IIT-Kanpur students working on a project (Photo: Maneesh Agnihotri)Engineering has been dominated by Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) for decades, and there’s little to choose between the premier institutes scattered across the length and breadth of the country. To remain at the peak of this mountain takes some doing, and,IIT-Kanpur students working on a project (Photo: Maneesh Agnihotri)Engineering has been dominated by Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) for decades, and there’s little to choose between the premier institutes scattered across the length and breadth of the country. To remain at the peak of this mountain takes some doing, and IIT-Kanpur has managed to do just that, retaining its position as India’s best engineering college in this year’s India Today-Nielsen survey.Click here to EnlargeWhat sets the institution apart in a star-studded line-up? An all-pervasive entrepreneurial spirit driven by professors and imbibed in equal measure by the students entering the hallowed portals of IIT-Kanpur. Sample some of the research projects underway at the institution over the past year. IIT-Kanpur is coordinating a multi-institutional initiative called ‘Generation of Solar Hydrogen’ to tackle India’s perennial fuel crisis. The project aims at developing workable designs of a solar hydrogen system to bifurcate hydrogen from oxygen in water and use it as fuel. “This project, when completed, promises a long-term economic solution for the country’s economic growth and need for alternative fuel using multiple technologies,” says Sanjay G. Dhande, director, IIT-Kanpur. The institute is working on a GPS-based real-time train information system for Indian Railways codenamed Simran. Jugnu, a micro satellite developed by students which was successfully launched from Sriharikota, and Digital Mandi, an online market for farmers to sell their produce, are some of the other prominent welfare projects commissioned successfully by IIT-Kanpur in the academic year 2011-12.HISTORYIIT-Kanpur was established in 1959, with P.K. Kelkar as its first director. The institute began functioning in the borrowed building of the Harcourt Butler Technological Institute in 1959. Under the Kanpur Indo-American Programme between 1962 and 1972, IIT-Kanpur received technical assistance from a consortium of nine leading American institutes in setting up academic programmes and developing laboratories for instruction as well as research. When it began, IIT-Kanpur had just 100 students on its rolls.Today, the institution has over 5,000 students and 350 faculty members.Click here to EnlargeThe success has been achieved despite the constraints of the ‘system’. As Dhande points out, “The spirit of innovation that could have been unleashed in India remained trampled because most of the intellectual property was controlled by the British or foreign companies. The licence-permit era didn’t help either. At IIT-Kanpur, students have been encouraged to form start-ups after they pass out so that they can innovate. The research work undertaken by both students and faculty has often resulted in patents being awarded. All these activities make the academic environment at IIT-Kanpur invigorating.”The results are evident. During 2011-12, 15 technologies developed at the institute were licensed for commercialisation and 13 national patents were filed. Fifteen companies are currently being incubated at the SIDBI Innovation and Incubation Centre at IIT-Kanpur. “The number of externally funded ongoing projects has reached 522 with a sanctioned amount of Rs 344 crore. During 2011-12, the institute received sanction for 107 sponsored projects worth Rs 58.71 crore and 74 consultancy projects worth Rs 7.27 crore,” says Ajit Chaturvedi, dean (research and development).advertisementBIG-TICKET OFFERSFacebook offered Avani Nandini a package of Rs 65.50 lakh per year.Tower Research Capital LLC recruited Utkarsh Lath on an annual package of Rs 44 lakh.Tower Research also picked up Aditya Huddedar on a package of Rs 44 lakh per year.The Central Government’s Ministry of Earth Sciences and UK’s Natural Environment Research Council have sponsored a project underway at IIT-Kanpur on the structure and dynamics of groundwater systems in north-western India. “India is the largest user of groundwater in the world. North-western India is now the hotspot of groundwater depletion. This project is based on the premise that we must first understand the geology of the aquifer system to estimate the way it will respond to future stress,” explains Chaturvedi.Starting from the current academic session, IIT-Kanpur has implemented an Academic Programme Review Committee report on providing more flexibility to students. “Now students have choice to select the duration of their academic session. They can complete it in their chosen time-frame by opting for fewer semesters or by adding an extra semester, depending on their potential and choice,” says A.K. Ghosh, dean of students welfare, IIT-Kanpur. He also adds that the institute puts a premium on overall development through sports and extracurricular activities. Academic excellence, however, remains the focus. “The institute trains its students in such a way that they can deliver on their job from Day One,” affirms Vivek Agrawal, former president of IIT-Kanpur students union. “The institute had 91 per cent campus placements by May 5 this year,” says Dhande, with 714 of the 785 students who registered for placement getting job offers from 185 companies.advertisementStudents at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (Photo: Vikram Sharma)IIT-Delhi, which trails IIT-Kanpur narrowly in the rankings, has an unparalleled industry focus. It signed an MoU with the ASQ India in June to impart its students management concepts and leadership skills from the next academic year. “The idea is to make engineering students ready for industry by teaching them concepts like operations management,” says ASQ India Managing Director Amit Chatterjee. IIT-Delhi already is the toast of head-hunters after Swapnil Jain, who graduated from the institute, bagged a job at micro-blogging site Twitter at an annual package of Rs 70 lakh.IN THE FAST LANEA team of students is working on a miniature Formula 1 car that will be displayed at Auto Expo 2013 in Delhi.IIT-Kanpur students set up India’s first student-built planetarium on campus in the 2011-12 academic session.IIT-Kanpur’s music club is working on an album. It has composed three patriotic songs and is also composing an anthem for IIT-Kanpur.IIT-Kharagpur, third on the list, celebrated its diamond jubilee this year with the rollout of a dual degree programme in engineering and entrepreneurship as well as in engineering design and manufacturing. It received funding worth Rs 100 crore for different projects during 2011-12 academic session, besides additional funding of Rs 40 crore for projects undertaken by its Centre for Railways Research.The institute is also planning to start dual degree courses in energy science and engineering as well as environmental science and engineering from the 2013-14 session. The idea is to promote entrepreneurship. As Damodar Acharya, director, IIT-Kharagpur, explains, “We provide full technical and professional support to students who launch start-ups for two years so that they can stand on their feet. If the start-up fails to take off, the degree-holder can come back and we will facilitate his or her placement.”With IITs assuming the role of entrepreneurship enablers in such a big way, it’s no surprise that they have grabbed six of the top 10 engineering ranks this year.