Delhi -- Just as I was asking about the big technology challenges at universities in India, the power cut out.
I was visiting the suburban Birla Institute of Management Technology, on a campus here that is only six years old and boasts of state-of-the art classrooms and campuswide Wi-Fi. They can’t fix the country’s iffy power grid, but the computer labs here are equipped with generators to keep students from losing their papers when the lights go out.
This week international news media are focused on whether or not India is prepared for its role as host of the Commonwealth Games, due to start in less than two weeks. Driving around the city this week involved traffic snarls made worse by construction. But many universities face challenges year-round, in terms of things like electricity, which their counterparts in the United States take for granted.
The power failed again as I was waiting to meet with Surendra Prasad, director of the Indian Institute of Technology at Delhi, one of the country’s most prestigious universities.
“I do not know why the power went out just now,” he said. Sometimes the failure is out of the university’s control, he added, but other times the institution’s own systems are to blame. “Sometimes it goes out because we are not able to maintain our infrastructure as well as we should be maintaining it. There’s a lot of room for improvement.”
The university is working to increase its enrollment capacity, trying to help meet the needs of India’s booming college-age population. Mr. Prasad spends more time than he would like, he said, on things like the campus’s water supply—and literally keeping the lights on.
Even so, many of the classrooms have the latest gear, like projectors and Internet access.
Karan Khemka, a partner in the Mumbai office of a consulting firm called Parthenon Group, which tracks education issues, said that institutions like IIT have the best resources, while many other colleges in the country are “in a state of mass disrepair.” They might have computers, but some have fundamental infrastructure needs.
“There are accredited engineering colleges that don’t have windows or tiles on the floors,” Mr. Khemka said. “I tell administrators from American colleges, ‘India sounds great, but before you consider sending your students here, visit the lavatories.’”