Saturday, June 14, 2008

IITs and Higher Education

On the day before yesterday (11 June) I came across a "LEADER ARTICLE" titled 'How Not To Build New IITs'. You can read the entire things on Sl(T)imes of India site. What's wrong with that? Plenty, which prompted this blog entry. This entry was also published as a comment, FINALLY.

Being an IITian, a lot better analysis was expected from Mr. Ganguly. He starts off by saying, "Being in IIT used to be part of the elan of belonging to a Fabian elite". Such a logic would suggest that IITs were meant to create an elite class. He later claims that, "Your place in social hierarchy at IITs was determined by one thing alone--- your GPA".

No, we do not want our higher education institutes to foster a sense of elitism. We all are citizens with equal rights and differing abilities, some are better at higher studies, others at something else. IITs are supposed to provide high-class education. Perhaps Nehru, and other planners had given up hopes of improving other universities at international level. It is a sorry situation, where most of Indians can not obtain international-class higher education in India. By reducing options (of other university colleges), IITs were made the elite. The reality, however, is that they never were of international class. No IIT ever ranked close to Harvard. So, claiming IITs of being elite schools is wrong in factual sense, as well as ethical.

As for Grade Point Average (GPA) being the sole indicator as one's ability to live life, Mr Ganguly is very wrong again. Perhaps someone like Mr. Gates or Mr Jobs, two most influential persons from the Silicon Valley, may not obtain GPA of even 5.0. That does not speak of their ability to innovate, enthuse and lead a team of technicians. From my own experience as a teacher (at a top-ranked engineering school) I can certainly say that GPA is a poor indicator of a person's understanding, and a narrow outlook at a student's ability.

However, the biggest failure of the article is that, Mr. Ganguly fails to see the larger picture about Indian higher-education system. Given the lack of world-class education, many Indians migrate abroad and never return. Despite (arguably) 80% of IITs deciding to stay in India after graduation, many others leave India, especially those who do not enter IITs. These include even my own students.

Demand for higher education institutions outstrips supply. By limiting the supply, our government has created a situation of scarcity and then played its own politics. Mr. Ganguly has chosen to focus only on this narrow point of reservation politics, which is unfortunate, for he has missed the larger issue at stake.

A logical solution for the problem is to just increase the supply of higher education institutes. If the government can not do so, it should allow private players to do it WITHOUT stringent (and silly) government regulations and interference. The present government has refused to relax its draconian rules and regulations: about who teaches, how much he/she gets paid, what are the syllabi, what are fees, etc. One is not even touching the issue of bribery to obtain licenses, so common in education department.

Mr. Ganguly, and other readers are referred to informative articles by Dr. Atanu Dey (refer to his blog ). However, We must thank Mr Ganguly for raising the issue of higher education in India, it is a worthy issue. We can only hope that more discussion leads to awareness about basic issues at hand.


Punky said...

A few thoughts:

1) Although not intended to create a elite class, that is what the institutions have created. And this 'elitism' is what motivates a lot of students to study to get into IITs. This might be a plus. It might be utopian to think that there won't be a sense of elitism just because theoretically everybody has equal rights.

Also, though they might not be elite infrastructure-wise, they certainly would give the best global schools a run for their money in terms of intellectual capital.

2) The article does not talk about creating private institutions of repute, but about creating more 'IITs'. As I need not remind you, our institute has had teething problems with just one new campus, and so setting up new institutions, private or governmental isn't a joke.

3) I believe Indians are getting a decent education. Definitely not on an absolute scale, but given the amount of subsidies that the government provides every student in terms of fees, we cant expect better. A solution as you suggested might be to have private institutions based on a 'free-market' system...

executioner said...

This comment is not really relevant to the ToI article you have linked us to on your blog post, but nevertheless, my 2 paise..

Having lived among IIT aspirants, some of whom are now IITians, and being a BITSian myself, I have come across a lot of students who treat getting into IIT/BITS as a license to an unwarranted superiority complex (which only some of them have the right to posess, justified on the basis of their achievements). That is quite appalling. The arrogance and elitist attitude posessed by some students of India's top colleges is fueled SOLELY by success in entrance examinations (as in, that is their only 'achievement'. They'll sleep in their hostel rooms, play games 24/7 and claim to be superior to others, i've seen it first hand). The sheer disregard for other aspects of somebody's personality is appalling.

Instead of worrying about faculty/infrastructure crunch, some IITians have a problem with the fact that the new IITs will make their 'superior' status more accessible to people. That just reeks of distateful elitism. As you mentioned, the demand for higher education in India is huge compared to the supply. Yet people choose to have ego issues, instead of pondering over the real problem.

myopic astronomer said...

Thanks exec,

Indeed, real problem is simple, lack of competition. Seriously, when students go to Harvard or MIT (or anywhere even within India), they are bound to meet smarter people, or more hard-working people. It is how you learn skills, how you utilize them, where you employ them, and in which manner. This, along with healthy habits for life, should all be a part of education, not just number crunching.