Wednesday, October 05, 2011


N R Narayana Murthy has been quoted as saying that 80% of students at IITs are of poor quality. My first reaction is to ask: what would be the comparable figure for NITs and private engineering colleges? 95%? And what would that say about the quality of hires at Infosys, most of whom are drawn from second- and third-rung colleges?

Although an ex-IITian myself, I am not in a position to judge whether there has been any decline in standards in students at IITs as I have little contact these days with IITs or engineering. How do we test such a statement? We could use a number of indicators:
  • Acceptance of IIT students at foreign colleges and their performance there
  • Success rate of IIT students appearing for the IIM entrance test
  • Acceptability of IIT students to employers in India
Are fewer IIT students going to the US? Are companies now reluctant to visit IIT campuses for recruitment? I would like to know from readers.

NRN also comments on the poor English speaking skills of IITians:
The Infosys mentor also lamented the poor English speaking and social skills of a majority of IIT students, saying with Indian politicians "rooting against English", the task of getting good English speaking students at IITs gets more difficult.
I can readily respond to this comment. Some of the best performers in my time at the IITs were from vernacular schools. Their English was poor but this took nothing away from their brilliance- they were among the toppers at IITs and went on to make a mark in the US. I met some of them a few years ago at an IIT Bombay reunion and their English was now as good as anybody else's. The great change at IIT was not counting English marks in the entrance exam. This opened up IITs to some great brains in the interior of the country. To judge the calibre of IIT students by their English speaking skills makes no sense at all.

NRN, in his New York speech, has also advocated doing away with the tenure system at IITs; he wants faculty on five year contracts instead. If this is what is required for producing quality, how is it that US universities have a tenure system and produce great quality? The tenure system was created precisely to give academics the sense of security that is needed in order to produce high quality output over a long period.

I have a suggestion. Let NRN and a few other businessmen pool their resources and set up their own engineering college. They can set their own norms for admission, faculty, fees etc. They can then realise their dream of creating in India the equivalent of MIT and Stanford.


Anonymous said...

I think Chetan Bhagat's response was correct and sufficient. The CEO of a body shopping company (masquerading as a "hi-tech" company) shouldn't pontificate about skills of IITians. I don't think that a body shopping company should set the standards that IITians need to have - that can be easily accomplished via training of IITians or non-IITians. IITians as it is have a far wider scope than that, already.

Yes, there are issues with IITs. It is to do with the quality of post graduates and research.

mcenley said...

Yes, there are issues with IITs. It is to do with the quality of post graduates and research.

I like the above comment. Someone putting a nail on the head. Also, just to keep things in perspective NRN commented on the same too. Moreover, I have no problem if a "no one" comments on the quality of IIT. It's a free will society after all.

Anonymous said...

I am somewhat confused by one of your criteria for measuring quality, namely, performance in the IIM entrance exam. Surely, this exam does not directly measure engineering competence?

Anonymous said...

Considering that two fairly acclaimed English language writers (Chetan Bhagat and Amitabha Bagchi) have come out of IIT in recent years (and these guys have completely unrelated day jobs), it serves to show the depth and variety of what IITs produce. One thing though: NRN's son failed to clear JEE as he admitted in the 60 minutes segment so one has to commiserate with him a little bit. Sour grapes are inevitable sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Murthy did his PG from IIT. How can he comment about JEE-cleared BTech students who are always considered better than GATE-based MTech students?

Anonymous said...

These days, it's a fashion to make adverse comments on IITs. However, these commentators never offer a solution or alternative ideas...

K.R.Srivarahan said...

One of the criteria you have mentioned is the success rate of IITians in admissions to IIMs. Though this criterion is not a clincher, what does the data say? How is the trend?

sujatha said...

In the 70 s students who got into IIT did so largely on their own merit, I have known those who managed with ’Arun’s ‘guide and no tutoring at all. However in the 80s and 90 s with the proliferation of coaching classes which focussed solely on Clearing the JEE, students from std 9 th onwards went through the grind and rigour with minuscule time devoted for general reading and social interactions.
So besides the cream some average students (buoyed up with extensive tutoring) also made it to IITs . So NRN has a point. However generalization is always dangerous .

Anonymous said...

the same generalization cannot be done for IIT BTechs and postgraduates. I know many IIT post grads who have done MUCH better in life (including in academia, just in case u argue abt brilliance rather than success) than their BTech counterparts...generally though btechs are better, but not always....take the case of the recent Nobel Naureate from India (V Ramakrishnan) who admitted to failing in IIT entrance...had he succeeded??? plus many students do want want to go to IITs, they take commerce, econ, statistics, even...many of them are as brilliant / smart

vishal said...

NRN and Chetan both are like Deepak and Mithilesh of "AArakshan" of Prakash Jha!
None of the iitians could become SteveJobs,a college dropout in 1972! Harvard dropouts,from bill gates to mark zukerberg,are -ARE-billionaires without 20% socalled exellent iitians among them!
Creativity plus Global Excellence in dropouts is not there in either Harvard or IITs!It is within,Jobs said!
- Vishal,CEO, undergoing reconstruction for 2nd. decade of 21st century. Wait&watch!

Anonymous said...

What do you have to say about IIT director's comment?

I am waiting to hear from Chetan Bhagat as well. This jerk only wants to make sensational comments to stay in the news to sell his books.

And sir, I am really disappointed in this blog post of yours. What NRN says is true if you start considering engineering aptitude and success of students graduating from IITs these days. They might be bright kids but they genuinely have little interest in engineering. I am surprised to see that you consider that academic excellence has a high correlation with success in industry. And you consider success in CAT as a measure of it.

Anonymous said...

What did NR Narayana Murthy do to improve standards at IIM Ahmedabad during his 5 years of Chairmanship? NRN is a humbug trying to imitate Prof Kalam.

recent IITB grad said...

First off, the 80% sounds like an exaggeration. Also, whatever percentage it is, I don't think it's that they're poor quality, it's that they are burnt out or unmotivated to achieve their potential.

As for his other points, I think there is some truth to them. I was at IIT Bombay for 4 years and here's what I saw in relation to the specific comments of NRN you chose to rebut:

- standards dropping - I think so. Not as much in terms of the system itself but in terms of the competence of graduating students. Or maybe this was always the case.

- poor English skills - In my experience, it's not about poor English (that can be learned), it's the attitude of not really wanting or needing to improve. I agree it doesn't make sense to make a part of a measure of quality though.

- tenure - I don't think 5 year contracts are the solution, but there is a problem with non-producing faculty and it needs to be addressed.

Sandip Dev said...

@Sujatha: You cannot wish away coaching classes as long as a market for those exists and there is enough demand; just as there are coaching classes for SAT, GRE, GMAT.Also having been a student at Bansal Classes in Kota, I can tell you that they cannot turn a donkey into a horse; the place is way to competitive for donkey to survive. Of course, the focus is sadly more on techniques to solve problem rather than thinking about them and coming up with your own techniques. But isn't that what we do through our entire school life?

While I am not an IIT-ian myself I have quite a few batch mates here at IIM-A and they are all exceptionally and frighteningly smart.

So I dont really buy NRN argument. That being said, the quality of students at any educational institution will follow a Normal distribution and therefore there will be some who aren't good enough with respect to some yardstick (and I am not sure what NRN's yardstick is)

Anonymous said...

I wonder what makes NRN rant such stuff..esp in past couple of years. It sounds like he is unhappy within. He has called the 5th grader thug Antonio Maino, the most able leader, best human being he ever met and the only future leader of India. Probably this has got something to do with senility attained too early. But again, we should not over react to each and every statement made by public figures. They are after all humans too and they shared their wealth, made some lives, created an enterprise in a pathetic country like India. Let us be kind

An Ex-Infoscion.

Anonymous said...

Here's a take from failed IITian

The compulsive tendency to relate achievement to relative rank is an age old disease in India. This disease has probably to do with the shortages engineered by architects of poverty aka the Nehrus and their progeny and a cultivated fear in the minds of parents and students in equal measure of being lost in the race vis-a-vis classmates and peers right from school. This is perfectly normal and understandable in a country like India where 5000-10000 rupees used to the monthly incomes of parents of most of these bright kids. So when their kids outdo 1 in 100 they have already achieved something. The next moment of having arrived is how many offers he could reject on campus and how many his friends did. This mentality is precisely the reason why an insignificant proportion of IITians or for that matter any second rung engineering college eventually made great leaders, whatever institutions and corporations the leadership is much required and expected from them. I mean compared to the likes of MIT, Harvard and Berkeley, IIT’ians though privileged enough to get that push right from start, have not demonstrated the courage to create and lead institutions and corporations, even after discounting for the freedom factor that India lacks. They made very good employees, some promoted to the top of which few did demonstrate to the expectations of the white-men’s board and American stock exchange and the fellows and chairs of Ivy league companies.

There are some exceptional IIT’ians who charted their own path and are probably not achievers in the popular press. It is people like these who deserve a mention and evaluation of true leadership. May be its time leadership is taught and practiced for its relevance and perception in world other than corporate world.

I was very anxious to see a reaction from IIT’ians in support of Arvind Kejriwal. May be lot of people supported him financially and otherwise but I wanted to hear a statement of open revolt against the Govt. but didn’t hear a single word from anyone. Statement from IIT’ians because they are large, organized, close knit and heard by all. All I saw was followers who took a weekend out with some flags. Think about white-man’s perception of Indians in general and IIT’ians in particular at thier place of work. They must sure be feeling sorry for tht IIT'ians.

Anonymous said...

how many iitians have came up with amazing discoveries? how many of them have won noble prize? all the worlds leading scienteist and enterprenurs and leaders are from western universities oxford,cambridge,mit,caltech,geogia tech,texas A & M ,harvard etc

Anonymous said...

all foregin companies hire indians because they are getting cheap labours.we boast about iits that they are getting very high packages in us .but any average engineer over there gets the same package.

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