At the end of Class 12, I was living in Dubai and busy scouting for a good college in India to complete my degree course in computer science engineering.
A visit to the VIT Vellore campus impressed my parents. I landed up here as a student because of their description of the college and what I had read online. While the university has an excellent reputation, it has its ups and downs too. This report provides an insider’s view on the major aspects of the VIT Vellore campus.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was the green campus. The VIT lake is also beautiful but sadly, students can visit the lake with proper permission and only for the purpose of collecting samples for biology experiments. Most students agree that it is a pity such a beautiful lake can only be seen from the windows of a few classrooms.
While VIT’s curriculum follows a standard Indian model regarding content, the allotment of classes and methods of teaching are anything but standard. Following a more western approach to scheduling of classes, students are allowed to pick their own courses, teachers and timings before the start of each semester. Known as the Fully Flexible Credit System (FFCS), it has both advantages and disadvantages.
For instance, although the FFCS allows students to pick their courses, there is a set list of courses they must complete in four years. Since it works on the first-come-first-served basis, all students do not get the course they want every semester. The FFCS happens online, and every semester, students complain about servers crashing. Because of this, students often fail to register for classes with professors of their preference or make a timetable of their preference.
A bad internet connection could also prove to be your undoing. In an attempt to solve these problems, an “add” and “drop” option is given after the semester begins, where students can still try to get subjects and change around their schedules.
In 2015, the university decided to adopt CAL (Continuous Assessment Learning), an entirely new system of teaching and learning to keep learning fresh and interactive. As the name suggests, the concept behind CAL is that students should frequently be tested.
Digital assignments encourage research into the field beyond the syllabus since the questions are of a higher level. However, although the concept is a good one, the implementation is lacking. A second-year student said: “The teachers need to be trained by the management. They don’t really know how it works yet.”
The teachers are not used to the new, computerised system. Secondly, there’s more scope for “cheating”, with students being able to submit others’ assignments as their own.
The VIT faculty and students conduct research in a wide range of topics. The university ranks second in the number of research papers produced every year in the state of Tamil Nadu, behind only IIT-Madras, as mentioned in a report of Scopus, an abstracting and indexing database. Most faculty members, professors and assistant professors both, have published multiple papers.
Project-based learning courses are incorporated into the curriculum to encourage further research and project implementation of the subject matter. The PBL courses achieve the goal of making students conduct research, but the time limitation of a single semester (five months or less) does not assure a very high quality of research or output. However, students are encouraged to do projects outside of class, and lab facilities are mostly accessible for this purpose.
The faculty at VIT is highly qualified and come from some of the best institutes across the country. The senior professors have PhD students who act as their teaching assistants. While it is clear that the professors are very knowledgeable in their fields, some students say that the there is a gap of communication between the teacher and the student, and because of this, the student does not gain as much knowledge as they could have. This could be because teachers in VIT are generally very conservative. Some insist on women and men sitting separately in class, and are openly disapproving of close friendships between women and men.
VIT has a very high placement rate, almost 100%. It has been mentioned in the Limca Book of Records thrice for the highest number of campus placements done from a single institution by a single company. The PAT centre is in charge of the placements done on campus. The VIT outsources placement training to professional companies like SMART Training Resources India and FACE Placement Training, and many highly reputed companies like Microsoft and Amazon recruit from VIT University.
Most internships are found outside the university. However, VIT does have a Student Abroad Program. The students can spend a semester abroad in one of VIT’s affiliated colleges all over the world. On the other hand, International Transfer Programs offer a system by which a student spends their first two years in VIT and the next two years in a foreign university.
The number of students being admitted every year increases exponentially. With this great surge of students, classes and hostels become overcrowded. Some of the green areas of the campus are being taken over by construction sites now, to accommodate all the students. “You literally have to stand in a queue just to use the sidewalk!” The increasing number of students puts pressure on the faculty which needs more members. However, in a rush to find new teachers, there is sometimes a compromise in quality.
The VIT is known for its strict and unfair rules. Women have early hostel closing times and are only allowed outside campus two hours per day during the week, and six hours during the weekend. This means women are pretty much trapped inside the college for most of their time at VIT and have little to no interaction with the outside world. Even a simple lunch and shopping outing on a weekday can result in a warning because the student might exceed the “two-hour” rule. Secondly, there are certain routes in the campus which are closed off to women after 7 pm.
Hostel wardens are conservative, and sleeveless tops and capris are frowned upon, while no similar rule exists for boys, who are even allowed to turn up in class wearing shorts. One girl says her friend was called to the warden’s office because she was “roaming with boys.” The warden claimed she called her out of “concern for her safety”, because “people might do things to (her)”. A third-year student recalls a class in which her teacher would pick on her to answer difficult questions only on the days she sat with a boy. Teachers seem to have a general feeling of mistrust towards women who dress “modern”, or look like they are friends with boys. As for an LGBTQ community, there is no talk about it.
While there are many things good about VIT, I feel that women need to be made to feel like they have an equal right to be here. For that to happen, we need to be given equal respect and be taken as seriously as our male peers. Conservative rules that are ostensibly for our safety are in fact counterproductive and harmful to the mental well-being of the students. We need more platforms to voice our opinions, and a freer mentality, to have real conversations and debates, which could make students’ lives better.