Higher Education: Benchmarks for IITs

Every policy maker, be it Manmohan or Montek, India baiter Amartya Sen or Jagdish Bhagwati, educationist Yaspal or Sam Pitroda wishes to use India’s demographic dividend to transform it into a global knowledge power. Sibal wishes to transform IITs into creators of knowledge from its present practice of producing under-graduates. Some expect IITs to produce Nobel laureates and some to compete with MIT and other great institutions. Some expect IITs to expand its researches, apply and get more patents and produce larger number of research papers for the reputed technical journals of the world. Some suggest IITs to increase its intake in Master courses and research. Some others wish to see its professors on demand from the professional institutes all over the world to share their knowledge with their faculty and students.

IITs are following the same goal, may be a little slowly. According to the director IIT, Kharagpur, the institute “plans to have 30 per cent of total student strength in the Ph.D programmes, up from 15 per cent at present.” The institute conferred 228 Ph.Ds this year, of which more than 60 per cent were in engineering. But none talk about the quality of researches and preference for the research works that can get translated into some unique products.

Increasingly, Indian enterprises as well as international companies are getting associated with IITs for funding research programmes. And this gives hope for some useful rather purely academic output. For example, scientists at IIT Kanpur are working on research aimed at reducing the price gap between solar power and energy from conventional sources.

It is also heartening that IIT-Kharagpur has big plan. Other IITs must also be doing the same. Khargpur will increase its student strength to 11,000 by 2011-12 at an investment of Rs 800 crore and to 20,000 by 2020 entailing an additional cost of Rs 1,000 crore as against its current student base of 8,000. I wish it focuses on increasing the output of Masters and PH.Ds rather undergraduates. Unfortunately, the undergraduates from IITs hardly pursue Master or PH.D at IITs itself, though most going abroad go for their Masters there. IITs must think over the reasons. Is it because of the quality of courses or the necessity for getting better and ensured employment that pushes them to do Masters there?

The industry did not encourage the higher education in professional courses with significant differential in entry remuneration in past. However, with large number of MNCs setting up R&D centres in India, the scenario is getting better today. Today most of the students going for Masters and PH.Ds are from the institutes other than IITs. They go for Masters as they fail to get good jobs after graduating from those hardly known colleges. The situation can’t bring good results.

The students doing undergraduate courses at IITs are the best brains of the country and the country can get the best returns out of them if they take up Masters and PH.Ds at IITs. The government and the industry must provide lucrative attractions for them to pursue Masters and PH.Ds at IITs so that they don’t hanker to join IIMs straight from the IITs after getting intense training and knowledge in engineering and technology. I wish Sibal could find the way out. He can certainly get CII and other industry’s associations to help him in this mission.

A major problem against attracting the students for research may be the lack of real reputed teachers at IITs. The institutes require a mindset change and allure the prospective talents from industry to pursue PH.Ds. I still remember Professor Rajendra Misra who had left a good job in industry and joined IIT, Khargpur. And over the period, Misra became a respectable figure in teaching community. I myself was pretty much interested in academic career, but I could hardly get good enough response.
As it appears the incumbent director at IIT, Kharagpur has some big dreams. I am sure other directors of the institutes of excellence with help from the reputed members of the governing body start thinking big in similar manner.

It gives hope.

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