August 08, 2020
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To Flower And Flourish

Educational institutions have to create their own excellence ecosystems

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To Flower And Flourish

This annual ranking of Indian professional colleges ends with the iits again dominating the engineering landscape. Our top institutes still do not do so well on international rankings. We number over 15 per cent of the world’s population, and should have over 15 per cent of the world’s top brains and academic institutions. Even as a society we value education, and have had institutions in place for a very long time. Given this, one cannot help but wonder about whether we are evaluating our institutions in the right context.

Great academicians, for example, are usua­lly characterised by an ability to inspire the next generation to greater heights in their area of expertise. Is this really happening? For instance, should placements really be evaluated on conventional parameters like average salary, number of people placed etc, or should they be evaluated on how relevant these placements are to the streams which the students studied in? Because only 10-20 per cent of jobs are in core engineering streams, the rest are in areas like IT etc.

Electrical, electronic, metallurgical, civil and mechanical engineers are building code, perhaps world-class code, but code nonetheless. We have top-end talent from the iits going into the management stream, and then happily selling soap, detergents etc. Is this what these institutes were set up to do? Most developments in new materials come in to India—where are our metallurgical scientists? We are unable to build cryogenic engines, jet trainers, helicopters, or even a world-class tank. In an oil-deficit country, have we indigenously developed world-class alternative energy systems? In a water-poor country, we still have to look to countries like Israel for world-class irrigation systems. The litany of things we cannot do, which we should have been able to, seems endless. However, our professional colleges alone cannot be held responsible for these. Highly respected professionals blame the environment for these lacunae. They claim that:

  • We have top-end talent from the IITs going into the management stream, and then happily selling soap, detergents etc. Is this what top-notch engineers are meant to do?

    The government did not provide funding for R&D.(Actually, state funding has always been available for defence, aerospace, space).

  • An ecosystem for innovation did not exist. (How pray did the IT industry flourish?)
  • The infrastructure is poor, so how can we set up world-class units? (By investing in solutions, not complaints, perhaps?)
  • Private institutes are owned by politically connected people who do not pay attention to academics, but run these purely as moneymaking units. (This may be true, but many of our best institutions are private, and run by trusts which are committed to doing a great job.)

Experience of the previous decade, and pronouncements of the current government indicate that we are now developing an ecosystem which is taking care of most of these issues. I believe that our institutes can now become the best in the world, if they take responsibility for more than degree delivery. Institutes have to set high standards, benchmark their performance globally. They have to create the ecosystem for excellence themselves, and network strongly with industry—they cannot remain in ivory towers. The industry, as it has begun to do recently, is likely to reciprocate.

(Balaji is MD, Drshti Strategic Research Services)

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