IISc’s UG programme aims to create ‘a new cadre’ of scientists and engineers to find solutions to today’s problems – climate change, disease, agricultural productivity.

After months of speculation and debate, the century-old Indian Institute of Science (IISc) announced its decision to open its gates to undergraduate students in 2011, offering them a unique, interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science programme.

While extending “a sound exposure to classical scientific, mathematical and engineering principles,” the four-year undergraduate (UG) course will give students the option to credit courses in the humanities, such as history, philosophy and sociology. The course also promises to introduce “student-oriented” methods of learning through a mentoring environment and links with postgraduate research.

Sanjay Biswas, Dean of Engineering, IISc, tells The Hindu Education Plus that the UG programme aims to create “a new cadre” of scientists and engineers who will strengthen research in institutions of higher learning while also providing an innovative edge to medicine, agriculture and industry. Excerpts from the interview:

Question: What is the rationale behind the UG programme’s interdisciplinary approach?

Answer: An interdisciplinary approach is bound to become the prime methodology for solving many major problems we face nationally and globally. Poverty, environment, health and climate change need a new generation of men and women trained to give a new thrust to research, development and higher education.

Problems, for example, of human health require solutions which not only alleviate suffering but are also affordable to a large section of people. To address this comprehensively, we need biologists, clinicians, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians to sit together and study the problem in its practical interconnectivity and work on a realistic strategy for solutions.

Why did the IISc choose to embark upon a UG programme now?

There is a need to set a new course in undergraduate education in science, engineering and medicine, as the National Knowledge Commission has pointed out. With IISc’s pre-eminence in postgraduate training and technical infrastructure, it is ideally suited to steer education in that new direction. IISc has just finished her centennial year, has embarked on a number of interdisciplinary research initiatives and recruited a number of interdisciplinary faculty. This is the right juncture to initiate the UG programme.

People have expressed concern that this may cut into quality research time of faculty members…

Being primarily a postgraduate research institute, the teaching load, unlike in other institutions, is not heavy. It is also true that world-over, research and teaching have always progressed hand in hand. Rather than jeopardising research programmes, UG teaching is likely to strengthen them. For many existing IISc faculty, this commitment would mean teaching one more course in a year. But research commitments vary across faculty. So, while some faculty may indeed find it difficult to take on an extra teaching load, others may be able to wedge the teaching into their existing commitments. Also, the number of students in a stream at any time is unlikely to be more than 20-25, so the teaching load in terms of assessment and tutorials may be quite light.

How will the UG course benefit IISc in terms of its research output?

The induction of young minds into the academic culture of IISc will only strengthen our research environment. The programme is a research-oriented one and a considerable amount of time in the final years of the programme will be spent doing hands-on research within an existing research programme. Undergraduate teaching takes a teacher to the core of fundamental concepts. Some of the greatest scientists in the world had taken UG teaching as a special challenge as it helped their thinking and research output.

How many disciplines at IISc will offer UG courses?

The UG programme will be a unitary programme of the IISc. It will be science-based with the integral participation of the engineering discipline. As and when required, faculty from all departments will contribute. It is possible that some of the courses taught in the UG programme, especially in the last two years, may be taught as part of an existing teaching programme at IISc, such as the Integrated Ph.D. or the Master of Engineering (M.E.). While the programme will be posited in the IISc campus, a detailed plan for infrastructure and other requirements and corresponding funding are being worked out by groups constituted by the Director.

RELATED NEWS

Strong message to universitiesOctober 12, 2009

What ails science education?October 12, 2009