IIT alumni's initiatives run into rough weather

Monday, 26 May 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Alumni of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) fear their payback schemes could be adversely affected by a new fund the Indian government has created for routing such donations.

Several IIT alumni who have helped fund a slew of projects are upset that henceforth, donations could only be made to the Bharat Shiksha Kosh (India Education Fund), with the ministry of human resources development deciding how the money will be distributed.

The adverse impact of the fund is already manifesting itself. IIT-Mumbai hasn't received any major contribution this year after the fund was announced in January.

Gururaj Deshpande, an IIT-Madras graduate and co-founder of U.S. technology firm Sycamore Networks, has also withdrawn his decision to donate $10 million to his alma mater for an optical research project.

IITs, whose expenditure outstrips the money they are allotted by the government, look to their alumni to raise resources for their cutting edge technology programmes that would otherwise falter for want of resources.

"In my opinion, it (the fund) will have a chilling effect on the money flow to IITs in India," said Jacob Mathew, a U.S.-based entrepreneur who graduated in metallurgical engineering from IIT-Kharagpur in 1971.

"We, in the U.S., have several channels available to direct our charitable contributions. Very often, the merit of a recipient is of a prime consideration," Mathew told IANS in an e-mailed response.

"I can, for example, direct my contributions to any of my U.S. alma maters with stipulation as to how it should be spent. But when I have to send money to India, a bureaucrat decides where my money should be directed.

"I will as well decide not to send it. Many of us have very little confidence in the Indian government doing the right thing as the decisions are heavily influenced by political considerations."

"I am certain that major funding initiatives, where the donor wants a specific outcome, will be curtailed as a result of the new fund. Small donations probably won't be affected," said Mathew.

The fund, which was launched with a government contribution of 10 million, has not seen any major fund inflow, say human resource development ministry officials.

"We have, so far, not received any significant contribution from either corporates or individuals. We are at the moment trying to spread awareness about the initiative," said an official.

For five decades, IIT, which has institutes in New Delhi, Chennai, Kanpur, Mumbai, Guwahati, Kharagpur and Roorkee, have quietly produced tens of thousands of world class engineers, many of who now occupy the top slots in the global technology and corporate industry.

Over the last few years, the reduction in funding from the government coupled with rising costs prompted IIT managements to embark on resource mobilisation drives by tapping the alumni.

The Kanwal Rekhi School of Information Technology and the Shailesh Mehta School of Management, both at IIT-Mumbai, are examples of schools funded through alumni donations. Many other prominent alumni have also contributed funds and other assistance.

They include Infosys Technologies chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy, Infousa chairman Vinod Gupta, and Techspan CEO Arjun Malhotra.

"Alumni give-back has the potential to fill the funding gaps and even to accelerate faculty and infrastructure development," said Shail Kumar, vice president of IIT Foundation, a U.S.-based association formed by IIT-Kharagpur alumni.

Said a former professor of IIT-Delhi: "Creating a fund for getting all donations into a common pool will put a serious dampener to contributions being made by individual IIT alumnus for betterment of facilities at their alma mater.

"At a time when educational institutions all over the world are trying to evolve new channels of resource mobilisation, we should not make it difficult for IIT alumni to give back to their alma mater."
Source: IANS
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