Eye for Excellence

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In the first convocation address of IIT Kharagpur in 1956, Jawaharlal Nehru, first prime minister of India, said:[1]
“Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands the fine monument of India, representing India's urges, India's future in making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are coming to India.”

Later, on the recommendations of the Sarkar Committee, four IIT campuses were established. In a short period, these institutes of national importance achieved a global status, IIT Kanpur being one of them.

Contents

Stepping Stone to Success

Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur abbreviated as IITK or IIT Kanpur was established in 1959. A lot of what this institute has achieved is credited to its founding director and the visionary Dr. P K Kelkar. Dr. Kelkar was instrumental in securing USA's technical collaboration for the institute, thus helping in setting up research labs and various academic programs[2]. Aided by the Kanpur Indo-American Programme for the first ten years, the nine famous consortium universities in the US laid the early path for IIT Kanpur with strong foundations. Behind all these efforts there was emmense undying spirit for excellence. Within few years of its establishment, IITK introduced Computer Science education, the first institute in the country to do so, to be at par with the various technological advancements going around the world.[3] Beyond any doubt, this has proved to be a remarkable step for the whole country producing pioneers like Dr. Manindra Agrawal, Dr. Nitin Saxena and Dr. Neeraj Kayal(all three of them recieved the 2006 Gödel Prize and the 2006 Fulkerson Prize for famous AKS primality test ).

Vision of Dr. P. K. Kelkar

From its very inception, IIT Kanpur has been striving to develop itself into an institution of excellence in education and research in consonance with the current and future needs of the country. The goal was no longer difficult to achieve as the institute was extremely lucky to find Dr. P K Kelkar as its founding director. According to Prof. M.V. Hariharan of IIT Mumbai,[4]
“ Kelkar was a teacher–philosopher, able to see years ahead. He said that if engineering were the muscle for development, science was the brain. And that only with humanities could engineering education have a heart. Because then the instruction imparted to students became, in some sense, relevant to social needs. ”

Realizing the Vision

According to a book[3] on IIT Kanpur's history, Prof. Kelkar's influence helped IITK in ‘breaking out from the dark clouds of traditional systems in technical education’. An excerpt from review of the book[3]by Dr. Arun Kumar Biswas, former professor at IIT Kanpur gives an idea of what extent the institute was commited to in order to achieve its vision:[5]
Breaking loose from the established educational patterns, IITK went in for an innovative broad-based curriculum with sciences and humanities and social sciences forming an essential component. It also introduced in India the concept of semester system, a continuous evaluation of students and letter grades. The rigour of the tutorial system, the vigour with which the young USA-trained faculty members discussed among themselves the course contents and even the tutorial sheets, and the official procedure of the students confidentially evaluating the performance of the faculty members was tremendous. IITK's undergraduate curriculum was outstanding, one year recieving sixth rank in the world.

Path Finder

IITK has been path finder to areas such as Computer Science, Materials Science, Chemistry and many others. For example, in the area of MINERAL ENGINEERING, there has been glorious contributions of many persons associated with IITK. An outstanding academician Professor S. Ranganathan of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore has passionately written:[6]
“ The seventies and early eighties marked one of the golden periods of Mineral Processing Research in India. IIT Kanpur was perhaps the best school in the field in India and easily one of the best in the world at that point in time because of its sheer breadth and depth. ”

IIT Kanpur was also the first among IITs to establish the Department of Chemistry in early '60s[7] since one cannot keep engineering and pure sciences apart if the motive was to excel. The small step had to have a profound impact on the research carried out by the institute. Professor P. Balaram, former director of IISc Bangalore and an alumni of the Department of Chemistry, IIT Kanpur, mentions in one of his speeches that Chemistry department used to carry out the maximum amount of research at IIT Kanpur during his time. Even today the Department of Chemistry has continued to excel in research, accounting for more than 50% of research output of the institute.[7] Similarly, some of the most successful physicists in India have IITK as their alma mater. The institute has produced a number of well shaped and matured talents who later went on to accomplish in various areas like string theory(professor Ashoke Sen and professor Rajesh Gopakumar) or be it the discovery of gravitational waves[7] or the likes.

The Road Ahead

While the first half of the history of IIT Kanpur is marked with a lot of achievements in academia, the second half is no different except the fact that the institute has its reach in various other fields also like industry, entrepreneurship, research, governance and public services. To name a few among those 'big guns' are Satyendra Dubey(reputed for his selfless public service), Anil Agrawal(icon of environment), N.R.Narayana Murthy(the Infosys entrepreneur) and many others have traversed this path of glory. It is important that one should keep redefining one's goal or vision to meet the demand of time and IITK was no late in realizing it. Having played a crucial role in transforming the technical education system of the country in its first 25 years, the institute realized at the right time that it has a lot to contribute to the country in various other aspects of life. By giving enough opportunities to students at each step, it has been able to deliver in the same. It is the freedom given to students to act in the manner they like which defines IIT Kanpur today. It is a challenge in itself to defend all the achievements of the past but IIT Kanpur, in its own style, is poised for still greater glories.

References

  1. Pt. Nehru speech
  2. IIT Kanpur History
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 E.C. Subbarao: An Eye for Excellence, Fifty Innovative Years of IIT Kanpur; Harper Collins Publishers, India, 2008.
  4. Info Page on P K Kelkar
  5. E. C. Subbarao Lecture Series (Book Review)
  6. Metallurgy in India – A Retrospective, NML, 2001, p. 199
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Bhawesh Kumar: Difficult Times Ahead For The BS Programs?
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