Friday, July 29, 2016

India's I.I.T. dream

India, a giant nation with an amazingly ancient culture, and that has always considered high-quality education a key component of society irrespective of challenges, is on the horns of dilemma today. We have to ensure a steady place for ourselves in the brave new technological world, our resources are limited and we do not have the luxury of time either.


IIT, Indian Institute of Technology, Engineering, BE, BTech, Ph.D., Government, Technology, MIT, India, USA, PT education, MBA, IAS, Sandeep Manudhane
The IIT spectrum
In the modern global economic order, the strongest and ablest nations are America, Japan, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and Korea. These nations invest heavily in science and technology, stress on basic research, and are good at dominating markets using the products of the R&D machinery. Most of the technologies that you and me use today, were born in these nations. If we scan the horizon a bit more, then for defence products, Israel too will be a contender. But irrespective of how we look at it, then except for a few sterling examples like ISRO etc., India is largely absent from the science and technology markets of the world. The nations mentioned have not only invested consistently and heavily in science and technology, they have also ensured great linkages between industry and academia.


In this backdrop, we find that the topmost Indian institutions in engineering and technology (not science) are the IITs - the Indian Institutes of Technology. Starting from the first campus at Kharagpur in 1951, they slowly spread to four more viz., Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur and Madras. They developed a reputation, and situation soon turned from a struggle for students to a problem of plenty. Lacs of students regularly started competing for the few seats on offer. It was hoped that as India, post 1991, moved on the path to building a free economy, these institutions would contribute in a big way to technical development of the nation.

There were a few problems as well. During the 1980s, when India was a closed economy, a lack of opportunities prompted students to move abroad to Europe and America. Hundreds left, and debatable issues like "Brain Drain" - the outflow of talent - started hitting headlines. Director of an IIT had hit back strongly then saying that "brain drain is better than brain in the drain". He meant that instead of ruining ones talent due to lack of opportunities, it was better for talent to move on. People have forgotten that debate, as visibly there are opportunities with practically all renowned multinational companies within India itself. Hence, it is being automatically assumed that we are becoming a better system. 

But after these initial five IITs, many governments started feeling that for a balanced regional development, more IITs will be required. It started with Guwahati in 1994. Then, it was a flood post 2008! Suddenly, in addition to technological development, it started looking as though these institutes were being used to achieve the goals of social development and removing regional imbalances too. And at the same time, due to reservation requirements, the existing institutes witnessed a sudden increase in overall intake, leading to a huge increase in load.

Today, in 2016, India has a total of 23 IITs (including the six new upcoming ones). It is the first such example globally where an expansion of excellent technical education, through governmental fiat, is happening under a single brandname. Have we done the right thing? An analysis is important, and three arguments are being presented below.

First : To launch a new IIT, it will not be appropriate to assume government funding to be the only necessary and sufficient condition. To truly make IITs excellent, we will have to create solid "feeder routes" for them. That means a lot of excellent technical teachers, and proper industrial linkages. Both of these are in amazingly short supply. To expect that inflow of superb talent through a rigorous entrance test is all it will be needed to make IITs click, is a wrong thought-process. It is possible that we may pull off a miracle in the next 10 or 20 years, otherwise it may turn into a problem of reputation.

Second : Indian manufacturing continues to be second-grade. It is an open secret that when confronted with China, manufacturing sectors of few nations can withstand the onslaught. When we are still finding our feet there, and when visionary programmes like "Make in India" still need time to fructify, then how will the thousands of fresh and talented engineers churned out of these 23 IITs (who will have huge dreams) find satisfying opportunities in India? Will many of them again look outside for work? Or will switch careers to move into Computers, or Management or Civil Services? Then why invest so much?

Third problem is : The IIT-engineered and promoted technologies are still not the leaders in world commercial markets. For comparison, take MIT (USA), which leads in such development, ultimately deeply impacting world markets. We have not been able to do that still, on a large scale.

Hence, in the coming years, we must stop at these 23 only, and try making them the best. The problem of technical education cannot be solved only by opening newer IITs. Technical teachers must have attractive career prospects, more industrial interfaces must be evolved, and deep research must be stressed upon. Only then will these 23 IITs play a relevant role in making India a world leader.

My Hindi article on this topic appeared here. Click to open.



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6 comments:

Utkarsh Singh said...

An insightful article.

Rishav Kumar said...

In india we have few islands of excellence floating in a sea of mediocrity and it is a deliberate attempt to increase these islands,but we have to admit that few IIT's are excellent only in India but not on a global level.IIT's popularity in India is same as the one eyed man in a group of blinds but when we have to compete with some other world class universities we lag behind. This is evident from the fact that inspite of having 17% of the world's brain,we are contributing less than 2% on innovation.Everywhere the approach is marks oriented and those who try to break the shackles of mediocrity either they are crushed or they have to leave country for mind boggling research.Why is it so that a nation which has given 0 to the whole world is almost zero in technological innovation,the answer needs to be asked from all of us.

Abhishek said...

Sir,
I also feel that this new government mania of building more IITs and IIMs is a populist policy. The government of our country is mostly obsessed with how to keep majority of Indians happy by providing certain schemes which look attractive in short term, hence it chooses quantity over quality. Because, if it chose quality of research and learning over quantity, not many ordinary people (who actually vote) would care about it hence weakening chances of victory in next term elections.
Besides, the government also tries to add fuel to the ordinary Indian's typical craze for brands. Indians really love brands, more than real essence or quality. If that remains confined within domains of fashion or technology it is fine, but Indians even do the same with respect to education and streams of learning they opt for without caring about market value or their own inherent learning for the subject. Hence, a typical Indian who actually likes, say computer science, would choose a high prestigious sounding IIT even for studying aeronautical engineering or architecture over a non-IIT that is ready to give him a chance to study the subject he loves. This way numerous careers are diverted or ruined and potential performers never get to study or follow the paths they would have taken had this social craze for brands like IITs never existed.
Don't you feel this irrational hype for brands needs to be checked and people need to be educated about essence of quality? Unless ordinary Indians themselves learnt the importance of quality, our populist government will not do the same either .

DIVYA said...

what I truly feel is they should focus on quality but not on quantity. Standard of these institutions is already on stake. Rather than improving current situation they are making fun of this. Increasing number of institutions doesn't solve the purpose of quality of education provided.

Its time to pull up their socks and start moving their thoughts for better alternatives.

Sarukya Kastury said...

India has many institutes and universities. Funding a new IIT is not what India needs, but funding in the field of Research and Development and to bring out the innovative skills of a student is what we need. To make ambitious projects like "Start up India, Stand up India" and "Make In India" a success, India should come out a winner in the field of R&D. And the best way to do it is through colleges and universities where bright young passionate minds would love to explore and learn something new rather than memorising terms and definitions for a 10 mark essay type question.
Few years ago, Hilary Clinton, the then Secretary of State of US, said in an interview to a news channel that India should not concentrate on funding for infrastructure for educational institutes but need to bring out the brightest from the dull. Every passionate student can make big, simple inventions out of the smallest piece of waste if given the the right guidance to do so, even if he/she is not the best scorer of grades. Any Institute can appear big if they try to train the already best to be the best. But that's not going to work in a country like India which has the maximum number of Young Minds (It all go to waste then). A great institutes are those which can bring out the best from the all equally.

Neeraj Kumari said...

Well, Getting into IIT is a dream for a lot of Indian students and parents and in order to help them fulfill their dream, our government is trying to expand the number. However, it is very difficult to maintain the same standard for all IITs as IIT Kanpur, Delhi, Chennai, Bombay and Kharagpur are maintaining. According to some research (I don't remember exactly), It was found that current IITs have about 40% vacancies for faculty but are not able to find the right set of people. So, I firmly believe that instead of spending crores of money on setting new IITs, we should focus on maintaining and raising the standard of current IITs. One thing that I want to say is that we should focus more on research and publicize the positions open for technical engineers in our government organizations. Also we should set some institutes where our engineers can put their brain to do some great job.
One view is that students from IITs move to foreign countries or they move to multinational companies, not opting for government jobs. However, just think about a student who is in start of his final year and some companies come, which provide world class facilities and extremely high salary and it takes interview in your institute only, on the other hand, for government jobs there is immense competition, you have to prepare a lot and then a luck factor creeps in, so it is natural for the student to go for previous option.
So, is it justified to move on and not paying for the country which provided a world class education to you?
The solution is that we should try to generate such jobs inside our country where the minds of our country can explore and contribute and get recognized for their work.
This is the way we can improve ranking of our country in technical field and
take advantage of our own talent...
Thanks