BN Jain, Vice-Chancellor, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, highlights the institute’s achievements on the occasion of its golden jubilee year.

Can you talk about the collaborations with foreign universities as well as the industry interface?

BITS has collaborations with over 50 universities abroad, including University of Buffalo, U.S., Helsinki University of Technology, Finland and Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, Pittsburgh, U.S. The collaboration is in the form of student and faculty exchanges, joint PhD theses supervision, and joint research projects. More recently, we have started a new programme under which BITS will facilitate and fund faculty to spend up to 10 weeks abroad, getting exposure on how the faculty there engage in research and teaching. The industry interface is built into the curriculum of both undergraduate degree and higher degree programmes. Every undergraduate student spends about seven-and-half months working in some industry, doing projects that are identified by the companies. The programme known as ‘practice school’ is hosted by 183 different organisations in India and abroad.

Besides, since 1979, BITS has been offering several programmes for working industry professionals which leads to a formal undergraduate or postgraduate degree. The programmes, with an enrolment of over 20,000 professionals, provide a learning environment which fully integrates the work experience provided by the industry and learning environment provided by faculty in a classroom setting. Termed ‘Work Integrated Learning Programme’, the idea is to offer degree programmes in several disciplines, including software engineering, manufacturing engineering, process engineering, embedded systems, microelectronics, pharmaceutical operations and in management.

More recently, BITS has launched a new initiative under which its the faculty spend up to eight weeks in an industry. The faculty is thereby able to bring that industry experience to the classroom and also identify research and innovation problems that are important to industry.

What are the major initiatives undertaken by BITS?

BITS Pilani’s aggressive plan to recruit research-focused faculty is gaining traction. We have received and processed an unprecedented 20,000 applications for faculty positions in the last two years. While fewer than two per cent of the applicants are offered a position, eight in ten candidates readily accept the offers we make.

I cannot help but share the successful opening of the multi-crore, state-of-the-art high-definition video conferencing facility that connects conference rooms and lecture classrooms across our three campuses in India. Using this facility, our faculty members teach classes across the campuses. Extension of this facility to courses we offer off-campus is a natural corollary.

“Technology enablement” has been a major game changer for us. Over a decade, BITS has pioneered the use of technology in various contexts, including admissions through online testing via BITSAT, the high-definition video-conferencing facility, and the ERP system to manage student life-cycle. Going forward, we will develop and deliver digital content as a substitute for large-format lecture classes to address the issues of quality and scale of our on-campus and off-campus programmes. To that end, we have created studios in Pilani and Goa that will allow experts (from BITS and elsewhere) to create content.

These and many other initiatives are part of a larger plan to grow the student body on our campus by about 60 per cent over the next decade, while transforming BITS to become one of India’s finest research-focused science and technology institution and one that is deeply engaged with industry particularly in respect of continuing and formal education of working industry professionals. Partnering with organisations such as Wipro is going to be important for us.

How do students fare in campus placements in terms of the job preference and which are the major companies that come for recruitment?

BITS has an excellent placement record. While the majority of our students get job offers as part of campus placement, the few remaining ones get absorbed in the establishments where they did their ‘practice school’. Over 110 companies participated in campus interviews in four campuses put together last year.

BITS is known primarily for engineering. So what courses are offered in the humanities stream and how do they fare vis-à-vis the regular courses?

The Department of Humanities and Languages is involved in research and teaching. It offers higher degree programmes leading to the award of doctoral and master’s degrees. The master’s programme in general studies is oriented along the streams of media and communication as well as development studies. Besides, it offers courses in language skills, communication skills, technical writing and film appreciation to name a few. The department also offers for science and engineering students several electives such as modern history, literature and film criticism, print and audio visual advertising, appreciation of Indian music, cross-cultural skills, humanities and design, professional ethics, etc. The objectives of these courses are to provide opportunities for the students to learn additional skills and to make them better scientists/ engineers/ managers by getting a better understanding of societal issues.

What is different about the pedagogy and curriculum at BITS that makes it an institution of repute?

First, the revision of curriculum of our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes is a continuous process. Two years back, however, we had a revision based on an extensive exercise in benchmarking our curricula with some of the world's best universities. The dual-degree is another unique feature of BITS. Here, a student can work for a second specialisation by spending an extra year. Dual degree holders have many more career options since they can pursue a career in either of the streams, science or engineering.

What do students go on to do after graduation? Can you speak in terms of the achievements of BITS’ alumni?

Almost 85 per cent of the students take up jobs in the Indian industry. A few even get placed abroad immediately upon graduation. Another 10 per cent or so seek higher studies such as ME, MS, MBA or PhD. More recently, we have seen two per cent to five per cent start their own ventures.

BITS graduates have chosen a variety of careers from software to civil society leadership, writing to entrepreneurship, academics to journalism and defence to civil service, the common thing is that most of them have been successful and have made a mark in their professions.

A few of them are in politics too. A large number of BITS alumni are CEOs of companies, professors, scientists and senior administrators in the government. Among our alumni, we have several members who have been awarded by various institutions in recognition of their contributions. We have some Padma awardees too.