Should we Rethink the Evolving Position and Mandate of the IITs to ensure continued Quality and Emphasis.
Without doubt, the Indian Institutes of Technology, or the IITs, are Indian higher education’s crown jewels.
In a variety of fields in technology and engineering, and in the past decade, in science and innovation by research parks, they are world-renowned for the quality of their graduates and for their academic programs. In the global rankings, they are among the few Indian higher education institutions that perform fairly well.
However, the IIT “system” has grown beyond its ability to sustain its high expectations over the past decade or so and, according to current plans, is in danger of falling into mediocrity. The recent decision of the University Grants Commission to allow select IITs to set up campuses abroad under the category of ‘Institutions of Eminence’ could further weaken these already stretched institutions. In order to ensure that quality and emphasis are preserved and by prioritizing India’s needs, but with a 21st century twist, it is time to reconsider the changing position and mandate of IITs.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the initial five IITs were developed. IIT Bombay (Soviet Union), IIT Madras (Germany), IIT Kanpur (USA), and IIT Delhi had four foreign collaborators: (the United Kingdom). There are 23 IITs actually. After the establishment of IIT Delhi in 1961, the sixth IIT in Guwahati took another 34 years to construct (1994). Since then, 17 more IITs, including several resulting from the upgrading of established institutions, have been developed. The IITs are small institutions with an average student enrolment in the five older IITs of about 10,000, according to data available to the Council of Indian Institutes of Technology. With fewer than 400 students, some of the newer ones remain quite small. There are about 1,000 schools in the older IITs, while some of the latest ones, such as those in Palakkad and Jammu, hire about 100. In addition, the majority of IITs suffer from a severe shortage of professors.
IITs are not universities; they do not have the breadth and scale of disciplines that characterize universities around the world. The IITs began as undergraduate institutions; small post-graduate programs were gradually introduced, but some are now adding extensive post-graduate. Similarly, there are few programmes for community outreach.
Such an approach could avoid disruption, as in the case of Goa, where local groups are resisting the establishment of a new IIT in their area.
What’s the way Ahead:
For India, maybe 10 to 12 “real” IITs located near major cities are realistic. In order to produce high quality graduates and good study, some of the newly formed institutes can be renamed and provided with adequate resources.
A more restricted “IIT system” needs to be sponsored at the level of “world class” and staffed by “world class” faculty, maybe with some globally recruited from top universities.