Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jairam Ramesh on IITs and IIMs

The astonishing part of Jairam Ramesh's criticism of IITs and IIMs is his contention that a governmental research set-up can never attract young people. Ramesh presumably said this in order to justify his decision to set up a Maritime Research Centre in collaboration with the Mukesh Ambani group. The statement flies in the face of facts.

If a private institution in higher education were inherently more attractive, how is it that there are no private engineering colleges comparable to the IITs, no private B-schools comparable to the IIMs (with the exception of ISB), no medical college of the stature of AIIMS? A private institution in education can achieve quality only if it is private and non-profit. We know that is emphatically not the case in India, that the whole point about private institutions coming up in education is to make money, whether over the table or under it.

Indeed, when you look other places- France, Germany, Russia, China- the premier educational institutions are all in the public sector. The lone exception to state domination of quality institutions of education is the US. That is because of the tradition of private philanthropy supporting higher education, a tradition that is almost unique to the US. No other culture has it or has it in the same measure. That is why it is futile to expect private institutions elsewhere to produce anything comparable.

Even in the US, it is not as if quality education is the monopoly of the private sector. There are several distinguished universities that are part of government - the magnificent institutions of California university, University of Texas (Austin), Ohio State University, to name a few. Government presence in higher education need not be inimical to the pursuit of excellence and can indeed conduce to it- provided the governance structures are right. Several countries in the world have shown that it is possible to achieve this, and here in India, the success of the IITs and IIMs illustrates the same principle.


blackadder said...

>>If a private institution in higher education were inherently more attractive

I think the point is that a government setup does not sufficienctly incentivize professors to engage in great research - as government employees, public school professors have perks and job security that do not keep them hungry enough for excellence. There are numerous notable exceptions, but the fact is that many professors in the IITs and IIMs are just punching the clock. However, mechanisms for evaluating professors based on student feedback, research output, publications etc are shaky at best and are sidelined in favour of institutional politics and favouritism. While schools in the US suffer similar issues, the philosophy of 'publish or perish' makes sure that research is a high priority for professors. Tenure in an American university is earned the hard way, rather than through the Reader - Asst. Professor - Professor path in India.

blackadder said...

Further, there is no point in comparing Indian universities and American ones, Indian universities are testing bodies, which focus the bulk of their energy and resources on teaching and student curricula. In American universities, teaching is almost a hygiene job, with a professor primarily being viewed as a researcher. The parameters of 'world class' too are defined suitably - there is a lot of emphasis on research output of an institute. No one calls Harvard and MIT world class because of their students, it's mainly on account of the faculty, it's thought leadership and the number of Nobel laureates it has. In India, world class research is carried out in specialized research institutions like IISc, which are acknowledged to be world class. So essentially, we're comparing apples and oranges here

Stenny Sam said...

The first thing, we lose out to others in being world class because we arent consistently updated with technological and other improvements, just primarily because of the fact that research has a very small allocated space in our annual budgets. People throng it to these just to gain the prestige and not for gaining necessary education.

SideKick said...

I don't think comparing Public Vs Private in India is fair....vis a vis the examples you quoted.I have afaor reasoning you can relate as to why.