The Making of BITS- Transition from Affiliated Colleges to a University

Prof. L.K. Maheshwari, Former Vice- chancellor, BITS

Prior to the inception of the Birla Institute of Technology and Science(BITS) in 1964, the then existing colleges, viz., Birla College of Science, Commerce and Pharmacy; Birla College of Arts and Birla College of Engineering were all affiliated to the Rajasthan University.Teaching and Evaluation processes were all governed by the Rules and Regulations framed by the University. There was the Annual examination system with each subject paper carrying maximum marks.In order to pass in the subject a student had to score a certain minimum percentage.If he failed in more than a certain number of subjects he had to repeat the whole year.There was the external evaluation system whereby a faculty member from another institution was appointed as paper setter and also evaluator appointed by the University.

During the early years of its inception, the Institute with the support of the Ford Foundation grants had the advantage of having collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT), USA.It adopted the semester system, continuous and internal evaluation, letter grading, modular structure of courses, etc.All these required a massive faculty reorientation and training.Exchange of faculty between MIT and BITS took place.Many faculty members from MIT and other leading US universities participated in the classroom teaching, faculty training and systems planning at Pilani.Also a couple of BITS faculty members from Pilani were deputed for defined periods of time to MIT to participate in the teaching and also in various other educational processes there and gain direct experience.This was a period of a total resurgence, new learning and change.Students admitted under the Rajasthan University were now the students of BITS.Their performance in various examinations conducted by the Rajasthan University was equated to Letter grades introduced in the BITS system. The grades were based on preset range of marks.Regulations were framed for UG, PG and programmes.For the first time in 1965 BITS conferred its own degrees and awarded the degrees in the Convocation which was presided over by Shri G.D.Birla, the founder chairman of the Institute.

1964 – 68 was the period in which the foundations of the new educational processes were laid at BITS.There were still a number of challenges ahead.The quality of students in engineering was much better as compared to students in Sciences.Further it was also not easy to fill all seats in Sciences with good quality students.The annual budget of the Institute was very limited.The expectations of the management were very high and Shri Birla was eager that BITS collaborates with industries.A change in leadership took place in mid 1969. A world wide advertisement was issued for inducting new faculty in the system.A couple of new faculty joined the Institute as a result of this initiative.However, many of them could not adjust and left the Institute.Thus it was realized that it will be the existing manpower which has to be suitably used in the development of BITS.Educational innovations will be the key to progress.

A vision document with the title” The Forward Plan of BITS” was prepared and shared with the faculty.It sought new initiatives in terms of Industry linkages, Teaching – Learning processes, Central Laboratory facilities, Integration of Science and Engineering, Relative Grading and Continuous evaluation, Research relevant to industrial and social needs, etc.The notable reforms introduced at that time included the following:

1. Continuous and Internal Evaluation with Letter Grading
A letter grading system with A, B, C, D, E, grades were introduced.The performance of the student was indicated in terms of CGPA(Cumulative Grade Point Average).It was also decided to change from absolute grading based on range of marks to a relative grading system.The team of instructors involved in the teaching of a course will be deciding the letter grades.Thus in a course where 70 is the maximum score A grade may be around this maximum mark while in another course A grade may be around 90 marks.The maximum marks obtained depend upon the design of question papers, the nature of the subject, etc.Further a single test was replaced by multiple tests, quizzes and assignments during the semester in a particular course. At the end of the semester, a Comprehensive Examination was also held in all courses.The weightage of Class tests and Comprehensive examination was typically in the range of 60 – 70 % and 40 – 30 % respectively.A provision of a Make – up examination was also provided to a student who misses a particular component of evaluation on genuine grounds.Instructor in single section courses and team of instructors in multi section courses were responsible for accepting and deciding the genuineness of the case and grant make up to a student.All instructors were required to give a Course hand out in the beginning of the semester spelling out the Objectives of the course, Lecture wise schedule, All components of evaluation – number of tests and quizzes and assignments, etc., Make up policy, Text and Reference Books, Chamber consultation hour.All evaluated answer books needed to be shown to the students.A number of flexibilities were introduced to choose electives from within the discipline and across the disciplines.A number of project oriented courses were introduced as electives.

2. New Academic Regulations
Attendance in classes and examinations was made the responsibility of the student thereby removing the conventional requirements of 75 % attendance.Course wise passing instead of year wise or semester wise passing was introduced with overall requirements of a minimum CGPA and maximum number of E grades, etc.All these required educating the faculty and other stake holders to carry out the operations smoothly.Various checks and balances were introduced in the system.New Academic Regulations were framed governing all operations transparently.Students who underwent education at BITS under the new system reported that many of them who were admitted in High ranking US universities after passing out from BITS found the transition very smooth as the system at BITS was more or less the same.Students cooperated very well and faculty also enthusiastically participated in implementing these reforms.

3. Integrated First Degree Programmes
Curriculum for all degree programmes was redesigned and the concept of Integrated First Degree programmes was introduced.In the First degree programmes both the engineering and science degree programmes were planned to be of same duration.The nomenclature of B.E.for the engineering degrees and M.Sc.for the science degrees were retained.A student seeking admission to these programmes had to complete 10 + 2(10 + 1 in the earlier system) from either the Central Board or any of the State Board in the country.A strong core of Science; Technical Arts like Computer Programming, Engineering Graphics, Workshop Practice, Measurement Techniques, etc.; Mathematics; Engineering Sciences; Technical Report Writing; Principles of Management; General Biology courses were common for all the students admitted to M.Sc.and programmes.These degrees were called as Integrated First degree as no B.Sc.or any other intermediate degree was being awarded and also common and strong core courses were there in both engineering and science streams.Thus all the students had a very strong foundation irrespective whether they were admitted to engineering or to the science degree programme.

4. Dual Degree Programmes
As mentioned earlier the quality of students in engineering and sciences were not the same.A university has to give equal emphasis to all the programmes and quality of the students admitted in all the programmes has to be high.An innovative scheme of Dual degree was worked out whereby a student admitted to was given a flexibility to work for a second degree in engineering leading to also.The structuring was done such that the common courses were to be done only once and compulsory discipline courses of both the degrees had to be done by the student admitted to the Dual degree scheme.A student would be able to complete the requirements of both the degrees by spending just one more extra year.This attracted the attention of students and good number of meritorious students sought admission to the Institute and worked for M.Sc.and B.E.degrees under the Dual degree scheme.Academic Regulations stipulated all the requirements of admission to graduation. The quality of students now both in Science and engineering degree programmes was almost comparable.

5. Admission to Integrated First Degree Programmes
Admissions to the First degree programmes at BITS were based on the merit of the students in 10 + 2 Board examinations.To bring students passing out from different Boards on a common scale a concept of normalization of marks was introduced.The toppers’ mark of each Board was assumed to be 100 % and students applying from the same Board will be normalized against the topper.A descending order of merit of all the applicants from different Boards was prepared and allocation of degree to which a particular student is to be admitted was based on his normalized percentage of marks, his choice of a particular degree and also the number of seats available.Thus a student is admitted to a B.E., B.Pharm.or programme.Students admitted to the programmes were given an option to opt for a second degree under the dual degree scheme at the end of the first year and Institute guaranteed them admission to one of the engineering degree programme.Performance at the end of the First year and option to the degrees would decide the allocation of the engineering degree to all such candidates.As a result of this very high quality students were admitted to both the engineering and science degree programmes.In this method of admissions, the percentage of girls admitted to BITS touched almost about 40 % at one point of time.This method had to be replaced due to governmental interventions in 2005. Since then the admissions are made on the basis of an on line computer based test known as BITSAT and BITS continues to admit quality students in all its degree programmes.

6. Academic Registration and Counseling
Each student is required to register in prescribed courses in each semester subject to the eligibility and other requirements.If the CGPA of the student is below a certain level or he has scored more E grades or he is left with more back log courses he is counseled by the Academic Counseling Board(ACB) and his pace is decided by the ACB.A student has to also clear all the dues before completion of Registration formalities.

In fact it would be interesting to know the genesis of Academic Registration.There was a time when there were huge arrears in fees and other dues.Students had graduated and had not cleared the arrears.Many did not bother to collect their degrees and hence did not pay the arrears.This posed a huge problem.The registration in each semester required students to clear their dues before they could move up.Thus both academic and administrative requirements got fulfilled.Later all these operations were computerized to keep track of various flexibilities introduced and used by the students in the system.

7. Practice School
Linking class room education in the universities with the current practices in industries and the world – of – work at large had been advocated in all forums.Conventionally the engineering programmes required a student to take 6 – 8 weeks duration industrial training and be familiar with the working of industries.This became more a ritual as the student was expected only to produce a certificate from the concerned industry and submit a report of the practical training. Industry found it a burden to organize a meaningful training.It was during 1973 – 74 when BITS introduced the concept of Practice School for all its students irrespective of the degrees to which they were admitted.Practice School(PS) provided structured linkages with the industries so as to extend education in the settings of the industry itself.Two Courses, Namely PS – I and PS – II were introduced as a component of the curriculum.While PS – I was of 2 months duration and exposure oriented, the PS – II was of 5.5 months duration and was project oriented.A designated faculty member placed at the locale of the industry by BITS was responsible for coordination with the industry, making all logistical arrangements and evaluation of students along with the professional of the industry.Industry assignments are identified in advance and students’ background is shared with the industry.Assignments are allocated to students as soon as they arrive at the industry and they start working like any other regular employee of the organization.Depending upon the assignments or projects, they have to interact with their peers, work on equipments and machines or computers and complete the given task.A student is required to appear in group discussions, seminars, project presentations, written quizzes, viva, etc.and submit periodic reports and also a final comprehensive report.An oral presentation has to be made and he has to defend his work.Thus PS is an extension of class room education in the world of work.Various traits of a student personality are visible during this period such as team working, leadership qualities, professional competence, etc.This scheme has become very popular with industries, software companies, research and development organizations in the country and BITS students find easy acceptance.Not only does the PS provide much needed exposure of students to the industrial operations, it brings both direct and indirect benefits to the Institute.The cost of the operations are partially met by the students’ fees which they have to pay for two extra summer terms.Sometime a faculty also gets an opportunity to work on a research and development project sponsored by the organization.Knowledge gained by the faculty in industry also brings necessary practical examples in the class room teaching back in the campus.

8. Functional Administrative Structure
It was realized that in order to administer the emerging flexible and innovative educational system, the conventional administrative set up with the departments acting as completely independent entities would need a revamp.Institute wide discussions and consultations were organized and a new Functional administrative structure evolved.This structure retained some features of the old set up and also brought new Divisions and Units, each headed by a Dean or a Unit Chief.Thus the following functional divisions were introduced:

Academic Registration and Counseling; Practice School: Instruction, Educational Development; Research & Consultancy; Students Welfare; Educational Hardware.

Conceptually the thinking was shifted to the operations at the Institute level cutting across the departmental boundaries.For illustration, Dean, Instruction for a given course teaching can draw faculty from various academic disciplines; the Dean PS will allocate Practice School stations to the students of all discipline and again draw faculty from different disciplines. Academic disciplines were brought together under a Group headed by the Group Leader.Thus all Physics faculty for academic purposes were under the Group Leader of Physics.A physics faculty may be a Dean but for academic purposes the Group leader in consultation with the Dean, Instrucion would decide the course which this faculty will teach in a particular semester. This was a complex and evolving administrative set up not practiced in the Indian universities and it took quite some time for stake holders to understand their own roles and also their interactions with others in and outside the set up of BITS.In retrospect if one analyses, it would be evident that this was an efficient, cost effective and stake holders friendly administrative arrangement catering to the innovative educational processes introduced at BITS.

9. Continuing Education of Working Professionals – The Work Integrated Learning
BITS interactions with the industries through the Practice School established the need for providing opportunities of Continuing education to the working professionals in industries, R & D, and other sectors.The rapid developments in information technology and later the liberalization of economy had been impacting work environment in a big way and there was a need of development of human resources in an innovative manner.BITS way back had introduced the concept of work integrated learning through the introduction of programmes in collaboration with industries viz., Projects Engineering with DCPL, Kolkata and Industrial Production with Gwalior Rayons, Nagda.These were quite successful but remained limited in scale.The concept was picked up again in 1987 – 88 with the introduction of newer programmes in Computer Operations and Applications, Science & Technology, Software Systems, Process Engineering, Information System, Engineering Management, Manufacturing Engineering, collaboration with industries and these programmes were conducted in the locale of the respective industries.The curriculum was designed in consultations with the industries.An illustrative example is the MS(Software Engineering) programme with WIPRO. The company each year inducts a large number of bright holders under its WASE (Wipro Academy of Software Engineering) scheme.These candidates are also admitted to the BITS 4 – year MS degree in Software Engineering.Regular classes are conducted by BITS faculty located in respective cities.Periodic tests and quizzes and Comprehensive examination are held.Assignments are given from the day to day work activity of the individual.Thus the candidates complete all the degree requirements prescribed by the Senate of BITS and also contributes to the projects undertaken by WIPRO.Much needed stability of the work force is ensured in this approach of collaborative education.As technology advances, teaching is also done through technology.Lectures are delivered using high quality media facilities established at BITS.These programmes have also provided an additional revenue stream which has been used in expansion activities and also providing subsidized education to the on campus students.

10. Students Involvement in Development
Students involvement in the development and growth of BITS had always been there.On the campus students are members of Senate and other bodies of the Institute.Many developmental projects are undertaken by students on credit each semester arising out of the needs of a particular Division.Many softwares were developed in the past through such efforts of students.Alumni of the Institute have contributed in number of ways viz., BITS Connect projects, Center of Desert Development Technologies, Entrepreneurship Development, Rain Water Harvesting, Embryo Lectures by Eminent Individuals, etc. Expansions in Pilani campus and launch and development of new BITS campuses in Dubai, Goa, and Hyderabad was undertaken since 1995 onwards and the educational processes in all the campuses were consciously organized to be the same.This ultimately developed confidence in the public for the BITS system of education.The new challenge for BITS is to set up robust processes in the multi campus university environment which meets the expectations of faculty, students, and all other stake holders and is also to continue its journey towards excellence with innovative approaches and newer programmes in an era of globalization.Alumni of the Institute continue to play an important role in this direction.

The need for reforms in higher education have been advocated by all educational policy planners in India.BITS has very successfully implemented many reforms and has contributed to the national development.It has produced graduates who have excelled in various professions and who have made their mark globally.The present article is an attempt to understand as to what has gone into making of BITS from ordinary affiliated colleges to a university of repute in the country and the manner in which various challenges were met from time to time.It reflects on the genesis of many innovations which were introduced to tackle a problem at hand.I am sure that the alumni will find it interesting to know as to what was being done at BITS when they were students and appreciate the various efforts.There is a need to study and analyze the reforms undertaken at BITS in a historical perspective so that the new educational institutes and universities can derive necessary inputs from the BITS experience.

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