Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Six new IITs- will 'merit' be a casualty?

Today TOI carries an article by Swagato Ganguly on the proposal to set up 6 new IITs. Ganguly finds fault with the idea of starting IITs without campuses. Later in the piece, he indicates they may not have the requisite faculty either given the huge shortage of faculty.

What is the government to do? Should it wait until full-fledged campuses are set up and the country starts generating enough faculty? IIMA started off in a small building and with a small complement of faculty. So have the newer IIMs such as IIM (Indore). Over time, these problems came to be addressed. The point is: you get started, you muddle through for a while and then things start happening. I am optimistic about the new IITs and the contribution they can make.

Let me add: you can have spanking infrastructure, you can pay faculty very well and yet you may not have a good institution. In many private business schools, neither of these is a problem but the institutions don't count for much in academic terms.

The concerns about faculty and infrastructure may be valid but from there Ganguly wanders off into reservations and their potentially malign impact on IITs. He seems to suggest that the new IITs are all about pandering to caste politics:

The human resources minister, in particular, has turned the IITs and IIMs
into a tool of his political ambitions. A 27 per cent OBC quota is being rammed
down their throats, yet the number of open, non-quota seats has to be preserved.
It was decreed, after doing the math, that the total number of IIT seats
have to be expanded by 54 per cent, with next year's Lok Sabha elections setting
the general deadline. Therefore, the phenomenon of building- and facility-less
IITs, in one case even a homeless IIT which doesn't know where it will be
eventually plonked down.

Sorry, I don't get the connection. You can have OBC quotas by expanding seats at existing IITs by 54%- the government was under no obligation to set up new IITs. Having new IITs expands the availability of seats for the general category as well, so I can't see what the complaint is.

Ganguly warns: "If IITs are made to jettison merit they, too, will be forced to their knees."
As an ex-IITian, he should know that IITs have long had SC/ST reservation. Over 50 years of such reservation, the IITs have built up a formidable brand. I rest my case.


Daze said...

All this yapping about IIT expansion is unfathomable. I say lets go for more IITs AND make existing IITs a litte better on the grad education side.
Research, in my opinion, needs to get a leg up in the IITs (and the IIMs for that matter)

pc said...

>>>Let me add: you can have spanking infrastructure, you can pay faculty very well and yet you may not have a good institution.

True. But they are necessary conditions in todays world. The days when all you needed to turn out first class work was a brain, pen and paper are gone. Now research needs loads of money and infrastructure.

Surely it is better to plan properly than hoping that you will muddle through.

There is an IIT at Guwahati. Yes there is. But you rarely hear of it. Nobody wants to go there to work. I think they started it with the same hope of muddling through.

Faculty shortage is a HUGE problem. But you dont see any radical proposal to address this problem. And according to some estimates, we need about 6000 new faculty for the IITs alone. Again we will muddle through this I hope.

The reference to reservations seems very apt to me. Can you deny that IITs have done well precisely because of generous funding, autonomy and little political interference ? True, they had reservations, but it was on a small scale. The way the quota politics is going, it will only invite greater political meddling.

I would love to see more IITs. But there does not seem to have been any planning done in this case. Or maybe it was but in classical mai-baap sarkar style, it was all decided by our overlords.

Yogesh said...


Thanks for your views about supporting new IITs. The govt. is correct in starting new IITs from this year, as anything delayed does not the see the light of the day. Take for example, the setting up of IIESTs, which is lingering for the past few years. Problems such as faculty, etc. are minor and can be overcome in next few years.

Some of the existing IITs started from the temporary place. Examples include: IIT-Kharagpur from prison camp, IIT Bombay from UDCT, IIT Delhi from Delhi College of Engineering and IIT-Kanpur from HBTI, etc.

Moreover, govt. is going to spend Rs. 2,500-4,000 crores for each of the new IITs and Rs. 1,500 to 2,500 crores for the upgrade of IT-BHU.

Please also refer to my recented posted articles:

1) New IITs announced

2) Examining the coming up of more premier engineering institutes

Yogesh K. Upadhyaya
New Jersey

Animesh said...

[came here through Abi's blog]

Thanks for making a great case.

As an ITBHU B.Tech with a recent PhD from a US university who is going for a postdoc and plans to join Indian academia after that, my biggest concern will be to see who the govt appoints to head these new IITs.

If they choose a senior and well-known academician with a passion to improve the condition of technical education in India, the rest will be a matter of time. However, if they allows region/religion/caste to play a role in the keystone appointment, the promise of the new IITs will be lost.

I, for one, would be interested to see coverage on that front.


Anonymous said...

The faculty problem is not going to be overcome anytime soon. The deadly combination - 12000-250-18000 salary + location disadvantage is simply not going to bring the right kind of people to faculty posts in large numbers in today's India. On the other hand, you can get enough sub-par candidates with nominal PhDs to man these posts. A prime example is IIT Guwahati. Many of them don't have any academic reputation even inside India! Most of the new IITs and even the existing IITs are sure to go that way - given that so many opportunities exist for the talented both in India and abroad. The other day IITB director was mentioning of a novel idea - to make their own PhD program as a feeder stream to faculty posts in newly formed IIT Gujarat. Though done with good intentions and theoretically fine, I don't think this will address the faculty quality issue. Eventually this would become something like QIP program - where faculty at engineering institutions (NITs etc) do PhD at the parent institution itself, complete in 3 yrs, submit and get PhDs and due promotions - and forget the entire story. No publications, no scholastic achievements - yet all are happy because there are xx no. of faculty with PhDs on their rolls! This in no way going to improve the research scenario in Indian institutions.

Pretty much this will happen to IITs too - but so what? - after all IITs are mostly abt their UG education, more precisely UG students! Let them graduate, emigrate out and make it big in western countries. In the meantime, we can get into endless debates/arguments about quality vs quantity, impact of reservations, ways to improve research in hopless indian univs. etc.

- kumar

jackofalltrades said...

I applied for faculty positions in a number of engineering institutions in India last year and failed to get a single response (positive or negative). And that after more than five years working as a research faculty in a research 1 US university. So I seriously doubt that there's a faculty shortage.

I grew up in north eastern India and worked for five years in various parts of Bihar, MP and eastern UP. Given my experiences there I would never join a university in Guwahati or Patna. Guwahati because of the intense hatred for non Assamese that exists there. Patna because it's a lawless city where people without political power are treated worse than cattle.