post, but it is not as if those who don’t make it are not deserving of an IIT education.

In June 2020, during the pandemic-induced inactivity, IIT-Madras toyed with the idea of offering a BSc on an MOOC basis. After all, the Massive Open Online Courses, such as those offered over platforms like Coursera and edX, were already becoming a big draw.

And they decided it would be best to offer a degree in programming and data science, considering that the Indian industry is going to be needing about 500,000 data scientists a year. They built in flexibility, enabling a student to join the course in January, May or September, and exit the three-year programme at the end of any year and leave with at least a certificate or a diploma.

Improved scope

Since then, 60,000 people have applied and 15,000 admitted, of whom a little over 12,400-odd are still pursuing the course. The experience throws up some interesting data. Three students are above the age of 70; ten over 60 and 112 not younger than 50. Fourteen are retired people, 102 are homemakers and nearly 2,500 already have a job.

The greatest number of students — 1,718 are from Tamil Nadu, where the IIT is headquartered, but surprisingly, the States that follow are the distant Maharashtra (1,431) and Uttar Pradesh (1,332), according to data provided by the IIT.

Another interesting point to note is that CSR funds are pouring in to pay fees for students who can’t afford to pay — about 2,000 students are being thus supported. (The full degree course costs ₹2.4 lakh) This is over and above the fee waivers that IIT gives — students whose families earn less than ₹1 lakh a year, can study for free.

More than 200 students, who have completed their class XII from government and government-aided schools, are currently pursuing the degree programme. Lectures are delivered live online but students will have access to plenty of recorded lectures. Examination, however, shall be physical one at designated centres.

Next steps

The courseware is so designed that it does not pre-suppose any knowledge of science to get in. There is a qualifying exam, but the idea is to make sure that the applicant is good enough to comprehend the course, rather than to select the cream and filter out the rest.

As such, lots of students without any background in science have taken this course. A key attraction is the subject, namely programming and data science. Sundar Srinivasan, father of a student who has just applied, observes that in the future “data is everything” and hence the course would be of immense use.

IIT Madras' Director V Kamakoti has big plans. The initiative was started by his predecessor, Dr Bhaskar Ramamurthi, and Kamakoti told BL on Campus in an earlier interview, that he intends to expand it to match his vision of accommodating 50,000 students a year. If all the 23 IITs of India offer a similar course, Kamakoti had said, the country would see a million graduates emerging out of IITs every year.

He is now designing the next BSc course in applied electronics, given the growing emphasis on indigenously produced semiconductors. Kamakoti says that the IIT has initiated action towards arranging placements. “Pilot operations have begun, scaling up slowly,” he says.