An institute of excellence

Print edition : March 10, 2006

The Technology Tower of the Vellore Institute of Technology -

The deemed university has gone global with innovative programmes and courses of study.

FROM its modest beginnings in 1984 as the Vellore Engineering College (VEC), the Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) has come a long way to emerge as a deemed university. It has gone global with its cosmopolitan population of teachers and students, engineering, science and management courses of study, Centres of Excellence, a business school, "smart classrooms", dual degrees, twin programmes, memoranda of understanding with universities abroad, a bank of computing facilities, video-conferencing halls and so on.

"Our objective is clear: whatever we do, it should be student-friendly, and it should also help the society and the country. These are the two yardsticks we apply when we take any decision regarding the university," says G. Viswanathan, the Chancellor of VIT and a former Member of Parliament.

G.V. Sampath, Pro-Chancellor (Administration) recalls that VIT was founded by Viswanathan as a self-financing college in 1984 and promoted by the North Arcot Educational and Charitable Trust. Viswanathan, as a ruling party legislator, had requested Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran to start a government engineering college at Vellore for the benefit of students from Vellore and Tiruvannamalai districts, who otherwise had to go to Chennai or Salem to study engineering courses. MGR, for his part, suggested that Viswanathan himself register a Trust and found a college at Vellore since the government was unable to start an engineering college at Vellore owing to financial difficulties. .

The VEC initially offered undergraduate courses in civil, mechanical, and electronics and communication. Today, it has 9,156 students in 18 undergraduate and 31 post-graduate courses of study. It also offers M.Phil. and Ph.D programmes. It has a staff strength of 960; of its 434 teaching staff, 103 hold doctorates.

The VEC was renamed the Vellore Institute of Technology in 2001 when it became a deemed university. Today, the VIT is one of the best-run private universities in the country. Fifty-five per cent of its students come from New Delhi and States such as West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand. There are also students from Rwanda, Bhutan, Germany, France, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Oman, Qatar, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Indonesia. Its 250-acre campus has posh, multi-storeyed buildings, tree-lined avenues, manicured lawns, fountains, food courts, swimming pools, a gymnasium, stadium and so on.

The VIT was the first educational institution in India to receive international accreditation for its programmes. The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), United Kingdom, audited the teaching-learning processes at the VIT and accredited its programmes for five years up to 2009, which is the maximum period of accreditation granted by the IEE. The All-India Council for Technical Education's National Board of Accreditation has also accredited the VIT programmes. The first educational institution in India to receive the ISO 9002 certificate from the Det Norske Veritas of the Netherlands, the VIT offers research programmes in biomedicine, information technology, nanotechnology, optoelectronics and materials engineering. There are 42 research projects under way on the campus, funded by organisations such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Department of Atomic Energy, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and the University Grants Commission (UGC).

"Today, the VIT as a brand has been established. The undergraduate B.Tech. programme (in various disciplines) is the flagship of our institution," says Sampath.

The VIT conducts an entrance examination, which is of a relatively high standard. In 2005, 41,000 students took the examination for 1,040 seats in various B.Tech courses. For the coming academic year, 35,000 applications have already been sold out for 1,300 seats including those in new B.Tech courses.

Among the new courses on offer this year is M.Tech. in Automotive Electronics. Sankar Viswanathan, Pro-Chancellor (Academic), says: "This is a brand new course and is highly inter-disciplinary. Its syllabus will be an admixture from the disciplines of computer applications, computer science, information technology, electronics and communication engineering, electronics and instrumentation, and mechanical engineering. If you finish this course, you can get a job in any of these disciplines."

Another "high-point", according to Sankar Viswanathan, is that TIFAC-CORE (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council-Centre for Relevance and Excellence), one of the VIT's latest facilities, has been set up with funding from the DST to encourage entrepreneurs planning a future in automotive electronics. An M.Tech programme in Nanotechnology and a B. Tech. in Energy and Environmental Engineering (with assistance from UAS Aachen Germany; Technical University of Eindhoven, the Netherlands; and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras) will begin in June 2006. A Bachelor's programme in Automobile Engineering is being designed with help from UAS Esslingen, Germany; HANs, the Netherlands; IIT-Madras; and the Automotive Research Association of India, Pune.

The VIT Business School offers an integrated B.Tech degree with an MBA programme (B.Tech - MBA) where engineering students can do management studies from the third semester onwards. The course duration is five years. The School also offers courses in Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), B.Com (Computer Applications), MBA and Master of International Business (MIB).

In order to bring about synergy in teaching and learning, departments that are inter-disciplinary in nature have been consolidated into seven schools of excellence - the School of Electrical Sciences; the School of Mechanical and Building Sciences; the School of Computer Sciences; the School of Biotechnology and Chemical Engineering; the School of Bio-engineering and Biosciences, and so on.

Among its Centres of Excellence are the Centre for Sustainable Rural Development; the Centre for Bio-separation and Technology; Automotive Research Centre; the Energy Centre; the Centre for Disaster Mitigation and Management; TIFAC-CORE; and the Technology Business Incubator.

G. Viswanathan, Chancellor.-S. THANTHONI

Under the innovative dual degree programme, students can study two courses of five-year duration simultaneously. For instance, B.Tech. students from non-information technology streams such as civil, mechanical and electrical can study extra subjects from the third semester onwards and earn credits, which will enable them to acquire an additional degree. Other dual degrees include B.Tech-MBA; B.Tech (Chemical Engineering) with M.Tech (Bio-process Engineering); and B.Tech (Civil Engineering) with M.Tech (Construction Technology and Management).

Novel twinning programmes are being worked out with universities in the United States and Europe. Under these, students could study the first three years of their undergraduate course at VIT and the final year at a university abroad.

A twinning programme that is already in place is M.Tech. in Automobile Engineering, under which students will study the first year at the VIT and the second year at the Automotive Research Association of India, Pune. Since tuition fees are high in the U.S. and Europe, a student may be required to study three years at the VIT and one year at a chosen university abroad, the Chancellor said.

The three-storeyed Periyar EVR Central Library is something that the VIT can be proud of. Its sophisticated digital library subscribes to about 4,000 online journals including the Harvard Business Review. The library also has a digital depository, where lectures given by professors from abroad and beamed live to students at the VIT are stored in a computer so that the students can access them later. The centrally air-conditioned library, spread over 5,000 sq metres, has about 82,000 books and 10,500 journals.

According to R. Kalaichelvy, Librarian, the University spends Rs.1 crore every year to subscribe to online journals and another Rs.30 crores to buy printed books and periodicals. "As a member of the Indus consortium, we are able to get online journals through a cooperative system at a lesser cost," Kalaichelvy said. The library also has a collection of 3,500 compact discs.

The VIT's Board of Studies involves various industries, with which it has partnerships, and they are involved in syllabi revision every year. Top personnel from these industries also give guest lectures at the Institute. Six weeks of industrial training are compulsory for every student.

The Placement and Training Centre of the VIT ensures that almost all students who pass out get employment. Indian companies, multinational corporations, and the defence services regularly recruit students from the Institute.

According to Sankar Viswanathan, 95 companies had visited the campus this academic year and 913 final-year students of 2005-06 have already found job placements.

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