interview:
I’m in a position to transform academic curriculum & research capabilities as per industry requirements
19 Nov 2012

Dr. Srinivasan Sundarrajan is serving as the Director of National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli. His contribution for development and production of prestigious missile systems: Prithvi, Agni, Akash and Brahmos, spans over three decades. He was heading the Brahmos programme team and just completed a massive indigenisation project that has enabled cost reduction and schedule compression.

He has also designed and developed over 1,000 products and processes for aerospace systems, and has an impressive background in academic inter-disciplinary research, institute-industry interaction and technology development and transfer.

Dr. Sundarrajan networked over 400 industries and 40 academic institutions for research and development leading to quality products and positioned them in National Supply Chain Grid. An INAE (Indian National Academy of Engineering) – AICTE Distinguished Professor, he has made significant contribution for curriculum development integrating emerging areas of technology.

More than 30 of his research projects are being executed by academic institutions and industry. He serves as a member of various boards/ committees of ISRO, DAE and CSIR, and has edited two engineering hand books and published more than eighty technical papers. The recognitions he won includes UNESCO Fellowship (1988), Best Metallurgist of the Year Award from the Govt. of India (1992), Vishwa Bharathi Award for Professional Excellence (1999), Performing Team Award (2004) and Best JV Management Award (2008).

In an exclusive interview with India Education Review Dr. Sundarrajan shares his views about the higher education sector in India and his vision for NIT Trichy.  

Q. NIT Trichy was a Regional Engineering College. How it has benefitted after getting the tag of NIT Trichy?

Prof. Sundarrajan - Regional Engineering College (REC) was functioning as one of the best engineering colleges in the state with 50 per cent participation from the state. When REC was elevated to national level as National Institute of Technology (NIT), the institution received a national status as one of the prestigious centrally funded institute with increased funding for academic and research and also better pay and perks of Central Government. For example, every faculty member receives professional development allowance of around Rs.3.5 lakhs for a period of three years which he can use for purchasing computers and books and visiting abroad for presenting papers etc. Similarly almost around Rs.8 lakhs is being spent on students every year by Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.With the national brand, the students are getting immensely benefitted especially for getting international internships and better placement.

Q. You have been associated with country’s prestigious missile systems, how you look at your role as a researcher to that of an academician?

Prof. Sundarrajan - Missile programme has always focused an indigenous development of talent and capabilities and provides challenging technological issues to be tackled in a limited time frame. The programme is also responsible for development of advanced technology with interdisciplinary approach. These are basic requirements for improving upon the quality of higher education in the country. I am in a position to transform the academic curriculum and research capabilities to the industry requirements of the country. The experience of the networking research laboratories and academic institutions for the missile programme is helping me to have a total overall outlook of the higher education system in India.

This is also helping me to work out strategies and initiatives which will extensively involve networking of institutions and industries in India and abroad for taking NIT to a higher level of recognition. The inter-disciplinary approach being adopted by the missile programme has initiated efforts for setting up of Centre of Excellence in the niche areas of application adopting inter-disciplinary approach. I am also able to critically evaluate the research capability of faculty and re-orient the research programmes towards application areas. The academic curriculum is being reviewed at NIT Trichy in order to re-orient the students’ approach towards the modern technology with industry requirements.

Q. What have been the major initiatives taken during your tenure as the Director of NIT, Trichy?

Prof. Sundarrajan - The first initiative is to identify the thrust areas for the country and form inter-disciplinary task team for developing and harnessing technology towards industry orientation. The activities of these focused task teams will culminate the formation of Centre of Excellence. These centers will provide solutions to the industry problems and increase research data base in the advanced areas. The knowledge man power being developed in these areas will be highly beneficial for the national and international requirements.

The second initiative is to enter into MoUs with leading research laboratories and industries in the country and abroad for successfully utilizing the capabilities and capacity available in both the institutions.

The third one is to enter into collaboration with Universities abroad in the required advanced areas, thus enabling NIT to approach international funding agencies.

The fourth initiative is to conduct training courses for the scientists and industry personnel through video conferencing. These training programmes will include leading research scientists and industry personnel who will provide training for the students and faculty simultaneously. 

The fifth initiative is to reform the academic curriculum to the needs of the industries and research laboratories. A committee of senior faculty members is working on modifying the academic curriculum with the help of leading professors from IITs and IISc, scientists from DRDO, DAE, CSIR and Department of Space.

The sixth initiative is to reform the academic delivery methods. The faculty members of NIT are undergoing training to improve the learning and teaching methods with the support of IIT Madras and other institutions.  Academic delivery system is also undergoing transformation with the extensive use of virtual class rooms. 

The next strategy is to have a better academic evaluation method so that the total capability of the student in the subject is analyzed through assignments, mini projects and objective oriented questions. This will bring out the true reflection of the candidate on the subject. On the research front, NIT is working on initiatives to attract the talents available in leading research laboratories by reducing their residence period in the institute and increasing video conference mode.

Q. NIT Trichy’s vision is to provide valuable resources for industry and society through excellence in technical education and research.  How far it has been successful in its approach?

Prof. Sundarrajan - We are establishing linkages with industry to start with. We are attaching ourselves to various industries through MoUs. We are inviting engineers from industries to deliver lectures to the students. Through discussions, we arrive at areas of interest for the industries. We are also providing opportunities to the serving personnel in industry to obtain PG and doctoral degrees through external registration scheme, recently implemented. We have tied up with CSIR Labs and various engineering societies for joint research programmes. These activities will definitely help NITT to achieve recognition in technical education and research.

Q. In the recent world university rankings none of the Indian Universities have been able to make it to the top 200.  What is the reason according to you?

Prof. Sundarrajan - This point came up during recent video conference with Planning Commission and US Expert in the area of higher education. It is true that higher education in the country has to be increased to come up to the global level. It is also true that the engineers and scientists who are graduating from Indian Institutions are well recognized by International agencies. One of the lacunae in evaluation for accreditation purpose seems to be the absence of international students and funding.  China and Singapore have taken drastic initiatives in these lines and hence are into the top 200. India has to take up similar strategies.

Q. How you look at the recent trends in engineering education.  Which are the emerging areas?

Prof. Sundarrajan - Engineering education is undergoing drastic changes. The importance of specializing in the core areas is going to the back stage when compared to the requirements in inter-disciplinary area.  NIT-T is setting up Centres of Excellence in the emerging areas of Surface Engineering, Electronic Packaging, Secured Networks, Energy, Environment, Safety and Health. We have also initiated activities of training through video conferencing so that the strengths available in any part of the globe are successfully integrated to the requirements in the emerging areas.

Q. What is the reason for low research output from Indian institutions?

Prof. Sundarrajan - Research outputs from Indian institutions have increased during the past two years. The concern area is the application oriented research where the faculty and students are to be guided towards the requirements of the industry. The trend is moving from research publications to innovations.  NIT-T has set up a company CEDI (Common Electronic Data Interchange) to tap the potential of innovators.  We are also working out the setting up of research parks within the campus.

Q. Tell us something about NIT Trichy’s collaboration with other institutions in India as well as abroad?

Prof. Sundarrajan – NIT-T has tied up with State University of New York on Electronic Packaging. Recently, we signed a MoU with Canadian Universities on faculty and students exchange programmes. The Centre for Surface Engineering is working in collaboration with Central Electro-chemical Research Institute (CECRI), Karaikudi. We have a MoU with Sri Chithirai Thirunal Institute of Medical Sciences, Trivandrum on Bio-Engineering Research.

Q. What are your future plans for the institute?

Prof. Sundarrajan - We are currently working on the perspective plan for NIT-T till 2020. Infrastructural requirements need to be modified to suit the current needs of the students. The institute is nearing Golden Jubilee and lacks proper infrastructure to take care of water, power and other requirements. We are also working on changes in academic curriculum, delivery and evaluation to suit the current and future requirements. The alumni network is very effective and we propose to exploit their potential through planned approach.

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Ruchir singh
25 Nov 2012

It seems that he talks big and have nothing to offer. Our country stands no where in Missile and we are working on the technology offered by Russia and Israel. Where is China and where we are and not to talk about USA and other giants. These guys have eaten billions on the name of Missile and but did nothing for the nations. Now they are jumping to spoil our NITs and Other reputed bodies.
We should not carried away by such big talks and Govt should take steps to have safe distance from quacks who feigned to gain a lot but in realty their contribution is big zero.