Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Many IITs are there in India?

I had the opportunity to attend 2010 PANIIT conclave as a IIT-Kharagpur spouse this year - i.e. as an impartial observer. One of the first things I noticed was the large number of new IITs - Its hard to miss the new banner; in places I had not even heard of. On the other hand, how many had heard of Kharagpur which houses one of the oldest IITs? I was not the only one noticing this. Alumnae discussions on the topic expressed concern of maintaining quality in the face of such aggressive expansion and the notoriously slow pace of government decision-making. At the same time Alumnae from different IITs vied with each other on how bad conditions were in IIT when they went there - from yellow water in Kharagpur to deplorable food in Delhi.
I believe that the expansion is a great thing and long overdue. And the risks of quality can be well managed for the following reasons:
1- Students: The older IIT capacity is so far below the number of brilliant available minds applying that even with the expansion- only the best will be able to get in. At alumnae meets I always hear that it is having brilliant students as companions made the IIT experience what it was. So this will not change.
2- Teachers: I personally know 2 brilliant deans who now have an opportunity to head a new IIT. Without growth they would not have the opportunity. I do not believe these teachers will compromise. As a daughter of parents (mother and father) who chose the teaching profession - I believe there is a lot more than money that attracts teachers - they will give it their best. With opportunity comes fresh ideas and new hope - it will trickle down from deans to the rest of the staff.
3- Curriculum: Nehru's vision for a free India included science and technology. And the great emphasis in IIT on that has paid a huge dividend for India. But times have changed - we are now in the knowledge economy where innovation is the name of the game. Improving the social sciences, medicine and arts curricula may be easier in the new IIT's and will certainly be a boost for students inclined towards disciplines beyond technology.
All in all, Its a great step forward for India.

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