Identity Crisis


The choice of institutes for a student, whichever the field, always depends on its popularity and reputation. The question then is, does the institute make the person? Youth Inc finds out

You meet two executives with similar profiles in a day, engineering followed by an MBA. You come away impressed by one, and not so impressed by the other. Why is it that the minute someone says he’s an IIT or IIM alumnus, we automatically form a kind of prejudicial liking for him?
“Whatever be the case, there is a need to offer world-class education to a larger number of people without having to rebuild the branding of the world class institute,” says Pranjal Pathak, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, electrical engineering, 1996.
Over 4.5 lakh students take the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for entrance to India’s most prestigious institutes, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Despite the fact that over the last three years, eight new IITs have been set up, the ratio of admission to the IITs is at 1:61. This, even after the fact that some of the newly set up IITs do not have their own campuses yet and are functioning out of the campuses of the mentor IITs – the existing ones.
“The situation is such that it does not matter after a point in time which IIT you are from, as long as you have that tag. And you have it for life! I definitely have met with several advantages due to the tag in my life, and I still use the name. After all, I did go through the whole rigmarole,” opines Mohit Goel, who completed his BTech in electrical engineering from IIT Bombay in 1994 and went on to pursue management at IIM Ahemdabad.
According to him and many others, with a billion as the population, India can sustain a large number of good institutes. However, it is imperative that standards be maintained by ensuring funding, attracting top talent to participate and ensuring that operating processes and academic rigour are maintained with integrity, openness and honesty.
Says final-year civil engineering student at IIT Bombay, Neeraj Kookada, “I really didn’t care which branch I got, I just wanted to get into IIT Bombay. My branch preference was electrical engineering but I got only civil so I made the choice of institute over branch.” He adds that when students look for job opportunities after graduation, they definitely feel the difference in market reciprocation with the institute they come from.
“From the market perspective, recruiters are already aware of the quality of students from the established institutes and hence they know what to expect and offer. With other institutes they will still be testing ground, and the first few batches of graduates from these new institutes will definitely feel the pressure,” Kookada adds. This is also the opinion of HSC science student Anuj Mahanta who will take the JEE this year. “I am very sure that if I do not get IIT Bombay or Delhi, I am going to opt for another institute. My parents do not want me to take a chance with my career. It has to be a reputed organisation,” he says.
Shashikanth Sooryanarayanan, Professor of mechanical engineering at IIT Bombay, feels that from the student’s perspective, the established institutes have more to offer. “With the newer institutes, it is just not the same disposition. At this moment of course, students may not opt for the newer institutes as they want to move to bigger things in life. But over a period of time, it doesn’t matter which IIT you go you, you have an IIT degree for life!” he says.
Patnaik, also went on to pursue his MTech there itself. He strongly believes that if the IITs want to cast their net wider, the average standard of students coming out of the IITs will go down until the new institutes raise their level. “Having a brand name does not make an institute at par with the established ones. What is required is a sensible plan of investment, maybe innovative ways of self-funding and a threshold for standards that should be attained in time. These include infrastructure, quality of student output and most importantly, quality of faculty,” he says. According to him, once the matrix of measure is set and achieved, there should not be a problem of bias at all. Interestingly, he compares the situation to a chicken and egg situation. “To have a brand name, you need quality students and faculty…but to have that, you need a good reputation! I think the way out for the new institutes is to just push themselves and market themselves,” he adds. He also feels that the one thing going for the new institutes is that there is no challenge of legacy — there is none, so they can build their own character the way they want.
Brand value aside, the one thing that is common across the board is the experience one gathers by being part of an institution like the IIT or IIM. “Hostel life and the class experiences are the same, no matter which institute you choose,” says Kookada. Patnaik adds, “Going through such an institute, the sheer brilliance of the people you meet there, adds to your own intellect. And if you follow their progress after getting out, you feel proud to be associated with such geniuses.”
All said and done, considering that only one of every 61 applicants can get into an IIT, there is no way everyone can be an alumnus of such institues. However, it is just a matter of time that the new institutes catch up. Kedar Shiroor, who graduated in civil engineering in 2002, “I really think that many other institutes are at par, but just don;t have the brand name yet. Still, these institutes give many more smart people the opportunity to study at a good institute.” He leaves us with a bit of food for thought: “With our growing population, why have only four or five premier institutions in any field? Take the US or some countries in Europe for example – they have many great schools with amazing facilities, which only leads to a great future for so many kids. Why can’t we create such an ecosystem within India?”

Volume 1 Issue 5


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