On the occasion of Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Tirupati getting approval of the Union Cabinet for a permanent campus recently, KN Ganesh, Director of IISER, Tirupati who was in the city, spoke exclusively to Manasi Saraf Joshi on issues about education and healthcare. Prof Ganesh is the Founder and former Director who established the IISER Pune campus.
Recently, there was a controversy about there being no international students for PhD programme at IISER, Pune. The reasons included lack of facilities, limited seats and grants. What is your takeon it?
It is difficult to attract foreign faculty and students in science to the country. We need to create a conducive atmosphere for them. We should attract them by the quality of science research and teaching, which is quite challenging.
We need to provide good living and working conditions, good variety of foods, and extremely important is their safety. Safety is not limited to only laboratories and living on the campus, but even outside the campus. Secondly, we need to have quality and modern institutional infrastructure and reasonable salary structure, which will attract them for research or learning.
How is the science scenario in the country?
In last four years, few new higher education/ research institutes have come up. However, the creation or expansion of higher institutes such as IISERs, IIT and NIIT and new central universities during the last decade is bearing fruits now. We need a large number of quality faculty to initiate new areas for research and teach courses to match the globally expanding scientific horizons. This needs a huge investment in the education sector. IISER spends Rs 4.5 to 5 lakh per undergraduate student and close to Rs 10 lakh per experimental researcher. Institutional budgets should match such expenditure.
Also, publications in science in the country have gone up in quality and quantity, due to more than 1,000 young faculty joining new institutes during last decade. We need to cultivate culture for more post doctoral research across institutions. India should invest more in education and healthcare sector as in a country having healthy and educated citizens, good progress follows and its effects will be visible after 10-15 years.
How do you look at the Cabinet’s approval of establishing a permanent campus for IISER, Tirupati?
I am very happy with the decision, although we are in fourth year as the Tirupati campus was started in 2015. We expected it to happen in 2nd or 3rd year, but the cabinet approval has come with a realistic budgetary calculations. I mean it has considered the budget costs appropriately for hostel and residence, which is different from budget for expensive laboratories. Similarly, it has separately included costs for furnishing, IT infrastructure for smart classes and cost escalation during construction as the campus will be ready by January 2021.
How is this going to benefit the institute academically?
Academically speaking, fast creation of infrastructure will help to rapidly increase student intake capacity. When we have more students, we will need more faculty. And increased faculty strength also enables to have diversity in research areas and introduce new courses across disciplines. This in turn will attract more students, which will help in having variety of disciplines.
When you say there is time limit for completing the project, have you got all the funds required for it?
The central government has created Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) entrusting Canara Bank to raise Rs 10,000 crore for funding higher educational institutes. The capital will come from HEFA money as loan in a planned manner. Earlier, the government used to provide funds, which in spite of best intentions, used to be irregular and uncertain, often delaying the project. But with HEFA, the institutes would also slowly move towards becoming self-sustaining. The new campuses development will be done under EPC mode with a single agency which will co-ordinate all construction activities. This will ensure that the work is completed on time.
How is funding provided by this agency?
The funds are allocated under two categories - capital and recurring. Capital funds will take care of civil works and all related infrastructural activities, while recurring would include salary and other maintenance expenses, including teaching and research consumables.
The Capital budget would be provided by HEFA mechanism, while the recurring expenses will be annually provided by MHRD. This will ensure a smooth flow of funds for construction activities regularly and as per need.
There are four categories of institutes identified for funding under the agency HEFA: (i) 70-30, which means HEFA will provide 70% of the total while 30% needs to be raised by the institute, then 80-20, 90-10 and for newer institutes like IISER Tirupati the 100-0 category with all funds coming from government through HEFA mechanism.