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More seats at the IITs: The Wages of Populism

Indian Institutes of Technology have decided to increase the proportion of post-graduate students and Ph.D. scholars to 60 per cent over a period of time.

twitter-logo Goutam Das        Last Updated: September 18, 2013  | 16:42 IST
More seats at the IITs: The Wages of Populism

Goutam Das
Feted engineering schools, Indian Institutes of Technology have decided to increase the proportion of post-graduate students and Ph.D. scholars to 60 per cent over a period of time, a senior government official said.

The IITs, which induct both graduate and post graduate students, aim to increase research capabilities at the institutes by this decision, said R.P. Sisodia, Joint Secretary in charge of Higher Education in the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

"The IITs would increase their proportion of PG students to 60 per cent so as to focus more on research and also to provide more opportunities to students of diverse backgrounds. It would also diversify the profile of IIT with more 'inter-disciplinarity' and de-emphasizing the purely engineering course," Sisodia said.

At India's older IITs, the ratio of post-graduate to graduate students is roughly in the 50:50 ratio, said Devang Khakhar, Director, IIT-Bombay. Of the nearly 1,800 students graduating from IIT-Bombay, 800 to 900 are post-graduates and Ph.D. scholars, he added. But the ratio is skewed in favour of graduate students in the newer 11 IITs.

Financial daily Mint reported on Tuesday that the council of IITs had decided to increase student intake by 60 per cent. It was also not clear that the decision pertained only to raising the proportion of post-graduate students at the institutes.

While no time frame for this increase in post-graduate seats was cited in the Mint report, the decision appears more populist than practical. The minister in charge of technical education in the central government - in this case Union Human Resource Development Minister Pallam Raju - is part of the council of IITs, and such statements of intent always vibe well before the general elections, due next year.

The 2008 decision to increase the number of IITs also had distinct political undertones. There are 16 IITs now, nine of which began in or after 2008. The new IITs were announced by the late Minister of Human Resource Development Arjun Singh on March 28, 2008, ahead of the 2009 general elections.*

Why is such a dramatic increase in intake not practical? Business Today, in its May 12 edition, had noted that the IIT Brand has been broken and one of the key reasons for it was the sudden expansion in their number. (See http://businesstoday.intoday.in/story/brand-iit-losing-sheen/1/194169.html)

Many of the new IITs (the ones at Bhubaneshwar, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Jodhpur, Ropar, Patna, Indore and Mandi) don't have adequate physical infrastructure. Neither have they enough teachers. The teacher-student ratio even in the older IITs is trending at 1:16 while ideally it should be 1:10. Quality recruitments have not kept pace with the sudden expansion in the number of seats.

In 2007, IITs had 5,537 seats. This jumped 74 per cent to 9,647 by 2012, with most of the expansion happening in the reserved categories. All this has resulted in a dilution in the quality of education imparted.

The IITs should perhaps focus more on quality than quantity. India produces enough engineers but only a handful is employable. Surveys have shown that only one in four engineers graduating from colleges is fit to be employed. If the country has to get back its lost growth momentum, it needs many more skilled and productive engineers to build its bridges, roads, power plants and airplanes. 

(*An earlier version of this story was based on published reports that IITs had decided to increase student intake by 60 per cent.)


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