Telangana

Bring back the glory of IIIT Basara

Students in protest mode at International Institute of Information Technology, Basar, in Nirmal district, on Thursday.

Students in protest mode at International Institute of Information Technology, Basar, in Nirmal district, on Thursday. | Photo Credit: K. V. Ramana

HYDERABAD

Dream, desire, commitment, quality and rural justice – these traits ring in at the very mention of the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) – the technical institute at Basara in Nirmal district.

The dream was to take free corporate education to the deprived, the desire was to open a new world to them, the commitment was to parents that their children will have a great future, and the quality was to be on par with any IIT in the country – and all this to provide educational justice to rural students whose social and economical background pulled them back from their dreams.

And the man who dreamt all this was late Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who initiated the establishment of IIITs at Basara, Idupulapaya in Kadapa district and Nuziveed in Krishna district catering to the three regions of the combined Andhra Pradesh in 2008. He wanted these to be on par with the successful IIIT set up in Hyderabad during N. Chandrababu Naidu’s regime with industry partnership, which attracted the best of students and faculty from across the country thus shaping into a quality research institute.

Giving wings to that dream was the responsibility of Prof Raj Reddy of Carnegie Mellon University, USA., and Prof K C Reddy, then Chairman of the AP State Council of Higher Education (APSCHE), who strived hard to create a curriculum that was on par with any foreign university, and facilities the best among in the country.

Free laptops to all the admitted students and digital classrooms with mentorship being the focus than mere mundane lectures were the unique aspects, and it was an academic revolution in those times when broadband connectivity was still a huge issue and mentopship was considered elite.

The institute is also unique as it admits the rural students, and mostly those who study in the government schools. Moreover, unlike other institutes, admissions are done right after Class X into the six-year integrated B. Tech course (a two-year course equivalent to Intermediate and four-year engineering course).

The IIIT, officially known as the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies (RGUKT) is not connected just with education as Telugu parents’ sentiments with the Basara town are also entwined with Gnana Saraswathi, the goddess of knowledge. It has been the destination for initiating their children into the world of learning with Akshara Gnana, the special ritual to make the toddlers write their first letters of their life.

But after nearly a decade and a half, the quality institute is besieged with problems and the massive protests by thousands of students seeking better academic and hostel facilities brought back focus on it. The issues are genuine and so are some of the allegations of neglect by the government over the years.

The students’ demands include the appointment of a regular Vìce-Chancellor, filling all vacant posts, supply of laptops, desktops and projectors for students in all classrooms, provision of facilities like uniforms, shoes, beds in hostel rooms, education-based on IT, the revival of PUC blocks and hostels, restoring internet and repairs in the classrooms and hostels, breaking the monopoly of one agency in the canteen, the revival of sports activities by filling up physical education teacher posts and collaboration with various institutions.

No VC in last 8 years

That no Vice-Chancellor has been appointed in the last 8 years after it was separated from the two other IIITs after the formation of Telangana is an indication of the neglect, argue the students and in fact, it is one of their major demands. The government, however is unable to explain why a full-time VC had not been appointed for the last 8 years though some officials argue that it was due to some administrative reasons.

After amending the Universities Act for the appointment of Vice-Chancellors in 2016, the government wanted a full-time Chancellor and a Vice-Chancellor for the RGUKT. Though V-Cs were appointed to other conventional universities, the RGUKT was ignored. “Chief Minister wanted a well-known academic to lead the institute in the capacity of a Chancellor but the search never started,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity.

Though a full-time Director was appointed initially to run the institute, the Chief Minister didn’t favour his extension due to the allegations against him and preferred to post bureaucrats. Board of Intermediate Education (BIE) secretary, Ashok, was made in the incharge V-C but he seldom gave time given his busy commitment with the BIE. The present incharge Vice-Chancellor, Rahul Bojja, too has several assignments on his hand and concentrating fully on IIIT is not on his priority list, an official revealed. “So where do the students go with their grievances,” asks Venkat Balmoor, NSUI State president, who supported the agitation.

Faculty shortage has been plaguing the institute for a long time with the appointment of regular faculty mired in legal issues. The first phase of appointments was done in the combined State. Dr. R.V. Raja Kumar, who later became the Vice-Chancellor of RGUKT in the combined Andhra Pradesh, adopted a different approach in recruitment, looking for high qualified youngsters in tune with the institute’s ideology and commitment.

Prof. Raja Kumar decided to recruit graduates of IITs and IIMs so that the students’ minds are tuned to the ideas of young faculty and also create an IIT-like atmosphere initiating the students into research at an early age. The process was completed and many IIT and IIM alumni showed keen interest in teaching but due to allegations of not following the procedures of reservation, the recruitment was stalled. After the State bifurcation too, lack of faculty continues to haunt it.

Students are obviously annoyed that the institute has just 20 regular faculty members while another 180 are appointed on a contractual basis bringing in problems unique to contract lecturers who have little motivation themselves to motivate the students. However, the quality of students continues to remain high, an official says revealing that IIIT Basara students bagged maximum engineering jobs in the State government recruitment in the last two years. “If they ask for better facilities, it is their right.”

Laptops not given

Owning a laptop for ICT-based lectures in the digital classrooms is a pride that is unique to these boys and girls. But their contention is that for the last three years, laptops and uniforms were not provided, thus robbing them of their pride and the basic expected facilities of the institute. Officials agree on the lacunae and attribute it to the pandemic. “The finances were hit and so was the supply chain mechanism,” reasons a senior official assuring that the government would now surely address these problems.

Financial distress has in fact forced the RGUKT executive committee to write to the government last year to reduce the burden with the reduction in seats. The institute sought the regular admission of 1,500 students be brought down to 1,000. Initially, though admissions were confined to 1,000 per year, after the State bifurcation, the Telangana government increased the intake to 1,500 per year. However, there was no commensurate improvement in infrastructure.

After the bifurcation of the State, the AP government started two more IIITs there while introducing an entrance examination. Prof. K.C. Reddy, who guided Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in the IIITs, was made the Vice-Chancellor of RGUKT in the new State to give them the right direction.

But there was no addition to the IIITs in Telangana and the Vice-Chancellor too was not appointed. With the gaps increasing in the administration, the intention to churn out industry-ready students too was hit. No major campus recruitment drives were taken up with the figurehead missing in action. The institute-industry interaction too was badly affected.

Bribes and sexual favours

The absence of a regular V-C and a solid administrative set-up also led to some bad practices gaining entry into the system with allegations of bribery and sexual favours sought from girl students for awarding marks. In 2019, a senior faculty member was booked by the police for sexually harassing girl students on the campus.

The investigation by the police and an internal enquiry by the varsity indeed found that an Assistant Professor was found demanding bribes and sexual favours. The hapless girls apparently were threatened with failure in the exams if they don’t entertain his invites to his residential quarter. After protests from parents and student unions, the services of the accused Assistant Professor were terminated.


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Printable version | Aug 6, 2022 2:24:29 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/telangana/bring-back-the-glory-of-iiit-basara/article65532997.ece