What to do with Summer Term in IITK

Summary at the end

In the good old days, the students would quietly spend the summer vacation at home relaxing, and getting ready for the next semester. But lately we are seeing that more and more students think that staying at home in summer is wasting their time, and would like to do something what they consider useful. We are not talking about students who have a backlog to clear and they want to do a course during the summer to catch up with the rest of the batch. Even students who have no academic deficiency want to stay back in increasing numbers. And these are usually students after 1st and 2nd year of their program, since students after their 3rd year of program invariably find some lucrative internship position outside IITK.

Now, as an Institute, we can either say that this trend is worrisome. Holidays are meant for recharging your batteries, and the students should be forced to somehow stay away from any academic activity during the summer term. Or we can think of ways to engage them in constructive fashion. (My bias is obvious from the language I use to describe the two options.)

Any method of engaging these students must satisfy two principles: One, there should not be any compulsion on any faculty member to participate in such activities. Two, there should not be any compulsion on any student to stay on campus during the summer term.

Several faculty members leave IIT campus during the summer term and visit other academic institutions, and research labs (or simply take vacation in that period). The faculty members who decide to stay on campus during the summer term, end up doing a lot of administrative duties (like PG admissions). They also work with their MTech and PhD students. In some departments, there is a lot of pressure from students of other colleges for supervision of projects, and one can't really escape that fully. Given all this, it is not possible for faculty members to engage all the under-graduate students who wish to stay back on campus, in project-related activities. Also, many times the students after their 1st or 2nd year of program are not ready for participating in major research projects. Certainly, many students can and do participate in research activities or other project activities of some faculty members, and that should continue, but that can allow engagement of only a limited number of students.

Hence, I am proposing that students be allowed to do one or two courses in the summer term, even when they are not academically deficient, and that faculty be encouraged to offer more courses in the summer term.

Of course, the immediate objection will be that this may allow students to graduate in one semester less. As I have argued in another article on allowing course overloads, there can be some limits on the number of overloads allowed to ensure that the student does not complete the degree requirements earlier than the normal duration of the program. The students who have done courses in advance during the summer term can go on reduced load in the following semester(s).

This helps students and faculty in various ways.

First, students who may otherwise find the load in the regular semester to be high can spread their load more evenly throughout the year. This could even be because one is interested in various sports/cultural and other activities during the regular semester. Hence allowing one or two courses in summer will lead to better performance by students during the regular semesters, more extra curricular activities, and hence lesser stress and depression.

Second, many times students are unable to do interesting electives from outside the department because of timetable problems. Also, sometimes there is a limit on the class size due to lack of availability of large classrooms in the regular semesters. If we can somehow encourage popular courses to be offered during the summer term, it will lead to more students being able to choose the electives they always wanted to do. And when students do the courses that they want to do, and not courses which timetable allows them to do, there will be less stress, and greater happiness.

Third, we can increase interaction with faculty members in other institutes by inviting them to IIT Kanpur for summer. They can be paid in lieu of teaching a full or part of the course. Many of us interact with researchers in US universities by going there in summer. We get paid for teaching a course, and in the extra time we are able to do joint research work. Through such summer teaching positions, we can invite researchers in other IITs and other good institutions for spending their summer term on our campus, making summer term more interesting and fruitful for those who chose to stay back in campus.

This will also help academically deficient students who many times find that there is hardly any course on the offer which they can register. If the number of courses offered increases, then they are more likely to find a suitable course to register, and perhaps graduate with less delay, and again we are sending a signal that we care for students who have somehow got into an deficient position.

Now the major question is: how do we encourage faculty members to offer courses, particularly popular ones, without using any pressure. First, let us see how many faculty members we need for this to be successful. If we consider a popular course as one in which at least 40 students will register, if offered in summer, and if we assume that in a batch of 500 students, about 125 students would want to do one course (either they want to take light load, or they didn't find a second interesting enough course), and about 125 students would want to do two courses, so we need about 375 course units. Then offering about 8-9 courses will be enough. For two batches, it comes to about 17 courses. (Of course, not everyone wants to stay back in the summer, students may get to work on the projects, and many students may not want to pay extra money for doing courses in the summer.)

If the economic incentive is right, then we can get maybe 5-7 faculty members from other good places to offer good courses here in the summer, and we will need only 10-15 IITK faculty members to offer a course in the summer.

One can keep the tution for these courses on the higher side to enable higher payments for those who may volunteer to teach these courses. For example, UG tution today comes to around Rs. 3,000 per course. I suggest that we keep the summer tution at Rs. 5,000 per course, and offer half of that (Rs. 2,500) to the instructor as honorarium. (If the course requires tutors, TAs, etc., then an appropriate division can be worked out.) This will allow instructors of popular courses to earn about Rs. 1 lakh during the summer term, which is a good incentive, and will be able to attract the required 20-odd faculty members from within and outside.

Of course, we will need to offer at least a few courses which are not so popular, but will help a few first year students catch up with the rest. (Note that the second year courses are not a problem. Even compulsory second year courses will have enough registrations, if we allow students without academic deficiency to register for courses.) For first year courses, the Institute can guarantee that even if the registeration is less, some reasonably good compensation will be provided to the instructor.

So it is a win-win situation for both students and faculty members, and will lead to more students having more free time in the regular semesters. This can only help improve the cultural and sports scene on campus, and increase participation in other extra-curricular activities. This will bring down the stress that students feel throughout the semester these days.

Of course, we will have some administrative problems in allowing large number of students on campus during the summer. In particular, we conduct PG admissions during the summer, and we need lots of rooms for the candidates to stay overnight. But I am sure the administrative problems are solvable. In particular, the issue of candidates coming for PG admission test/interview can be resolved simply by having some coordination done centrally to ensure that two large departments do not hold their admissions on the same day. I am sure we will not let administrative reasons become a barrier to improving quality of education and quality of life on campus.


This is the proposal in short:

You can send me email at: sanghi[AT]gmail.com