On Wednesday, the Human Resources Development (HRD) ministry took the unprecedented step of shifting a section of the students of the National Institute of Technology in Uttarakhand (NIT-UK) to another state. Students of the first, second and third years of the institute’s BTech programme will be shifted to a “satellite campus” in Jaipur for three years. The move follows a two-month-long protest by the students who have been demanding a change in the campus’s location after a third-year student was hit by a speeding car on NH-8. The shift to Jaipur might meet the students’ demand for a safer location for their institute. But relocation is, at best, a stop-gap solution to the problems that have plagued the NIT-UK since its inception. The issues thrown up by the students’ agitation at the Uttarakhand engineering institute tie-up with the larger problems of technical education in India in ways that demand immediate attention of the HRD ministry.
NIT-UK was among the 10 NITs sanctioned in 2009 under the 11th Five Year Plan. It received its first batch of students in 2010 and was designated an “Institution of National Importance”. But the tag has not meant much in so far as meeting the institute’s infrastructural requirements are concerned. In more than eight years, the Centre and the Uttarakhand government have not come to an agreement over a permanent location for the NIT. The institute operates out of a makeshift campus in Srinagar, Garhwal, which comprises a host of pre-fabricated structures standing atop buildings that were damaged during the flash floods of 2013. This year, the institute’s BTech seats were reduced to 150 from 300 “due to lack of space and facilities for students”.
According to HRD ministry data, more than 40 per cent of the faculty posts in NIT-UK have not been filled. The Uttarakhand engineering university’s problems are similar to those of other technical education institutes in the country: NITs in Agartala, Allahabad, Bhopal and Calicut, for example, have a 50 per cent faculty shortage. This is not just a teething problem. Faculty crunch began to dog technical institutions — including IITs — at least five years before the new NITs were envisaged. The lack of facilities has reflected in the academic record of some of these institutes. Only four of the 31 NITs made it to the list of top 100 institutions in the country last year. The NIT-UK, of course, has been the most disappointing of these institutes: It has not sponsored a single research project between 2015 and 2017. But the fact that all the 31 NITs could not register even 30 patents between them this year shows that these institutions have a long way to go in setting up an ecosystem of engineering excellence.