It is amazing to see what all inquiries people make. Prof Ross Bassett of North Carolina State University has studied every Indian graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology between its founding and 2000—charts their ascent to the pinnacle of high-tech professions. The book is here.
In his recent interview he notices an MIT touch in most Indian things:
When American engineer turned-historian Ross Bassett visits India, he sees connections to the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)everywhere -buildings like Kanchenjunga and Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, in companies like TCS and Datamatics, and even in everyday brands like Bisleri. All of these were created with the involvement of MIT alumni.
Bassett, an associate professor of history at North Carolina State University, has spent the past 13 years looking at some of the 850 Indians who studied engineering -including 305 doctorates -at MIT over a century. Bassett traces their stories in his new book, The Technological Indian.
His study throws up some nuggets: the first Indian went to MIT as far back as 1882; most Indians who went before Independence were from Mumbai, Pune and Gujarat; and a number of industrial families as well as government officials sent their sons to MIT in the mid-20th century in a break from humanities focused Oxbridge. Bassett spoke to Vaishnavi Chandrashek the influence of American technical education
What is more interesting is to ask why IITs were influenced by MIT? In terms of politics and education we followed British model and in economics we had copied things from Russia. Why US for IITs then?
How did MIT influence the IITs considering that it was involved with only two institutions -IIT Kanpur and BITS, Pilani? Other IITs were set up with other countries.
It seems to me that the IITs made a decision to unify their system of education and converged on the American better or worse, the American system had a more powerful hold over Indian engineering educators than the Russian, British or German system, especially post-war. Even in simple things like using American, or MIT, textbooks.
What was different about the MIT American model?
In the early 20th century, MIT introduced a very scientific approach to engineering, an approach that is entrepreneurial and competitive. But it was really after World War II that MIT gained cachet as people saw what technology could do. That MIT helped develop radar and afterwards got so much government funding. IITs have not had the funding that the US research system has had. The American model is very resource intensive.
There’s also more emphasis on scientific culture, on abstractions, than in the British or German system. That’s part of what India has taken from the American model. It’s good in a way but the JEE doesn’t ask you if you’re interested in building things -in the actual doing of engineering rather than the solving of science problems.
This is interesting. How certain institutions/systems are designed for a specific purpose/context and then copied by others. They may or may not work as argued brilliantly by the author:
Why for worse?
The American-oriented IIT system has given India TCS and Bangalore, and people who are able to successfully work in an American environment. The negative side is that it’s led a number of Indians to come to the US. What is known as brain drain is testimony that people who’d had this kind of American education found it easier to use in the US than in India. A form of engineering education that was not so American-oriented could have led to different results.
Recently, we’ve seen IITians who studied in the US rise to run global companies. Is their success an Indian or American triumph?
Both. It’s a triumph of Indian individuals but it’s a little questionable whether India as a country triumphs. That’s why I use the term “technological Indian” not “technological India” because, especially in the last 20-30 years, technological Indians have developed and been able to achieve great things but exactly how India has benefited is a little less clear.
Unlike most media which crazily calls success of technological Indian as success of technological India..
Keeping these issues aside, what is interesting is the narrative and choices which leads to formation of institutions..