The nation's premier science and technology institutes will be launching a virtual university in a few years' time, said IIT-M Director M.S. Ananth on Thursday.

At the awards function for the winners of a blog contest on U.S. – India relations, Mr. Ananth said that the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) was receiving a large number of hits on youtube.com.

Initially, the IITs and IISc had developed 240 courses for the Ekalavya channel to reach out to students across the nation through Web and video. As the channel was not effective, an IIT alumnus working in youtube.com came forward to post the content on the Net to help in the spread of science and technology.

“We hope to launch a virtual university in a few years,'' Mr. Ananth said. The IITs and IISc will partner with other premier institutes to produce about 600 courses to make the virtual university a reality. The need to offer Web courses was necessary as the number of students entering engineering has tripled from 3 lakh students from the time he assumed office as IIT-M Director to 9 lakh students at present.

With fewer takers for the less attractive teaching profession, the brick and mortar model would not work, he said. Besides, the teacher's role in future could well be restricted to teaching the student to discriminate between actual information and the so-called info-noise.

On Indo-U.S. relations, Mr. Ananth said that while the people-to-people relations were excellent, the relationship between the two States was formal. He expressed hope that it would come to equilibrium at some point of time. Bryan Dalton, Acting Consul General, U.S. Consulate General, Chennai, and Robert Kerr, Acting Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Consulate General, Chennai, gave away the prizes to the blog winners. Rajat G. Bhusan won a laptop. N. Krishna Kumar won a desktop computer and Sujay Babruwad won an iPod. Tom Tillo, K. Shameer and V.P Aneesudheen won an iPod shuffle each as consolation prizes.

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