Why building even more IITs/IIMs is just such a bad idea..

Though the proposal was in air, better to write on it when it actually ends up being announced/implemented.

In his budget speech, FM Arun Jaitley (nice to have a completely different name as it was just PC for many years) said:

The country needs a large number of Centres of higher learning which are world class. I propose to set up Jai Prakash Narayan National Centre for Excellence in Humanities in Madhya Pradesh. I also intend to set up five more IITs in the Jammu, Chattisgarh, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Five IIMs would be set up in the States of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Odisha and Maharashtra. I propose to set aside a sum of ` 500 crore for this. 

 I mean what does one say?

It just shows how clueless we are about state of India’s education. The entire focus is on quantity whereas in education what matters is quality. By building campuses, one does not achieve anything. Has the government done any reality check on the new IIT/IIM created just recently in last 3-4 years? I mean has it even checked the issues in the older ones? It is highly unlikely. Because if it had done so, perhaps we would not have such announcements.

The IIT/IIM brand has already been stretched to the hilt. Future recruiters are going to be as confused. Earlier it was about old vs new. Now it will be several new ones. Which new ones? Which year were they established?

The entire country faces a huge faculty crunch. Read interviews of all these IIT/IIM directors and most crib on same lines – we do not have good faculty in large numbers.  If the older ones are not able to get faculties, where will the new ones get it?

Why do we have a faculty crunch? The reasons are not difficult to find. We just don’t encourage good teaching and research in the country. The union budgets never announce expenditure to improve quality at our places. It is always about building new facilities and not good faculties. It is as if students coming to IIT/IIM just learn things on their own and become prized jewels for corporates.

We need good teachers/faculties to train future students.  Period. But there are hardly any incentives here to really become one. Our Phd programs are poorly funded and managed.

The older ones could still manage the show by asking Indians going abroad to join Indian campuses. Given the image of the institute and initial years, people obliged as well. But that pipeline is choked now. Given the expansion in campuses across India, one can only get so many from foreign shores (still they continue to fill ). It is high time we look into the Indian shores and this is where the cupboard is nearly empty.

Indian mythology is full of stories where all that mattered was “guru”. The kings sent their children to the guru who was considered the best. It was not really about the fancy facilities. Infact there were really tough conditions which shaped the future princes etc. But we just seem to have lost all the good ideas. It is now just about fancy buildings now.

Another issue is already overdose of engineering and management education. Infact all that engineers want to do is become managers. So why have engineering in the first place? And then management education has become oversold as well. Each year the number of CAT aspirants is declining. So, why really bother about creating even more IIT/IIM?

A much better deal is to improve the existing university system and promote general sciences and liberal arts kind of courses. The universities are places where there is huge scope to expand student intake. But most are in such a mess. What happened recently at Delhi University is such a joke as it is the best univ we have. We just can’t get anything right really. We all deserve good quality higher education but why should that be limited to IIT/IIMs alone?

Second, instead of killing the IIT/IIM brand by opening them everywhere, try and increase batch-sizes at existing places.  But this should happen only after increasing the size of good quality faculty. Most are already stretched given current economies of scale, so need support. This also keeps students happier as they get associated with existing brands.

Finally for the sake of reiteration, please do something about the status of teachers in the country. Students have to be encouraged to become faculties. Without this we are not going anywhere. We already have many stories of how class 5 student can’t read class 1 stuff. At current level of ignorance, engineers will not know the machine and managers will not know the balance sheets (it is already happening)…

The focus should be on improving the existing and building mental infrastructure so that the process is sustained..Infact without mental infrastructure, even the much talked hard infrastructure is not going to happen as well..

5 Responses to “Why building even more IITs/IIMs is just such a bad idea..”

  1. Ranjit Says:

    I disagree with many things you said:

    If we accept that India needs more educational institutions, and if we accept that govt has to spend money in creating institutions, then, IITs/IIMs are the best thing to spend money on, as opposed to putting money in reviving universities. The reasons are as follows:

    1a) Consider faculty hiring: IIT/IIMs try to get the best possible faculty; the hiring process is controlled by academicians — politicians have no role. On the other hand, in universities, local politicians try to mess up things.

    1b) There is already a good/professional IIT system in place (with IIT council etc) for IIT administration, and new IITs will follow that (same for IIM). That means less red tape etc. On the other hand, the existing universities are already infected with bad faculty and bad admin guys, reviving them will be equivalent to wasting money.

    1c) The autonomy and academic freedom in IIT/IIMs are high — so just by getting the name “IIT” or “IIM”, the new institutions get to have that autonomy and freedom. This gives the institute, for example, freedom to partner with a private company/person and do various things — e.g., many buildings in IITs are built by private funds from Alumni. Doing that in universities will be more difficult just because there is no such precedent. Also IITs, for example, are free to top up salaries, from private money to attract better faculty/staff. Given that many of the things in india happen by looking at the precedent, getting an IIT/IIM name makes the new institution a more “free” place. There is precedent for every good thing. That is not the case with universities.

    2) IITs are now starting to have big programs on general science and liberal arts. Nothing prevents IITs from starting good science/liberal arts programs — govt should leave it to academics. In other words, ‘IIT’ is just a name. Imagine that is synonymous with university, but with the all the advantages discuss above.

    3a) I agree that there is a faculty crunch. But that is not severe. Consider this: Count the number of Indian PhDs coming out per year from US universities + IISc + TIFR + old IITs. Many of the good graduates from these universities find it difficulty get a faculty position in the existing IITs. Why? There is some reason. I will elaborate on that later.

    3b) The faculty crunch can be addressed if the IITs grow slowly. Every year new PhD graduates come out. So these institutions should not grow much faster than the availability of good PhDs; then they are OK.

    4) About the brand: Instead of “IIT” as a brand, we now will have “IIT Kanpur” as a brand and “IIT Bombay” as a separate brand etc. Rough analogy would be the university of California system. We all know that UC Berkeley is not the same as UC Riverside or UC Irvine. So each campus will have its own brand.

    In summary, I agree that govt can do many things, other than announcing IITs, to improve higher education in the country. BUT if the government is deciding to spend money on making colleges, it is better to name them IITs!

  2. friendlyatul Says:

    I also disagree. Setting up more IIT/IIMs will only be positive for nation and wont do any harm to anyone..

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