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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, not withstanding the fact that some of the newly set up IITs (in 2008-09) do not have their own campuses yet, and function out of the campuses of the mentor IITs. With the establishment of these new institutes without adequate infrastructure, the favouritism towards the old and established IITs is ever increasing.

“The situation is such that it creates a sort of hierarchy among the IITs itself,” opines Mohit Goel, who completed his BTech in electrical engineering from IIT Bombay in 1994. He says that a similar situation occurred when IIT Guwahati and Roorkee were started. Aspirants preferred the five existing institutes to the new ones. Now these two have joined the ranks of the older institutes and the new ones are ‘less preferred’. The rankings of the established IITs (see table) are always very high (among the top 10 engineering colleges in India). It will be a Herculean task for the new ones to catch up quickly.
Do these factors, then, dilute the value of that coveted IIT degree? “Until the newer IITs get their infrastructure and other facilities in place, temporarily the brand may be diluted. That said, there is a need to offer the IIT world-class education to a larger number of people without having to rebuild the branding of the world-class institute,” says Pranjal Pathak and alumnus of IIT Kanpur, electrical engineering, 1996.

According to Pathak and others, with a population over one billion, India can sustain a large number of IITs. However, it is imperative thatstandards be maintained in the new IITs by ensuring funding, attracting top talent to participate in the individual institute’s development and ensuring that operating processes and academic rigour are maintained with integrity, openness and honesty. From this perspective it seems plausible that the new IITs will pull their acts together, and in a few years will offer the educational facilities at par with any of the established institutes. Until then, however, most aspirants want to be a part only of the first seven IITs and would prefer other premier institutes, like the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and Birla Institutes of Technology (BITS), to the newer IITs. Says fourth-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.

“From the market perspective, recruiters are already aware of the quality of students from the established IITs and hence they know what to expect and offer. With the new IITs, they will still be testing ground, and the first few batches of graduates from these new IITs 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. Had the newer IITs already established themselves well, I would have thought about it,” 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 to, you have an IIT degree for life!” he says.

Rajesh Patnaik, who graduated in mechanical engineering from IIT Kanpur in 1994, also went on to pursue his MTech there. He strongly believes that if the IITs want to cast their nets 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 place 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 Patnaik, once the matrix of measure is set and achieved, there should not be a problem of bias at all, though, for now, it remains 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 institues is that there is no challenge of legacy, 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. “Hostel life and the class experiences are the same, no matter which IIT 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’.”

Considering that only one from every 61 applicants can get into an IIT, there is no way that any of the IITs will see a shortage of applicants any time soon. It is just a matter of time until the new institutes catch up. Kedar Shiroor, who graduated in civil engineering in 2002 says, “I really think this gives so many more smart people the opportunity to graduate from an IIT. With the market growing in India by the day, and brain drain becoming less of an issue, more IITs will help improve the quality of education in India.” He leaves us with a bit of food for thought: “With our growing population, why have only four or five premier engineering schools? Take the US, or some countries in Europe, for example – they have tons of 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?”

                                               Outlook          India Today

IIT Kharagpur                        1                           3

IIT Delhi                                   4                          2

IIT Bombay                             2                           –

IIT Kanpur                              3                          1

IIT Madras                              5                          4

IIT Roorkee                            6                          5

IIT Guwahati                          –                          10

IIT Locations in Order of Founding

Kharagpur – 1950; as IIT in 1951

Mumbai – 1958

Chennai – 1959

Kanpur – 1959

Delhi – 1961; as IIT in 1963

Guwahati – 1994

Roorkee – 1847; as IIT in 2001

Ropar – 2008

Bhubaneswar – 2008

Gandhinagar – 2008

Hyderabad – 2008

Patna – 2008

Jodhpur – 2008

Mandi – 2009

Indore – 2009

Volume 1 Issue 10

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