Friday, August 7, 2015

IITs : From Educational to Research Institutions

The IITs were formed by an Act of Parliament in 1950 on the recommendations of the SARKAR Committee Report. The objective of the IITs was to produce highly-skilled technocrats, researchers and innovators who would spearhead the technological developments of our nation. By 1961, 5 IITs were established at Kharagpur, Mumbai, Chennai, Kanpur and Delhi and admissions were granted on the basis of an Entrance exam called IIT-JEE from 1960. By 2015, there are 19 IITs in India.

The IITs have an alumni base of over 2 lacs as in 2015 whose impact on the nation and the globe is momentous. Though a majority of IITians have secured a stable career path with a good job in a large private or Govt. company, a remarkable number of IITians have excelled as Entrepreneurs, Innovators, Researchers, Civil Servants and change agents.

The Pan-IIT Alumni report 2008 prepared by Zinnov Management Consulting suggests that IITians have been involved in the creation of 2 crore new jobs globally which means almost 100 new jobs creation per IITian.  For every rupee invested by the Govt. of India on an IITian, the payback has been Rs.15. The Report further discovered that 7 out of every 10 IITians are working in India, that 54% of the Top 500 Indian companies have at least one IITian on their Board of Directors, and 4 out of every 10 IITians are in top leadership roles in organizations across various fields. The Report also estimated that Rs.20 lakh crore of incremental economic value creation has been effected by IITians till 2008 across the globe.  No other college in India can boast of having such a profound impact on society at large.

However, it is also true that most of the best brains amongst IIT alumni (especially Top 300 IIT-JEE Rankers) are not in India. Brain-drain has been a matter of concern for long but has been blindsided by successive governments.

Though the economic and social impact of IITians is immense, the research output of the IITs and IITians working in India is far from satisfactory. In the period between 2001-2014, the number of patent applications assigned to IITs were 127 as against 2155 to MIT-US. IITs do not figure even in the Top 200 in the global rankings of Universities published by Times & QS every year mainly due to its dismal research record. Brain drain is not the only reason for this phenomenon though.  The IITs are lagging behind premier Western universities in terms of funding available from the Government for research, the enabling atmosphere for Research & Innovation and the performance-oriented system for faculties.

Thus, IITs have been immensely successful as educational institutions though not so much as research institutions till date. 

It must be clearly understood however why IITs have been successful as educational institutions. The open secret is the Entrance exam viz. JEE. It is because of the high quality of students that enter the IITs that has made the IITs world-famous. The JEE is the toughest Entrance exam in the world with barely 2% selection ratio and challenging questions which test the problems solving ability of the candidate. Thus, Brand IIT is simply due to Brand JEE.

Students preparing for JEE have a far superior grip on basic concepts of Maths and Science as compared to those students who simply study for XII Boards only or State-level CETs. After studying for JEE, even if the student does not get admission into the IITs but enters a local Engineering college, he finds Engineering studies easy and sails smoothly to complete his degree and greatly increases his employability. This is not the case with a student who merely studies for XII Boards exams which is mostly based on rote learning and thus such a student struggles in throughout his Engineering studies. So, right selection of students has been the key to success of the IITs as educational institutes.

It is true that a number of steps must be taken up by the IITs and the Govt. to boost the research output of the IITs. The following steps may be recommended :

1)      Make the JEE exam Subjective-pattern type with pre-exam declared cut-offs for all categories as was the case from 1960 till 2005 so that only the most deserving students get in.

2)      Choice of branch of Engineering must be done after 2-years of B.Tech. program and not merely on the basis of JEE Ranks. The first 2-years course must be inter-disciplinary which helps the student to know about various fields. Only choice of IITs must be based on JEE Ranks.

3)      A Tenure system for faculties as in US universities must be introduced wherein faculties are evaluated every 7 years by peers in academia on basis of their performance in teaching, research and service to the field. At the same time, the salaries of IIT Faculty must be increased to match those of premier US universities. Faculties must be given a fair stake in the revenue generated for IITs via consultation projects with industry.

4)      Launch an 8-years (B.Tech. + Direct Ph.D.) program with no exit option in between. The choice of this program should be done after 2-years when branch selection has to be done. Once, faculty are assured that students are committed with them for longer period, the faculty-student duo can do serious research work. Those students who are not keen on pursuing Research may opt for the regular 4-years B.Tech. or 5-years Dual Degree M.Tech. program. Such students can be encouraged to take up entrepreneurship towards which the IITs have already set up incubation cells.  IIT Faculty may however be stingy in giving recommendation letters to students who wish to do M.S. abroad.  

5)      Funding and autonomy both must be given amply to the IITs by the Govt. to create a healthy research atmosphere in the IITs.

6)      Increased partnership with industry must be fostered.

If the above steps are implemented, IITs will emerge as premier colleges on the global stage fostering world-class research and education both.

- Durgesh C.Mangeshkar
(Director, IITian’s Prashikshan Kendra, Pune)