Alumni funding on the rise at IITs

Last month, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay raised Rs 9.5 crore from its silver jubilee alumni batch of 1992, the highest the college has received so far from one batch for its legacy project.
 
As many as 171 members contributed to the corpus, which will be used towards research centres, campus infrastructure, faculty and student development, chair professorship, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
 
“IIT-B has 50,000 alumni across the world. The institute is trying to promote engagement with the corporate world and to systematically ensure that it gets reconnected with the alumni,” said Damayanti Bhattacharya, the chief executive of the institute’s alumni association.
 
For alumni, this is an opportunity to take advantage of world-class faculty and research for corporate advantage, she said.
 
IIT-B is going about this in a planned way: it has a dedicated team to raise funds from alumni and another that looks into engaging them more closely with the institute.
IIT-B isn’t alone in its efforts. Across top IITs including Madras and Kharagpur, funding from and the number of alumni donors are reaching new highs, as these institutes put in place structured programmes for former students to contribute.
 
The amount that they are getting might be only a fraction of what leading technology institutes like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Harvard and Cambridge get from former students, but IITs are now making a thrust to engage the alumni to contribute not only with time but also with money.
 
“For IITs, the money is valuable as most of the government funding is spent on things determined by a budget. Funding from alumni helps in new initiatives that they want and is not restrictive,” said Rizwan Koita, CEO of healthcare IT company CitiusTech. He is part of the 1992 batch at IIT-B and the largest contributor to this year’s alumni fundraising.
 
Agrees Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, who is one of the biggest contributors at IIT-Madras. “Educational institutes such as the IITs must get private funding as it brings in the involvement of industry leaders. As institutes focus beyond education and research to fostering entrepreneurship, this involvement becomes even more important. I strongly believe that IITs must be run on true public-private partnership mode and this is a move in that direction. That’s the US model,” he said.
 
IIT-Madras has seen contributions from alumni increase significantly in the past three years. The institute raised Rs 55.30 crore in such funding in fiscal 2017, up from Rs 45.4 crore the previous year and Rs 31.8 crore in FY15.
 
“Full-time fundraising offices have been formed in Chennai (Development Office) and in the US (IIT Madras Foundation). A trust is being set up in Canada,” said R Nagarajan, IIT-Madras’ dean for international and alumni relations.
 
In the past three years, IIT-B has secured about Rs 150 crore of commitment from alumni through both individual and collective contributions. “IIT is growing much faster than anticipated and alumni funding plays a critical role in investing in new programmes, infrastructure, faculty development and innovation,” said Ravi Sinha, a former dean of the alumni association at IIT-B.
 
In countries like the US, many institutes depend on alumni endowment to create cash flow and sustain the institute. Some such as MIT are estimated to have alumni endowments running into tens of billions of dollars, which are used in setting up infrastructure including research laboratories and chair positions at departments.
 
“This is the first time we asked people not only to contribute money, but also to pledge time to the institute, and collectively this batch has pledged 180 hours a month or 2,000-plus hours a year,” said Koita.
 
About five years ago, IIT-Kharagpur launched a crowdsourced fundraising campaign to raise funds in a perpetual endowment mode against naming rights of classrooms. “Since then, several crowdsourced fundraising campaigns were launched for hostel developments, fellow awards, international travel assistance, faculty chairs and awards, students’ scholarships, R&D projects, etc.,” said Baidurya Bhattacharya, dean of alumni affairs and international relations.
 
However, while a few leading IITs with strong alumni networks have been able to mobilise such funding, the culture is yet to pick up across the board, said Nagarajan.
 
“The culture does not exist in the country in general,” said Indranil Manna, a professor at IIT-Kharagpur and former director of IIT-Kanpur. About 80-85% of the funding at IITs come from government sources and their usage is restricted. “If IITs have to operate freely, they need to have a corpus of their own,” said Manna.
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