Over 50,000 jobs in data science and machine learning are vacant due to the shortage of qualified talent, according to a recent survey by online education company Great Learning. While globally, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data science have been a buzzword for almost a decade, in India, only a handful of engineering colleges (like IIT-Mandi and IIIT-Naya Raipur) offer B. Tech in Data Science and Engineering courses.
According to IIIT-Naya Raipur chairperson Ajai Chowdhary, the job requirement for AI and Data Science has gone beyond engineering and now even MBA students need to learn its applications. In an interview to the indianexpress.com, he shares the latest demand of the IT industry, why there is a need to bridge the gap between industry-academia and how the team at IIIT-NR experimented with the curriculum for overall grooming of students.
IITs have started courses on AI and data science this year. Do you think we are late?
There is a huge demand for data scientists and the delivery is low. As a country, we may have started late in AI but are trying to meet the requirement. The way things are going, not just engineers but in a few years, there will be courses on AI and data science for management students as well.
Around 25 years ago, most managers believed there was no need for IT. But today, it is hard to imagine a company running without it. Technology is business and business is technology. Every business needs data science. AI, robotics, Data Science, IoT, Machine Learning, are a part of Industry 4.0. So, if you want to run a manufacturing unit tomorrow, you need to acquire these skills as a manager.
With the introduction of these new courses, do we have the right faculty?
The demand has to be met through existing manpower by upskilling and hiring a new pool of talent. Like in IIIT-NR, for courses on data science, we have selected candidates who have PhDs in the subject from foreign universities.
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Is there a fear that the rise of AI will take away jobs?
AI has two facets. The positive part is that it will enhance your knowledge and add to your brainpower. The negative is that AI may advance so much that it may overpower you.
In the 1900s, an English scientist Alan Turing, credited for developing computers and early thinking about artificial intelligence, created the Turing test, which proposes that machine intelligence will one day overtake human intelligence. According to futurologists, that may happen by 2045. So it’s a good idea to understand this technology today.
Do you see an oversupply of engineering colleges?
We shouldn’t have opened so many colleges. Several private bodies made money from the trend, but the requirement has come down. Some years ago, IT hired engineering students from all streams. There was a time when if you learnt C language, you could secure a job in the US, but now to get an H1B visa, you need higher skillsets. Three years ago, people were raising questions on the relevance of the IT industry, but software companies have realised the market demand and are training their staff accordingly.
In a country where unemployment is high, the survey suggests India is facing a shortage of teachers in IITs and NITs. Why?
This is because not many students plan to teach after passing out. Maybe because it is not as well-paying as the IT sector. Moreover, there is an industry-academia connect in many other countries, so teachers are able to earn as consultants associated with corporate companies. With the 7th Pay Commission, things have improved but the teaching profession needs to be promoted the way IT has been.
IIIT-NR is located in a state which doesn’t have an IT industry. How have you managed 100 per cent placement?
It was a big challenge as local students weren’t as groomed as you find in the city. The state government has reserved 50 per cent seats for Chhattisgarh students. When our team met them, we found their communication skills, including English, to be poor. So in the first year, we taught them how to write professionally, prepare a powerpoint presentation and so on. In the curriculum, we also added programmes like management, entrepreneurship and humanities and other areas that can boost their overall development.
We have an industry-academia committee where professionals from varied fields mentor some students. We have adopted the fractal programme from IIT-Hyderabad that offers increased academic flexibility. Here, small credit courses are introduced to increase the expanse of knowledge.
Will opening too many IITs quash the brand value?
What makes the IITs a brand is a consistency in the quality of students they select through the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).
Is JEE the right way to select engineers?
It has worked for us. The students are bright, creative and their basics are clear.
Do you think government pampers IITs over other engineering colleges?
The government’s approach towards IITs has changed. They are directing these institutes to be self-sufficient. So if an IIT wants to increase infrastructure, they have to take a loan, for which the interest is funded by the Centre.