By S. Sivathasan –
“Our minds build cathedrals before the workmen have moved a stone” Prof. Whitehead
Pursuant to a few ideas expressed in item 6 of my article ‘100 Day Plan for Ethnic Reconciliation’ dated Feb. 19, 2015, this article is written to elaborate on the subject of ‘US-Sri Lanka Friendship Institute of Technology’. It can be built and developed on the lines of the famous and prestigious IITs of India, which again were moulded in the fifties, along the lines of MIT of US.
Model and Strategy
The model employed by USA for IIT Kanpur of India is the best for the current context of Sri Lanka. A consortium of 9 leading Research Universities of the US joined together in gifting it to India. In addition, Professors from US put the IIT through the paces for a decade from 1959.
The result? In 2014, IIT Kanpur ranked 1st among India’s Engineering Colleges. As conspicuously, 3 of these 9 US Universities were ranked as bracketed 1st in the world.
For US to make the gift, the Victoria Irrigation cum Power Project shows the strategy. The high cost head works built at 130 million sterling, were financed, built and donated by UK to Sri Lanka in 1985 as a gesture of friendship.
Other gestures of goodwill and friendship are seen in Sino-Sri Lanka relations. The gift of BMICH in 1973 and subsequent additions like the Exhibition Halls by China reciprocated the benefits to China from the Rubber-Rice Pact of 1953. For foreign aid to Sri Lanka, China became the foremost donor. As an export destination for Sri Lanka, China together with Hong Kong stands 1st at $ 2,491 billion. US comes next with $ 1,546 billion. Sri Lanka imported $ 2,335 billion worth from US. She was 1st while China took 2nd place with $ 2,321 billion. (The figures are for 2012).
With a new regime in Sri Lanka, there is already a shift in foreign relations with major powers. Sustained fall out in trade, foreign aid and grants may be foreseen from the freshly forged alliances. When Sri Lanka solicits grants from the more affluent, may the first choice be for education.
Nehru’s Intellectual Leadership
Gandhi called Nehru a dreamer. Yes; he dreamt and dreamt and made many a dream a reality after India’s independence. One among the greatest is Indian Institute of Technology and he lived to see five of them fructify in his lifetime. It is these five that I seek to describe. They can be a lodestar to Sri Lanka and to her bright sparks.
The need for primacy in science and technology was foreseen by visionaries and scholars of India even before independence. In that line the intellectual who backed up ideas with finances and political authority was Nehru. He was never alone. Men of learning were in the forefront to initiate and to carry forward the programme of delivering Institutes of Technology. Not surprisingly, in Nehru’s tenure 5 IITs were established in 10 years from 1951 to 1961. They were; Khargapur, Bombay, Madras, Kanpur and Delhi. The sixth was established in 1993, after 32 years. In the 22years that followed till 2015, another 9 were established.
Even as India’s movement for independence surged, men of distinction came to the fore. To them all, Nehru gave the lead with his remarkable intellect, passion for a scientific temper and his devotion to modernism. They developed a messianic faith in education as the vehicle for India’s transformation economically and socially. A consensus grew as to where focus should be directed. Providing scope for the full flowering of one’s faculties and of potential were among the objectives.
Among the earliest who had the standing to initiate the process was Sir Ardeshir Dabal. He was in the ICS who was later appointed to the Viceroy’s Executive Council. He saw prosperity in the future world coming through technology. He therefore proposed setting up the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. The Council urged the US government to offer to India hundreds of Doctoral Fellowships. However such an arrangement had its limitations. So what was conceptualized for the long term was an Institute. This thinking crystallized into the setting up of IITs.
In time sequence the fourth that was established but the first to stand selection in this writing is IIT Kanpur. It was established in 1959 in Uttara Pradesh in the North of India. It has made a name for itself. It is ranked 1st among Engineering Colleges of India for 4 years in the last 5. It had the unique feature for having been developed by a consortium of 9 leading Research Universities in the US; including MIT, Berkeley and Carnegie Institute of Technology, (now Carnegie Mellon). The three of them are ranked bracketed 1st in the world. Other 6 are; Princeton, California Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, Ohio State University, Case Institute of Technology and Purdue University.
All nine universities helped in setting up the research laboratories and academic programmes. In addition, JK Galbraith Ambassador to India 1961- 63 helped establish one of the first computer science departments at IIT Kanpur. He also advised India on the need for computer science.
In point of time the first to be founded was IIT Kharagpur in 1951 in the state of West Bengal. As in every lasting achievement, the distinction the state enjoyed at that time in the world of letters together with the intellectuality of the leader and the initiative he took account for this record. The Chief Minister was Dr. BC Roy, 1948 – 1962, highly respected and close to Nehru, besides being a stalwart in the Congress. Under his leadership, a Committee was formed with educationists like Humayun Kabir who in later years became a Minister of Education. A subsequent 22 member committee formed in 1946 recommended establishment of higher technical institutions along the lines of MIT. Training world class engineers and scientists was the purpose of the IITs.
Kharagpur IIT established on 2100 acres in August 1951 had 42 teachers and 224 students. Now the academic staff is 470, undergraduates are 4,500 and postgraduates 2,500. The library which at the beginning had 2,500 books now has 350,000 books and documents. There are besides 1,600 journals and conference proceedings.
In the first convocation address in 1956 – the first for any IIT – Nehru said “Here stands the fine monument of India, representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making”. In the last two years of his premiership he ensured that steps were taken to launch India into the era of electronics and of space. A galaxy of scientists was at hand to accomplish it.
The second to be established in 1958 was this IIT in Bombay as a Public Engineering Institute. It was established with assistance from UNESCO, with funds from the Soviet Union. The campus is on 550 acres. The first batch comprised 100 students. It now has 14 academic departments with provision for physical sciences, social sciences and management studies. In the last 53 years it has produced 39,000 engineers and scientists.
The third in line IIT Madras was established as a residential institute in 1959. In the heart of the metropolis of Madras 618 acres are devoted to it. It was an autonomous Public Engineering and Research Institution. It was started with technical, academic and financial assistance from West Germany.
The Institute has 15 disciplines, 16 departments and operates with nearly 100 laboratories. The academic staff is 550. Undergraduates number 2,900 and Post graduates 2,500. Industrial consultancy and Sponsored Research are undertaken by this IIT. The Research Park is modelled on the lines of Research Parks at Stanford and MIT. In recent years IIT Madras ranked 2nd, 4th and 5th among Engineering Colleges.
The 5th and the last to be established in Nehru’s time was IIT Delhi, in 1961. It was built on a campus of 325 acres as a Public Research University. Done in collaboration with the British government, it accommodates 3,590 Undergraduates and 4,240 Post graduates. Nehru ever passionate about science and its advancement was grateful for their contribution. He called “The gift of science a splendid gift of the British”.
IITs and Their Contribution
To students of extraordinary talent, IITs provided the space for the flowering of their intellects. The Faculties which can stand comparison with the best in the world of knowledge, helped deliver products in their lakhs in the last six decades. The products are now at the commanding heights of management and of academic leadership.
India was helped greatly in this process by the developed countries of the West, whose contribution was with motives that were altruistic. Emigration of IITians to scientifically and industrially advanced countries was inevitable. Now with India turning out to be a land of opportunity, reverse migration is steadily in motion. IITians and other high end employees are now returning richer by their experience and with broadened horizons.
IITs established in India between 1951 and 2012 total 15. The 16th is under development at Varanasi. A 17th at Bangalore was announced in the Union Budget two days back. They are all committed to lifting India educationally, economically and socially. Above all they have defined India’s niche in the world of intellect. A similar endeavor and an all Island Institute of Technology in Sri Lanka can take the country to similar heights.