Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ashok Jhunjhunwala on autonomy in IITs

In an interview by Mint's Aparna Kalra, Jhunjhunwala, one of the more prominent professors at IIT-M, says this about the issue of institutional autonomy:

I have had plenty of conversations with IIT directors. In some issues, government has acted Big Brother with us—in terms of increasing number of students (because of reservations) we were not given much choice. There is some very loose kind of thing on faculty reservations. There are some national-level policy issues on which government will have a say.

I don’t think beyond this government tells IITs anything.

I really think there is significant amount of autonomy. Government gives us money, we have to have salary structure in tune with government pay. MHRD (ministry of human resource development) gives each IIT Rs120-180 crore per year. Compared to the money we get, interference is negligible. How they are run, what is the promotion policy, things are fairly flexible.

To a question about whether IITs can ever become financially independent (like IIMs have done):

I don’t think so. I have tried to work it out in terms of fees. Some of the alumni talk big, but no IIT has been able to create that kind of corpus. Unless you are ready to charge Rs5-6 lakh per student in which case there will be a lot of problem. I don’t mind moving in that direction, but it is going to be tough. People are not used to taking this loan and then paying heavily.

We can charge this fees only to undergraduates. Even with this fees, (we will) not even come close to one-third of our budget.

And then there's this section where he lists the (hidden) benefits of working in an IIT:

IIT Madras has a beautiful campus, where I have free housing. There is a hospital, which my family can use. There are two schools. My children can go to these schools. Maintainance of the house is free. Five days a month I can build consultancy capability. I am allowed to go on boards of companies and retain board fees. For 60 days a year, I can go abroad on a fellowship. After six years, I can go for a sabbatical for a year, three times in my career. Of course, we have to excel. Industry will give us consultancy only if we excel.

That autonomy is very precious to us. Nobody can force us to do anything.


  1. Anonymous said...

    I would argue that in certain cases, govt. should have interfered. For instance, at IIT Guwahati, local people have been promoted without any respect for merit. A large no. of faculty members left (some even to state universities !!). This is still going on. But that IIT, in the name of autonomy, is doing something very wrong.

  2. Anonymous said...

    >People are not used to >taking this loan and then >paying heavily

    May sound like a slightly socialistic rhetoric - but when farmers in rural areas are taking loans to survive (and committing suicide) what abt middle-class/upper-middle income people with permanent jobs taking loans if the purpose of subsidised elite/premier enggr. education in most cases is getting a decent job and salary and as mentioned in the post good comforts within the precincts of the institute for the faculty ? Higher fees may not cover the entire budget but definitely cover the non-academic services and partly maybe the faculty salary and institute infrastructure.

  3. Anonymous said...

    The govt gives money and hence it has a say in matters like reservations.If so what is the logic in increasing intake of students by 54% without any corresponding increase in infrastructure including no. of
    faculty. Did the govt. consult the
    directors and faculty of IIXs before announcing this increase in
    intake?. Did it have the courtesy to ask them whether so many new IITs can be supported by existing
    IITs in the intial years.
    In every job there are pluses and minuses.One has to look beyond that to get the broader picture.
    This UPA govt. is doing
    everything to reduce the autonomy
    of institutions like IIXs.UGC has granted deemed university status to institutions.The govt. did nothing to stop that. Only when
    somebody went to court they did
    something - appointed a committee.
    Govt. is accountable to none except to the vested interests,
    while if you get a penny from govt.
    you are accountable for two pennies
    including the one in your packet.

  4. Anonymous said...

    Prof. Jhunjhunwala was informed about his two wrong statements and has agreed his mistakes too.
    1. Free accommodation: This is wrong. Those who stay on campus lose 30% of salary in the form of HRA and also pay license fee.
    2. 60 days a year for a fellowship: one has to lose 30 days of EL in the process. Else one should have adequate EL accumulated earlier. In practice it is not possible for a faculty to go abroad EVERY year for 60 days.