THE ‘ARJUN storm’ is ready to defame prestigious educational institutes of India. Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) is the only technical institution of excellence in India which has created a global brand in the last 60 years. As if quota in the topmost institutes was not enough, Human Resource Development (HRD) minister, Arjun Singh, has proposed addition of eight new IITs by 2012.
I am made to believe by the actions of our minister that it is high time he retires from politics. Just a simple question I want to ask Singh – can excellence be multiplied just by increasing the numbers? If Singh believes that it is possible, then I just wonder why should we then not have more Massachusetts Institutes of Technology (MITs) in America, London School of Economics (LSEs) in Britain and Ecole de Polytechnics in Switzerland. The simple reason is that our HRD minister is in great hurry and wants to impress the voters just before the upcoming Parliamentary elections in 2009. He is just not worried about the future and is concentrating on short term goals of ‘votes’.
The idea of expanding the technical institutes can be a good one if Singh knows that the excellence in any institute is directly proportional to the quality of faculty. In a scenario where leading tech-colleges across America and Britain offer 1:6 faculty student ratio, most IITs just manage to scrape up a 1:12 ratio while struggling to stem attrition and quality faculty. In some of the IITs, it is tough to maintain a ratio of 1:14.
Overall, IITs are facing faculty crunch of 900. Recently, the alumni of IIT Bombay chipped in to provide funds so that their Alma mater could offer signing-on bonuses to the new faculty. So, where does Singh expect faculty for new IITs to come from?
The IITs have maintained their global brand in the last 60 years. The reason behind this is the fiercest competition for entrance to these institutes. The nationwide test ensures that the top cream of students get into the IITs. One out of fifty students gets into the IITs. Now if you dilute this by opening more number of IITs and lowering the standards of admission in order to accommodate politically motivated quota, then the brand IIT is at stake.
India has one of the largest pool of engineers but the other side of the coin is that the industry considers every 26th engineering graduate to be unemployable. Has Singh ever wondered what the reason behind this could be? May I ask him what has he done to ensure that the existing institutes maintain their standard? The number of job openings for research and innovation, in which IITians are ‘supposed’ to be superior, is so wafer-thin as to be non-existent. Indian companies are notorious for not generating their own technology. But when we don’t have that many Research and Development (R&D) institutes where would we get the new technology from.
This is the reason that the global rankings of IITs in R&D is slipping. In 2003, the UR Rao committee studied the problems afflicting engineering and higher education in India and pointed out that we need over 10,000 Doctors of Philosophy (PhDs) and 20,000 Masters of Technology (MTechs) per year to meet the faculty needs of Indian technical education. Currently, India produces barely 400 engineering PhDs a year, mostly from the IITs and the Indian Institute of Science, as opposed to 4,000 in the basic sciences.
I just have a feeling that this plan of making IITs a common place for all is certainly going to backfire. Singh might have declared himself to be vindicated by the Supreme Court judgment but the fact is that he is just not concerned about changing the educational system of India towards the betterment and making it more innovative. Perhaps this is the reason that though government wants to implement the 27 per cent reservations from the current year, not a single new faculty has been recruited by University Grants Commission (UGC) till date.
Singh is on the wrong path and is just leaving a very poor legacy. He will be gone in a few years but we will feel the repercussions of his moronic decisions forever. He is living up to what Sir Ernest Benn once said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.”