Brand IIT versus GoI. It’s only the latest battle in this summer of seemingly endless discontent. Union minister for human resource development Kapil Sibal continues his on-off battle to snap away at the heels of the IIT-combine in his quest to rewrite the statute books. Sibal’s goal of a single engineering examination for the centres par excellence and all engineering colleges has caused consternation and heartburn. But, more importantly, it has led to plenty of confusion (and even fear) among the hundreds of thousands of students lining up to enter the portals of the country’s premier engineering institutes.
Sources in the HRD ministry insist the entire exercise was conducted democratically. But when Sibal found very few takers for his proposal, which he wanted to introduce by 2013, he decided to ram them home. The result—a mutiny by the IITs.
The media has reported extensively on how the IIT combine shot down Sibal’s proposal back in 2010 when he had constituted a committee under Damodar Acharya, director, IIT-Kharagpur, to propose a common engineering examination with adequate weightage to Class 12 examinations. When this was rejected, another committee recommended a two-tier exam—one for screening, and the second, an advanced one, with Class 12 exam scores having 40 per cent weightage. This, too, the IITs rejected. And now, yet again, they’re raising the banner of revolt, citing that IITs are autonomous institutes governed by an act of Parliament and whose affairs the GoI should stay out of.
Are the IITs then really as cussed and resistant to change as they’re being made out to be? At the 44th meeting of the Council of IITs (comprising ex-officio members of IITs, directors and chairmen, secretary-MHRD and other officials) in the HRD ministry, held on May 12, with the exception of IIT-Guwahati, it was decided to retain the existing examination format for next year. The IITs also broadly agreed on the following:
Says A.K. Chaturvedi, dean, IIT-Kanpur, “We are open to discussions. But we strongly feel that what Sibal is proposing will not only lead to more stress but also lead to the mushrooming of thousands of coaching institutes—both of which the minister wanted to bring down. The proposals suggested by him defeat his twin purposes.” Each of the IITs has a separate senate, which exercises control on the admission procedure. In this raging debate, the senates, at times, are at variance with the council. Broadly, the senates of IITs, with the exception of IIT-Guwahati, have agreed on the following:
While seeking time, the IITs’ resistance to board exams serving as markers for admission stems from a concern: the heterogeneity in syllabus, instruction and evaluation process across boards makes standardisation unfeasible. Evidently, the ministry hasn’t factored this in.
Sibal too has his supporters. “Since the boards and their examination standards were different, it was felt that the candidates should be evaluated through a common examination,” says Damodar Acharya, director, IIT-Kharagpur. SAT in the US, he goes on to add, forms one component of the basis for admission, the other components being school performance and recommendations from teachers. In India, admission to engineering schools is based entirely on a student’s performance in the JEE. Academically, this is not the best solution.
As someone who has considerable stake in this raging debate for the sheer effort in enabling the most depressed sections dream of getting into the IITs, Super 30 coach Anand Kumar’s mobile phone has not stopped ringing. He even has anxious students and parents land up at his doorstep. “My students, current, past and future, are calling me up and expressing concern about the proposals. Will poor students be affected by the change, they ask me.”
Poor students will be affected if school marks were accorded weightage. “The marks awarded are so low that they cannot compete with ICSE or CBSE,” says Anand. “If the new system comes into being, they would be overlooked. They would have to go back to being sweepers and compounders in spite of having the potential to be engineers and scientists.”
In Kota town of Rajasthan, better known as the epicentre of IIT-JEE coaching, the centres have woken up to the import of the new policy in the offing. Out here, many appear for exams from the centres at Kota or from their hometowns, not from the schools they have studied at. Sibal’s changes would mean these centres will have to reorient their package to include preparations for board exams—the results of which will matter in Sibal’s scheme of things.
Tamalika Basu, who has been at the famed Bansal Institute in Kota for 20 days, thinks differently. “The Bansal Institute,” she says, “is teaching me five steps to learning. When I can clear them, they say I will clear IIT—so I would certainly be able to clear my board exams. And I don’t need to attend school for it. I’ll stay on here in Bansal by registering my centre in a dummy school to write my exams.” As things stand, such dummy schools (or schools where one appears for Class 12 exams) will provide the cushion for students to continue with their IIT-JEE preparations alongside board exams.
Where, from here? Students at the Chaitanya Academy, Hyderabad. (Photograph by P. Anil Kumar)
Former IITians, who never really sever the umbilical cord with their alma mater, feel there has been too much interference with the IIT system. Arjun Malhotra, an alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur, chairman of global IT giant Headstrong, and one of the most prominent voices amongst the IIT alumni, says, “I don’t know the objective behind the common exam, but it is completely irrational. My view is simple: why try and fix something that is not broken?”
People attached to the IIT universe say that Sibal’s attempt to equate the combined exams for engineering colleges with GMAT/GRE is faulty. Students get several chances in a year to take exams like the GMAT or GRE and the scores are valid for a specified period of time. No such system has been proposed for the new joint entrance exams. A bigger problem is that, with all the major engineering exams coming under one umbrella, should a student miss the date or is unable to take the exam, he/she loses an entire year. Again, there is total ambiguity on this aspect.
Fundamentally, it’s a deep-rooted opposition. A common examination would equate the IIT brand with “smaller” entities and take away the vaunted IIT-JEE control away from them. Says Sandipan Deb, an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, “The IITs were built to be centres of excellence, with the best students and the best teachers. It was an elitist concept, as out of a lakh applications only 2,000-3,000 could get in. But all great education systems, like Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard, are elitist.”
It was probably because of this closely-controlled IIT system that the Singapore government in February this year expressed a desire to have an IIT campus in their country, which already has campuses from great universities like Johns Hopkins. In fact, PanIIT, an influential IIT alumni association, too has written to the HRD minister voicing its concerns against standardisation, and advising him to respect their autonomy.
Whether you see merit in Sibal’s proposal or in the IITs’ opposition to it, one thing is clear: the current stand-off isn’t helping anyone, least of all, IIT aspirants. Five lakh of them take the JEE, and another 10 lakh the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE). They are uncertain about how Sibal’s proposed combined exam will work for them—and whether it will be fair. There are many doubters at the moment. Sibal will need to do more than standardise the system. He also needs to get back to the basics, starting with sorting out our schools.
By Anuradha Raman with Arindam Mukherjee, Chandrani Banerjee, Madhavi Tata, Dola Mitra and Pushpa Iyengar
Your article So Who Wants to do JEE-Huzoori? was brilliant. We hope Kapil Sibal does not enforce a common entrance test on engineering aspirants.
Ajinkya Sathe, Delhi
All that Sibal’s meddling will do is reduce IITs to the level of second-rung institutions. Schools will boost Class 12 marks and, contrary to Sibal’s belief, coaching institutions will continue to thrive as before. I write this as an anguished professor who retired from IIT Madras.
Dr V. Mahadevan, Chennai
To get the true mental worth of an IIT grad—no matter what Ivy League college he may have been to later, no matter what his life achievements—ask him his JEE ranking.
The IIT brand exists for a reason—high-quality intake. But the JEE doesn’t examine creative or critical thinking. Scores of coaching institutions have ensured that a certain kind of study methodology—rigorous it is—can see any hard-working student into the IITs. Even so, I believe what Sibal is coming up with will be a one-size-fits-all strategy. It will be disastrous.
Rajesh, Phoenix, US
Dr Pritam Singh, a former IIM director you quote, is bang on when he says an institution’s branding rests not on its entrance test but on the kind of intellectual capital it produces. By that token, the IITs have created more bankers than innovators and solution-providers.
Kishore Dasmunshi, Calcutta
The IITs are no different from coaching institutions: they are stepping stones for students to make it to universities abroad, especially in the US. In the worldwide rankings, the IITs fare worse than some second-rung overseas institutions.
Kiran, Grenoble, France
If India is low on human development indices after 60 years of independence, it is because Nehru was wrong in focusing on institutions of higher learning rather than on school-level education across the country.
Sometime ago, the self-proclaimed ‘greatest scientist in India’ C.N.R. Rao wanted a common entrance test for all state colleges. ‘Intellectuals’ hailed him. Now the HRD has come up with a proposal for institutions that it has built and continues to fund, and the intellectuals boo.
(1) Quality and quantity usually do not go together. There is such fierce competition among students seeking admission to IITs because of quality of education in IITs and also (a) because elsewhere the same quality of education is unavailable, and (b) IITs cannot accommodate all good students because of limited seats. (2) Coaching classes have become important because of the perception that teachers in regular colleges have neither the inclination nor the skills to help n students to clear the IIT entrance examination with high percentages. (3)It is unlikely that one common entrance examination would reduce the increasing influence and involvement of coaching classes in IIT admissions. (4) It is time we create institutions which will be a good alternative to the IITs. (5) One long term solution is to set up new Institutes of Technology (let us call them 'Model IITs’) and ensure that all deserving students from economically weaker sections in both urban and rural areas get admissions in these Model IITs. In about ten years, we may see a healthy competition between students for seats in both the old IITs and Model IITS. (6) Retired faculty of the IITs may be of considerable help in the field of training of new faculty. Good remuneration and freedom to work without unnecessary bureaucratic interference are prerequisites for attracting talented youth to teaching jobs.
Yes, Ramki - I second your request. Saying RTE or the latest RTE act is just not enough. It is a start and necessary but very very insufficient. Also, a lot of education institutes getting exclusions from RTE are deeply concerning .... I recall reading that even DPS is not under the purview of the RTE act. That would an indication of deep flaw and loopholes as big as a crater.
A Humble Request to Kapil Sibal,
India stands today very low in most universal HDI Indicators and also is an unequal society and all this is after 57 years of secular , socialist aam admi congress government. The root cause of this is poor state of school education across India. Nehruvian Vision of giving importance to IITs and higher education rather than primary education was extremely flawed. But you and your party still refuses to acknowledge that. Ok let us leave that aside. Let the existing IITs be given freedom to function as they like but should be asked to increasingly be self financing.
You and your party and your government should stop wasting time and money on IIT issues. Instead, have a plan in place to bring 100% literacy to India. Invest massively in primary and secondary education and ensure that 90% of Indians by 2025 are school passouts . This single step alone will help India to erase inequality and bring a more civilized and disciplined society. For GOD's sake, Leave IITs aside, there are bigger battles to win.
" Using 12th as barrier will disallow some one who couldnt do well in 12th because of sickness or some other problem."
Same can be said the other way around too - someone sick during JEE or having other problems even though with great 12th scores will also not get in today. These are just exceptions - they don't make a case one way or the other.
"What IITian should do after their degree is their personal liberty and who are others to tell them what should be done?"
Applies to any one, why just IITians, as home truths just like motherhood and applepie. Not sure what was the point?
The rest of it sounds like "Blame everyone else but IITs/IITians are of course washed in milk - the new Brahmins". I recall a friend of mine from a lab of a Fortune 500 technology company, looking to start "labs" within IITs (and some other supposedly great research institutes). He was literally roaming around with a suitcase of $$s and none of these chaps showed any initiative, motivation to want and showcase themselves for getting the grant. The message he heard was we get enough (for our needs) from the Government, so don't really need yours because for that I will have to really work and show something ... only reason your money is important for me and my assistants to go on foreign trips without too many questions asked.
Look it is no rocket science, to take the "best" academically, at least those with proven capablity of doing well in exams, and then making them do well in more exams for the rest of the 4 years. We just go on and on about it as if it is best thing since sliced bread. In the big global arena IITs are unees bees comapred to the other NITs, etc and not much to write home about except oft repeated homilies and marketing messages.
kya ho gaya hai is aadami ko yaar.
By no mean everything is right with IITs. There must be many wrongs. But he has much bigger problems in hand to fix first.
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