23 October 2022 10:58:26 IST

‘Students flocking to computer science still a concern’

Prof V Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras

In January 2022, V Kamakoti took charge as the Director of IIT Madras. Soon enough, he made a big splash in a short time with his endeavour to broadbase IIT education and make it more accessible. Recently, IIT Madras was ranked as the best university in the country by NIRF rankings 2022 yet again. 

Students of all disciplines going into software is a matter of growing concern. IIT Madras aspires to set up a medical school soon. Cultivating interest in STEM at the school level can be a game-changer, he says. These are some of the insights that Kamakoti shared in an interview with  bloncampus. 

How do you plan on democratising IIT education?  
There are two levels at which we are trying to democratise IIT Madras’ education. We’ll be offering more online programmes. There is no cap on the number of seats and it does not require an entrance examination. You just need to take a qualifying exam which makes it much easier for people to attempt and clear. Once they are in, students get a very good foundation and employment opportunities. We are already seeing very good responses. This is one level of democratisation.
The next level is, recently, we launched a scheme called DESI – Democratising Education in Science Initiative — where we would like to give quality education in science through online mode for classes 9, 10, 11, and 12 in the areas of biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. We are involving some of the best teachers at IIT to do this. We will give them regular practice assignments so that their concepts become clear. And also train them to use these concepts for problem-solving. If the introduction to science is strong, then their inclination to take up, say, engineering or medicine, will also increase.
We are also trying to do the ‘AI for Bhashini’ project, funded by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and Nandan Nilekani Foundation. We have the Nilekani centre now. The aim is to use technology to translate English to 21 regional languages. We will start with giving captions in regional languages for lectures in English.
Software is absorbing almost all engineering talent. Students from all other disciplines are also going into software. Is it a matter of concern?  
This is a very big matter of concern. Today, everybody wants to do only machine learning. Even within computer science, I’m not getting people to do, say, computer architecture. Even to run a machine learning algorithm, you need architecture, right? You need hardware to run the software. Nobody wants to work on hardware.
We need to get people interested in other disciplines. Of course, all the seats are full across BTech programmes at IIT, but subsequently, they should continue and contribute to that discipline. That is something we need to work out. We have introduced a lot of interdisciplinary programmes and we see a growing interest in that. I am sure people who do these programmes will continue in that field of specialisation. 
We would like parents to stop persuading students to take computer science.  
Is there a lot of study happening at the intersection of engineering and medicine and humanities?
Of course. We have many joint programmes at IIT Madras with other medical schools. But we would like to have a focused medical school. IIT Madras is aspiring to set up one very shortly. We are also looking at a good BTech programme in medical sciences. 
NEP has recommended breaking down silos and make it more interdisciplinary
This is a very important point recognised by NEP in its entire report. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary is also the need of the hour. Today, if you say I am a computer scientist, nobody cares. I should know how to make the entire system, right? I need to do it from scratch, end-to-end. That is what interdisciplinary kinds of courses will enable you to do.
How has IIT Madras been able to retain its number one position in NIRF rankings year-after-year?  
All because of cohesive work. If you look at NIRF rankings, it is not just about academics, it is also about many other things such as innovation, graduate outcomes, governance and so on.   
For us to have gotten into that position, we had to have worked as a cohesive unit. I am sure we will continue to do that and continue to taste that success