Kannan M. Moudgalya August 24, 2006
1 Shortage of good quality engineering seats 2
2 Solution 4
2.1 RecruitIITM.Techsasteachersofengineeringcolleges. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 2.2 MakeitattractiveforM.Techgraduatestobecometeachers . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 2.3 Studentfeesaresufficienttopaygoodsalaries.................... 8 2.4 Give liberal scholarships to students of engineering colleges . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
3 Why we should scrap the undergraduate education at IITs 10
3.1 Thewell-to-dohaveabetterchanceofgettingintoIITs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 3.2 ExcellenceiscomingdownatIITs .......................... 12 3.3 StudentperformanceisdeterioratingatIITs..................... 12 3.4 WhyIITscan’tsetbetterJEE ............................ 13 3.5 Destructionofchildhoodoffuturegenerations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 3.6 IITJEEaffectsthecollegesystem .......................... 14
4 Impact of this proposal 14
4.1 ImpactonR&Dinthecountry ............................ 14 4.2 Brandsubstitution ................................... 15
5 Implementation 16
5.1 Whowillstartthesecolleges?............................. 16 5.2 Safeguards........................................ 16 5.3 Holisticplansrequired,notkneejerkreactions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
6 Who will not like this proposal 18
7 Conclusions 18
8 Epilogue 19
9 SWOT analysis 20
The problems that India face are typical of a developing country: a lopsided development
The problems caused by not having uniform development of our countryside or by not having drinking water are well known. In this article, I would like to focus on education. A recent McKinsey study by Farrell, Kaka and Sturze states that the 83 human-resources managers whom they interviewed were ready to employ only 10% of the Indian students with generalist degrees in the arts and humanities and 25% of all Indian engineering graduates. One major reason for such a small percentage being employable is, “the quality of India’s universities varies a great deal. Graduates of the top schools, such as the seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the six Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), are world class, but elsewhere the level of quality declines steeply.” This means that even after spending a lot of money on higher education, a large number of our graduates are likely to be unemployed.
Interestingly, the NASSCOM study shows that there are one lakh vacancies in IT sector alone and that it would increase to about five lakhs in 2010. On the one hand we have unem- ployment of graduates and on the other shortage of people. What is the catch? It is that there is a shortage of qualified people and that the lots of unemployed graduates are unfit because of their poor education levels. If we don’t correct this problem, it will lead to increased income imbalance and unrest.
In this article, I present a method to improve the quality of engineering education in the country. I argue that this can be done by encouraging M.Tech students to take up faculty positions in engineering colleges and paying them a salary in the range of 3.6 to 5 lakhs a year. I propose that IITs take part in this national endeavour by producing a large number of M.Tech graduates.
In order to facilitate this, IITs should stop providing undergraduate education. I argue that the IIT B.Tech brand has become too big to be affordable to the poorer sections of the society. I explain how this selection process is damaging the childhood of our children, producing burnt- out aspirants and causing irrepairable damage to our college education. I reason that we can replace the IIT B.Tech brand with an equally good, if not better, IIT M.Tech brand. This solution, while greatly improving the level of engineering education in the country, will also do a lot of good to the R&D in the country.
The proposed solution is scalable and hence can provide engineering education, almost on demand. This will also convert India into a hub for world class engineering education. Needless to say, this is the only way to meet the aspirations of the downtrodden in the country, without affecting the chances of the advanced sections of the society. Finally, the proposal outlined here will release a lot of Government resources that can be gainfully employed for promoting elementary education as well as science education, both of which have not received the attention that they deserve.
1 Shortage of good quality engineering seats
Many industry associations complain about the shortage of skilled people. The most vocal of them is NASSCOM, that represents the IT industry. It estimates that there is a shortage of about one lakh skilled computer and IT professionals in the country. If we include other sectors, the shortages could be even higher.
We have demonstrated to the world how technology can be used to overcome several difficult problems and how it often offers the least expensive solutions. Our President, Dr. Abdul Kalam, in his book 2020, explains in detail what all needs to be done in the country and how we need a large supply of engineers for that purpose. Naturally, the great shortage of qualified engineers affects our progress.
The engineering seats that make up a miniscule 2.5% of the population are also not of good quality and not much effort is spent to address it. There have been talks about staring several more IITs, though. Unfortunately, however, this is not a feasible solution for the following reasons. The first reason is that there is a big shortage of faculty members in IITs already. How will the Government find faculty for the new IITs? The Times article, “More seats? OK, but where’s the faculty to teach?”, dated 17 May 2006, lists the following vacancies in some of the IITs:
The second difficulty in starting new IITs is the cost involved. To start a new IIT, compa- rable to the existing ones, it will cost more than Rs. 1,000 crore. Although this amount is small compared to our GDP, it is a large amount compared to the expenditure incurred on primary education and the university education. In fact, there is a fear that new IITs could eat into the funding available for these institutions.
There are about 20 to 25 engineering colleges that people perceive to be the best of engineer- ing colleges. Some of them are NIT Trichy, NIT Suratkal, BITS Pilani, Jadhavpur university and Anna university. It is not surprising that these colleges have about 50% of their faculty positions vacant, given that IITs themselves have vacancies. Although the students who study in these colleges are in no way inferior to those who study at IITs, the shortage of faculty affects them. If the top engineering colleges have about 50% vacancy, one does not have to talk about the other colleges. It is fair to say that because all the engineering students come in the select 2.5% of the population, all of them will do well, if only good teachers are available.
One of the main reasons why we cannot get good faculty members is the low salary offered to them. In a college that pays the full salaries on a regular basis, the starting salary of a faculty member is about Rs. 15,000 per month, all inclusive. Because of the pyramid structure in colleges, it takes a while to move up and get higher salaries.
Unfortunately, however, many other colleges don’t even pay these salaries regularly. IIT Professors who go for AICTE inspection have told me that some colleges pay their faculty only the basic part of the salary - no dearness pay and no dearness allowance. There are colleges that recruit temporary lecturers, only when the college is in session, thereby saving on the vacation salary. There are also colleges that have their lectures delivered by visiting staff, who are paid on an hourly basis.
Because of these reasons, one does not get many good people to take up teaching positions. Often, only those who cannot get any other jobs are recruited. Many B.E. students become teachers immediately after graduation. I don’t imply that all current teachers are of poor
IIT Sanctioned Number Actual Strength
Delhi 538 418 Bombay 529 410 Kharagpur 667 470 Guwahati 171 166 Madras 425 360 Roorkee 575 345
A large majority of faculty positions are vacant in the colleges. A large percentage of faculty is poorly trained, poorly motivated and temporary. The resulting atmosphere is catastrophic. As one is always thinking about the career move, there is no time for scholarship. The Head of the Department of a good college once complained to me that he could discuss scientific topics with just one colleague in the entire department.
Given that the field of education is people intensive, that we have a capable population and that we also have a large unemployment, it is ironic that we have such a large shortage of faculty. It is also ironic that we demand other countries to open up for employment of white collar workers, but have done precious little in our own country.
Do we have low salaries for the teachers of engineering colleges because the students don’t pay enough? Through calculations, I will demonstrate that the students pay quite a bit.
Engineering colleges have become a lot more expensive than ever. Most of them are privately run. For example, more than 90% of the engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu are private colleges. A cost of Rs. 50,000 a year per student has become a common thing in most colleges. I will shortly show that this is a substantial amount, sufficient to pay well the college professors.
Students also spend a lot on IIT-JEE coaching. The IIT coaching industry is estimated to be about Rs. 3,000 crore. Assuming that 50% of the four lakh students who write JEE are serious about IIT, and that they take up coaching, the amount spent by one student on JEE coaching is Rs. 1.5 lakh.
If we don’t have sufficient seats of good quality in the country, it is natural that our students go to other countries. These students spend a lot of money in US and UK alone, as there is no financial support for undergraduate education. The Times article, “For 12th graders, it’s destination US, UK” by Shreya Rao on 29 May 2006 gives the number of students who go to US and UK for undergraduate education and the cost per person per year. From this article, I have extracted the following Table:
Number of undergraduate students studying overseas
Because it takes four years to complete the undergraduate education, the total amount spent in the US is Rs. 16,500x4x25,000x47, which is, Rs. 7,755 crore. A similar amount for UK is Rs. 3,000x4x20000x86, which is 2,064 crore. I have taken dollar and pound exchange rates to be Rs. 47 and Rs. 86, respectively. The actual exchange rate for the end user could be even higher. Thus, the total cost of undergraduate education overseas is about Rs. 10,000 crore, well in excess of $2 billion per year. Considering that the number of undergraduates studying overseas is growing at the rate of 20%, we should see larger outflows in the future.
It is interesting to compare this figure with the salary paid to all the teachers of all the engineering colleges. Assuming a student to faculty ratio of 20, and an average annual salary of Rs. 4 lakh, for five lakh students, the annual faculty salary comes out to be (500000/20)x4 lakhs, which is, Rs. 1,000 crore only!
2003-04 2004-05 Cost/year
US 13,500 16,500 USD 25,000 UK 3,000 GBP 20,000
At this point, I cannot help wondering what per cent of this overseas expenditure is sup- ported by bank loans and what the default rate is.
2.1 Recruit IIT M.Techs as teachers of engineering colleges
I will shortly present a detailed calculation of how the fees paid by the students are sufficient to pay good salaries to teachers. For now, I will now explain how the IIT system can be used to overcome the faculty shortage in engineering colleges.
The solution to faculty shortage in engineering colleges becomes clear if we look at the reasons why it is not possible to start new IITs: the faculty members of IITs should have a Ph.D and there are not enough of them. One needs a Ph.D at IIT because an IIT professor does not do just undergraduate teaching. They are also supposed to carry out world class research. It costs a lot of money to set up IITs, because these involve state of the art research facilities and a township.
We don’t need a Ph.D degree to teach the undergraduates. A lecturer with a good M.Tech degree can do a good job. For example, good M.Tech graduates can teach excellently, the basic courses on mechanics, heat transfer, data structures, algorithms, control, etc. without any difficulty. Contrast this with the current situation: many college lecturers have only a B.E. degree, and that too, not necessarily good - the good candidates have found better jobs!
Thus, in the proposed solution of good M.Tech graduates, both the words, namely, good and M.Tech are equally important.
How does one attract good M.Tech students to take up teaching positions in colleges? The immediate answer is, pay them well, comparable to the industry. I strongly believe that if they are paid an average salary, in the range of about Rs. 4-6 lakh/year, a good number of M.Tech graduates will take up teaching positions, at least for short periods of two to three years. It is possible to pay such salaries from the fees that the students pay, to be explained shortly. High salaries and job permanence don’t go together. I recommend that the teaching position becomes contractual.
The obvious question is where do we get so many M.Tech graduates? The answer is once again simple: let IITs produce a large number of M.Tech graduates. The next question is, how can the IITs produce a large number of M.Techs, if they are already stretched? The answer is that IITs do away with their undergraduate education and use all their teaching resources to produce a large number of M.Tech students.
At IIT Bombay, we produce about 500 B.Techs and 500 M.Techs every year. Since the B.Techs take four years to graduate, while the M.Techs require only two years, if the B.Tech education is removed, using the same resources, we can produce 1,000 additional M.Tech grad- uates. Thus, a total of 1,500 M.Tech graduates can be produced annually. In order to achieve this, we will have to augment research facilities at IITs. This will be a welcome investment, as the IITs are any way supposed to carry out world class research. Nevertheless, the intention is not to convert IITs into an exclusive research institution like IISc, but to make them into agents of change for our engineering education.
Assuming a student to faculty ratio of twenty, to teach 5,00,000 students of engineering colleges, we need 25,000 lecturers in colleges. I showed above that IIT Bombay alone can graduate 1,500 M.Techs every year. All IITs, together, can produce about 10,000 per year. Even after losing substantial numbers to industry, we will have sufficient number of graduates
The natural criticism that one may have is that the excellent undergraduate teaching
methodologies that IITs have developed will disappear all of a sudden. The answer is that I have only recommended stopping of undergraduates, not the work related to undergraduate education. The IIT faculty should write first level text books, using all the experience they have gathered. At present IIT faculty does not write many text books. It is a well known fact that the MIT faculty was given the task of writing text books in the middle of last cen- tury, as that was the need of the hour and the MIT faculty was the best to do it. Several outstanding undergraduate text books came out of MIT at that time, giving a good thrust to engineering education across the world. IITs should also document their teaching practices, admission procedures, conduct of tutorials, labs and examinations and release them in the form of reports and monographs. IITs should conduct a lot of teacher training programmes. IITs already contribute much to the Quality Improvement Programme of AICTE, but this can be enhanced further. The distance education programme through satellite transmission, internet and other channels can be used effectively for this purpose.
I also have a transition strategy for this change from B.Tech education to all exclusive M.Tech education at IITs. Every year one or two branches in every IIT should stop taking undergraduates. For example, IIT Bombay’s electrical engineering department may agree to stop enrolling undergraduates and the dual degree students from the IIT JEE pool. In its place, it may select top five students from a select list of engineering colleges and teach them for one semester. By repeating this every semester with different students, a much larger number of students can get the famous IIT education, although, for only one semester. During this period, IIT faculty may work closely with the faculty of colleges in that list and help them with several aspects of undergraduate education. Once the transition period is over, which should take a maximum of five years, IITs will get into a fully M.Tech graduation system.
Through the approach of teaching in the engineering colleges by good M.Tech students, it is possible to produce five lakh engineering graduates who are on an average about 70% as good as an average IIT B.Tech graduate. Compare this with the current levels for the engineering students now - it must be a low number like 25%, using the number from the McKinsey report. Because the spread in engineering colleges will be a lot more, and the average is about 70% of IIT level, there will be a good number of excellent graduates every year. In fact, the top 1% of them, namely 5,000 of them, will be better than most IIT graduates.
When I explained this proposal to an IIT undergraduate student, he became really unhappy. He said, “... we are taught by professors, such as, Prof. S. P. Sukhatme at IIT. If we accept your proposal, we will lose this opportunity”. My answer to him was simple. At present, Prof. Sukhatme, a foremost heat transfer expert in the country, teaches only about one hundred undergraduate students a year, most of whom don’t go into academics. In the current proposal, he will teach at least one hundred M.Tech students every year, ten of whom may become faculty members in engineering colleges and teach heat transfer. Even if we assume that they teach only half as well as Prof. Sukhatme, with time, they will mature and get better. With the large pool of such teachers produced every year, we may be successful in producing at least one more Prof. Sukhatme.
Because M.Tech will become the first degree at IIT, we will get a lot of good students at this level. As we will have a large pool of 5,00,000 BEs, who are 70% as good as IIT graduates, the level of students who appear for M.Tech entrance exams (GATE) will be a lot higher than now.
With a large number of good B.E.s and M.Techs produced every year, our industry will benefit immensely. Moreover, a large number of our graduates will take up overseas positions, expanding the spheres of our influence.
One of the complaints about this proposal may be that good M.Tech graduates will not take up a teaching job just because of good salaries and that they also need a good environment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. One of the biggest problems that the good college teachers face now is that they don’t have many people with whom they can discuss academic issues. But when the new proposal is implemented, every engineering college will have a large number of good teachers, thereby creating an environment that is conducive for discussions. With IITs graduating only M.Tech and Ph.D graduates, and the college teachers having a Masters or a Ph.D, it should be possible to set up a good many schemes for further interaction. Some visionary managements would set up good research facilities as well, encouraging its faculty to do research. Thus although the required environment does not exist at present, it can be created if we are serious about it.
2.2 Make it attractive for M.Tech graduates to become teachers
The Times article, “India’s double fault” on 27 July 2006, gives startling statistics on the absenteeism of school teachers in India. In a random unannounced survey, more than 60% of the teachers were absent in relatively better developed states, such as, Kerala and Maharashtra, with the national average being as high as 50%. If the teachers themselves don’t go to schools, will the students go? More than the salaries, it is the loss of dignity in the teaching profession that is the cause of this. The deep set malaise in our educational system starts at the school levels. The unavailability of teachers at the college level and the unemployability of most of our college graduates confirm that the cancer has spread from top to bottom.
The critics of the current proposal will argue that the M.Tech graduates of IITs will not take up faculty positions, even if good salaries are offered. The reason is obvious: as mentioned earlier, we have degraded teaching to such an extent that it is not at all respectable to join this profession. Unfortunately, it is a do or die situation. We cannot take the defeatist attitude and say that nothing can be done about this problem - I strongly feel that there is no alternative to the current proposal - we should try to make it work.
I have given a target of 10,000 M.Techs to be produced by the IITs and IISc every year. I would like to have a minimum of 2,000 of them taking up teaching positions at the engineering colleges and serving at least for two years.
The underlying theme of the current proposal is that the IITs should take an active role in the engineering education in the country. With this new direction and the active participation of the IITs, it should be possible to set up several schemes that help build the required environment in the colleges. For example, to encourage them to get involved with the colleges, IITs could be given a sum of Rs. five lakhs for every M.Tech graduate who becomes a college teacher. For the projected number of 2,000 M.Tech graduates, this will work out to Rs. 100 crores every year, which is not a large amount for the Government. Hopefully, IITs will spend a substantial part of this money to help build the infrastructure for interaction with colleges and also help find career opportunities for M.Tech graduates who take up faculty positions in the colleges.
Good academicians from IITs, IISc, RECs and other top engineering colleges should be invited to become the Principals of these colleges. If operational autonomy is offered with a good salary of about Rs. 10 lakhs per year, there should be enough takers, who will, hopefully,
Another important issue is the salary of the college teachers, which has already been ad-
dressed. The next issue is whether those who take up faculty positions will be employable in the corporate sector after two years of teaching in the colleges. The top IT companies, such as, TCS, Infosys, Wipro and Satyam could guarantee jobs for 500 M.Tech graduates each, with two years of teaching experience. Several smaller companies may also be interested in a such a scheme. A similar arrangement can be made with companies in other sectors belonging to large industrial groups, such as, Tatas, Birlas and Reliance. It should also be possible for five hundred college teachers to study at IITs and IISc for a Ph.D. every year.
This proposal envisages a substantial number of foreign students studying in the undergrad- uate programme in the engineering colleges. Quite a few of them, especially those from poor countries, may not mind doing a Master’s degree in IITs and taking up a faculty position in the colleges. We should relax the visa rules for such foreigners, who take up faculty positions. This approach is not different from what the western countries adopt to fill their vacancies.
2.3 Student fees are sufficient to pay good salaries
I talked about paying good salaries to college teachers. I also showed that the foreign exchange outgo alone can pay our college teachers many times over. But this is not an implementable solution. Now I will show that a reasonable tuition/fees alone are sufficient to run colleges. My calculation is based on a college that runs four branches with 75 seats in each branch. A reasonable estimate of space that is required to run such a college is 10,000 sq. m. and it is similar to the AICTE norms.
I will first carry out the calculations for a college that may run in a small town, where the cost of living is assumed to be small. Because it is a rural area, I will assume that the building and land infrastructure can be created at an average cost of Rs. 12,000 per sq. m. The total cost is 12,000 x 10,000, which is Rs. 12 crore. Equipments and other accessories can be assumed to cost about Rs. 2 crore. Thus, the total cost is Rs. 14 crore. The annual payment for principal and interest can be taken to be 10% of this, namely, 1.4 crore. At this rate, it should be possible to pay back the loan with interest in twenty years.
Next, I will look at the income from the students. One thousand students will pay tu- ition/fees of Rs. 40,000 per year, giving an income of Rs. 4 crore. I will also assume that the college will give seats to 200 foreign nationals, at Rs. 60,000 per year. The income from this group is Rs. 1.2 crore. Thus, the total income is Rs. 5.2 crore.
I will now look at the expenses. Salary of 60 college teachers at an average salary of Rs. 3.6 lakhs per year is 2.16 crore. I will assume 60 support staff, at an average salary of 1 lakh, giving rise to Rs. 60 lakh. If I assume that 0.75 crore is spent every year on maintenance, electricity, water, etc., there will be a surplus of Rs. 29 lakhs. I tabulate the calculations next.
Cost of basic infrastructure - 10,000 x 12,000 12 Equipments, library, etc. 2
Total infrastructure cost 14
1,000 students at Rs. 40,000/year 4.0 200 foreign students at Rs. 60,000/year 1.2
Total income 5.2
60 Professors at an average salary of Rs. 3.6 lakh/year 2.16 60 support staff at Rs. 1 lakh/year 0.60 Loan payment with interest 1.40 Maintenance and other expenses 0.75 Surplus 0.29
crore crore crore
crore crore crore crore crore crore
Cost of basic infrastructure - 10,000 x 25,000 25 Equipments, library, etc. 5
Total infrastructure cost 30
1,000 students at Rs. 75,000/year 7.5 200 foreign students at Rs. 1,25,000/year 2.5
Total income 10.0
60 Lecturers at an average salary of Rs. 5.0 lakh/year 3.0 60 support staff at Rs. 1.5 lakh/year 0.9 Bank payment 3.0 Maintenance and other expenses 2.0 Surplus 1.1
crore crore crore
crore crore crore crore crore crore
This scheme permits payment of high salaries to Principals and other top officials of colleges, a prerequisite to retain efficient administrators.
The role of the Government in the above discussion has been minimal. I suggest that some of the savings that result from this withdrawal could be paid back as scholarship.
Suppose that the Government gives Rs. 50,000, Rs. 25,000, Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 10,000 per year to one lakh students each, every year. The total cost is tabulated next:
The amount of Rs. 1,000 crore proposed here is not much for the Government. Indeed, with the savings that result from the implementation of this programme, the Government could give block grants to the tune of Rs. 500 crore to good engineering colleges. There would still be substantial savings, which should be used on primary and science education in the country.
Next, I will show that even without considering the overseas tuition, the proposed cost of education will be the same, as for as the students are concerned, on an average basis.
The cost of IIT-JEE coaching is Rs. 3,000 crore per year. For the proposed 5 lakh students, average cost per person is Rs. 60,000. If we assume that at present the students spend an average amount of Rs. 25,000 per year, the cost of engineering education works out to Rs. 1,60,000. In the proposed scheme, the average cost of education is Rs. 60,000 per year and for four years, it works out to Rs. 2,40,000. But if we include the average scholarship amount of Rs. 20,000 (1,000 crore /5,00,000) per year, the cost works out to Rs. 1,60,000 again. Thus, it is possible to provide good quality education without any cost escalation. Similar calculations, both at the lowest and the highest expense levels, can be provided to show that the proposed scheme will be less expensive.
The scholarships proposed above are to be paid directly by the Government. Various Gov- ernment funded institutions, such as, ISRO, defense laboratories, CSIR labs and armed forces, could also come up with similar scholarship schemes, in return for some commitments. Large companies, both in public and private sector, stand to benefit a lot by the availability of high quality graduates, starting with the savings in the cost of in-house training. They also would not mind instituting liberal schemes for student support. It is possible to provide Rs. 1,000 crore of additional scholarships through all these sources every year.
3 Why we should scrap the undergraduate education at IITs
I have been talking about the need to scrap the undergraduate education at IIT. One reason for this is already given: we cannot produce sufficient number of M.Tech graduates. The other reasons can be summarised as follows: IIT brand name has become too large to be affordable to the middle class and poor sections of the society. The wide cross-section required to innovate is no longer there in the population that enters IITs. Because of the huge brand name, students,
3.1 The well-to-do have a better chance of getting into IITs
Thanks to the outstanding performance of the IIT alumni and their concerted effort to build the IIT brand, IITs have become well known. During the hey days of telecom boom, it was told that venture capital funding was assured to the IIT graduates in the silicon valley. It is interesting to know that this awareness is not restricted to only the top echelons of the western society. One of my close friends at Edmonton, Canada, was asked by a barber whether he was from an IIT. It is my contention that the IIT brand has become too large to be affordable to the majority of our population.
In the Times article, “Rs. 1 Cr. pay packet for IIT coaches”, Prakash Bhandari says it all in the title of the article itself. Such large amounts are supposedly paid to the top teachers in the coaching industry. The same article suggests that annual salaries, of the order of, five to ten lakhs are not uncommon. What is the source of such huge salaries? The answer is immediate: from the students, of course. Indeed, the IIT coaching industry is estimated to be about Rs. 3,000 crore, which is about three times as large as the budget of all IITs put together!
Why do the students spend so much money? Does it help? The Times article, “IIT gets more than its share of Kota”, once again by Prakash Bhandari, says that about 3,000 students who got into the 4,600 IIT seats, are from various coaching institutes in Kota. Fairly reliable sources say that the Ramaiah classes in Hyderabad gets IIT seats for a majority of its students. It is not surprising that the IIT hopefuls flock to these classes in great numbers and spend one to two years in preparing for JEE.
The cost of IIT coaching is not cheap. It is believed that it could cost about one to two lakhs to get good coaching. Now tell me, which poor family can afford this luxury? Which bank will give loans to study in a tutorial college, especially when getting into IIT is like a jackpot? Which poor family can postpone the employment by one year and thus forego one year’s salary, over and above spending in coaching classes?
There are newspaper reports about a free coaching class in Bihar that got all its thirty students placed in IITs. Unfortunately, however, most coaching classes charge a lot more. Even if the coaching industry becomes completely free, it would not solve the problem at hand, as I will explain shortly.
When I studied in IIT Madras in the seventies, there was only one student in our class of forty who took two attempts to get into IIT. All others had entered IIT in the first attempt itself. In the 2005 JEE, less than 30% of the students entered IIT in their first attempt. With the new pattern of JEE, it has improved, but nevertheless, it is below 50%.
About five years ago, IIT Bombay conducted a survey to determine the annual income of the parents of its undergraduates. The answer came out to be about Rs. 1.5 lakh. It was concluded that the IIT students were from middle class families. But the survey forgot to ask the students whether they were from salaried families. I strongly believe that not more than 50% of the students who study at IIT Bombay are from salaried families - in fact, this number could be much smaller. The parents of most students are either business people or working professionals, who have many sources of income, unlike a salaried person.
I come from Namakkal, Tamil Nadu, which was a small town in the seventies. I did all my schooling in Tamil medium. When I was studying in PUC in St. Joseph’s college, Trichy, I noticed a friend of mine carrying an extra book, not prescribed in any course. That is when I
I am sad to say that students like me have a very small probability of getting into IIT these days. Thus, IITs have become institutions that provide subsidised education to the richest sections of the society with tax payer’s money.
The well to do people spend the required money and get their children coached. If unsuc- cessful, they go to a good college overseas. The middle class families that can barely afford the expense of coaching classes, still go for them. Unfortunately, however, they can’t study abroad, if they don’t get into IITs. The poor families can’t spend a lot of money on tuition, let alone studying abroad.
I am not saying that poor students don’t get into IITs now. It is possible, but only for extraordinarily brilliant students. For people who can afford the tutorial colleges, the selection rate seems to be a lot better.
I hope that the arguments given above are not used by the pro lobbies to press for reservation in the current system. If the proposed reservations are implemented, it will benefit only about 2,000 OBCs. If for the time being, we accept the argument that the OBCS make up about half our population, about 40% of the five lakh students who study engineering in the country will belong to this class. Thus, the 2,000 seats will benefit only 1% of all the OBCs who study engineering. My proposal will benefit the entire OBC lot of about two lakh students who study engineering every year.
3.2 Excellence is coming down at IITs
Most students who get into IITs have been trained by coaching classes that train them how to identify the pattern of a problem and to solve it. Most current IIT students are good at this. Unfortunately, however, these students may not be good in posing a problem, a key step
in innovation. It is extremely difficult to select people with this capability. In a selection that gives representation to people with different backgrounds, there is a larger probability of finding such people. The contrary, on the other hand, is unfortunately true: the students who have been admitted because they are good in mainlly solving problems may not be good in posing
Please note that when I say different backgrounds, I am not referring to OBC vs. general
category. Two lakh OBCs will still have to compete for the meagre 2,000 seats proposed to be reserved for them. Naturally, only the well to do and the well coached students from OBCs will benefit. Thus once again, the classes will be homogeneous.
3.3 Student performance is deteriorating at IITs
Although the parental pressure to study in IITs has always been present, it was never so high as it is now. We have a reasonable number of students who are not interested in engineering and who, given an option, would not have joined at IIT. We cannot blame the parents, because, not many options seem to exist for them. Unfortunately, however, these students are not interested in studying engineering.
There are a few other categories of increasing number of students that are also indifferent to studies. One kind belongs to the burnt-out category. They worked so hard to get into IIT, they want to take it easy after getting in. The second category of the students depend on past laurels - I got into IIT, I am great. They believe that they can do well at IIT without
All the four categories of students perform poorly and some of them resort to unfair means and get into bigger troubles. It will be interesting to look at the statistics of such cases. The parents of such children cannot believe that their wards are capable of performing poorly. Indeed, in these cases, the IIT administration has a really tough time explaining to the public that the JEE material can perform poorly!
I strongly believe that if we do nothing about this deep rooted malaise, these graduates will bring down the brand name of IITs that we cherish so much.
3.4 Why IITs can’t set better JEE
The natural question that one will ask is why the IITs cannot set papers that will help select the students who like engineering and who are serious about studying and also to give equal opportunities for children who don’t go to coaching classes. The answer is that this is an extremely difficult problem to solve.
When the public of the country is trying to succeed in JEE, with the support of a Rs. 3,000 crore coaching industry, no pattern of exam is unbreakable. In theory, it is possible for IITs to change the pattern of its exam every year. Although it may not serve the intended purpose, one outcome is clear: IITs will become even more world famous for conducting undergraduate entrance exams. Consequently, they will have precious little time to solve nation’s problems or to help improve the engineering education in the country or to excel in research.
I am not saying that the JEEs are poorly conducted. On the contrary, if there is one examination that has withstood the test of times, political pressures, etc., it must be JEE. The IIT brand name that is valued so much should owe its success to JEE. The IIT administration, its faculty and staff, who put JEE above everything else should be commended for this. If even one of these three factors is missing, the JEE would have died a long time ago. All that I am saying is that despite the best possible efforts, we cannot succeed, because the opposing societal forces are too huge.
3.5 Destruction of childhood of future generations
One of the biggest worries I have about IIT JEE is that through this, we have destroyed the childhood of a lot of our children.
To start with, let us see how it impacts the school system. A school is considered successful if some of its graduates get into IITs. Thus, routine problem solving approaches get precedence over methods that promote innovation. In this process, we kill all forms of creativity. Innovative forms of education is perhaps available in elite (and hence expensive) schools. The children who go to these schools don’t care about IITs, as they have other options.
Some of the successful coaching classes, such as Bansal and Ramaiah classes, conduct an entrance exam to decide whom to coach. For example, there are rumors that Ramaiah classes select one out of about a hundred children for coaching purposes. In order to clear these entrance exams conducted by coaching classes, the children start preparing from the 8th grade, and possibly through another coaching class: they hope to get into IIT coaching classes in the 10th grade and get coached for two years for JEE.
The IIT administration feels that with the new pattern of JEE, the pressure on the children will decrease. The tutorial classes, on the other hand, are quite excited about the new pattern. Now that the students can appear for IIT JEE only twice, they have to be absolutely sure about
I will refrain from explaining the mental torture that these children undergo while preparing for coaching classes and then for IIT JEE. To add insult to injury, most of these children will not get into IITs. Let me end this discussion by stating that the childhood of our future generations is lost.
3.6 IIT JEE affects the college system
The friends of IITs extol the virtues of IITs, by pointing to the fact that only 5,000 of the four lakh aspiring candidates can enter it. Unfortunately, however, they forget about the remaining 3,95,000 students who don’t get in. How much effort do they put in for JEE? Will they be demoralised? What options do they have?
In any society, there will be competition for top institutions - it is only natural. But the most humane societies provide an alternative in case the attempts fail and as a result, it is not a life and death situation. For example, in the US, all those who want to study engineering can hope to get seats in reasonably good colleges. Unfortunately, in India, the options available for those who don’t make it to IIT are not very attractive, to put it mildly.
It is reasonable to assume that about a half of four lakh candidates who write the IIT JEE attempt it for the second time. About a half of them may be assumed to be preparing for JEE full time and the other while being enrolled in some other engineering or science college. It follows that about one lakh students who should be studying their courses in science/engineering colleges are actually preparing for IIT. What will be the performance of these students in their colleges? Because most of them will not get into IITs, what happens to them in their colleges? What impact will this have on the their colleagues and teachers?
4 Impact of this proposal
From all points of view, the proposal of IITs producing M.Tech graduates in preference for the undergraduate curriculum will have a major positive impact. I will first address its impact on R&D.
4.1 Impact on R&D in the country
It will become a respectable thing to pursue postgraduate education in IITs: if one wants an IIT degree, one should go for M.Tech or Ph.D. Moreover, a well paying teaching job as well as the possibility of pursuing R&D to solve challenging problems will make the IIT M.Tech degree really attractive. Nevertheless, it will not be a life and death situation, as it is now for the B.Techs. Because the entrance to the IITs will be at the M.Tech level, only those students who really like higher education, and possibly a research career in engineering, will enter IITs. The quality of students who will enter IITs for M.Techs will be a lot better than what it is now: they will be from the five lakh, well educated, engineers. Since the M.Tech graduates of IITs have a good chance of getting well paid teaching jobs, and excellent opportunities in various R&D organisations, there will be a healthy competition amongst the five lakh engineering students to study in IITs.
In addition to the improvement in quality, the quantity of M.Tech students we would train would also be large: we would teach about three times the number of M.Techs that we produce now. With such a great improvement in quality and the quantity of M.Techs, we would have a large pool of talented human resource to enter the field of R&D.
We no longer have to worry about the employability of our Ph.D students. We only have to worry about losing high end businesses because of the shortage of the Ph.Ds. We don’t get sufficient number of students suitable for a Ph.D programme at this point. From this point of view also, the current proposal is timely.
4.2 Brand substitution
The IIT B.Tech brand is the best known brand that India has produced after independence. I have already explained that it has attained too high a value to sustain it.
IIT B.Tech brand name has become a well known one for the following reasons: (1) Top 0.025% of the age group are selected to study B.Tech in IITs (2) Cosmopolitan living environ- ment in the hostels (3) Well educated and dedicated faculty of IITs (4) Continuation of this practice without any deviation for a long period of fifty years (5) Teaming up of graduates of all IITs and taking professional help in building the brand name.
Note that the IIT faculty makes up only one of the above factors. Thus, it is possible to achieve results close to the IIT B.Tech brand name in the current proposal as well. A proof of this is the fact that several graduates of colleges, such as, RECs and BITS Pilani have also done well. If necessary, in the new scheme also, one can select the top students from the five lakh graduates. Some of them are mechanisms, such as, GRE, GATE and the entrance examination for IIM, namely, CAT. In a similar way, all other factors that helped build the IIT brand can be made available in the proposed scheme as well.
Having talked about the virtues of the IIT B.Tech brand, it is time to address the main shortcoming of the IIT B.Tech programme. The main objective of starting this programme, in the words of Pandit Nehru, ”to provide scientists and technologists of the highest calibre who would engage in research, design and development to help building the nation towards self-reliance in her technological needs”, has not been achieved at all. It is well known that only a few IIT B.Tech students stay for higher studies in science and technology within India. Less than 10% of the people who go overseas for higher studies return to India.
Most of India’s research programmes have been carried out by the postgraduates of IITs and IISc. According to Prof. Indiresan, former Director of IIT Madras and Prof. Nigam of IIT Delhi, “At the postgraduate level, IITs contribute nearly 60% of the total number of M.Techs, and 75% of the total number of Ph.Ds produced in India. Bulk of the teachers in engineering and sciences, R&D staff in national laboratories, and Science and Technology departments and programmes are products of IIT system. The postgraduate programme in IITs is distinguished by its interdisciplinary character, rigorous academic preparation through course work, a comprehensive examination and thesis research”. In a Study carried out by Prof. Sukhatme, there was a comparison of graduates of different programmes of IIT Bombay, who became entrepreneurs. The Ph.D programme gave the largest percentage towards this end, while the B.Tech gave the least, with the M.Tech programme coming in between. Thus, from all counts, the contribution of IIT B.Techs for high end R&D and design work within the country has been minimal.
In the new economy, with well paying R&D jobs available for Ph.D and M.Tech graduates,
5.1 Who will start these colleges?
Practically, any one can start these colleges. Ideally, the Government should ask the reputed private industry houses to take the initiative. Thus, the most obvious choice are the Tatas. They established Institutions of world repute, such as, IISc and TIFR, a long time ago. According to Prof. Kesav Nori, Vice President for research at TCS, the internal training programme of TCS is bigger than the combined total of all IT training institutions, such as, NIIT. Moreover, the Tata group is into several people’s projects. Some of these are, a car for under one lakh and a three star hotel room for Rs. 999 per night. The current proposal also is a people’s project as the objective is to make available good engineering education almost on demand. The Birlas, Ambanis, Alagappa Chettiars, and educational groups, such as, Manipal, should also be invited to participate in this nation building project.
We need 2,000 engineering colleges, costing about Rs. 25 crore each, to produce five lakh engineering students. This works out to a capital outlay of Rs. 50,000 crore. Fortunately, however, we already have the required infrastructure - there are already about 2,000 engineering colleges, taking both accredited and non-accredited ones into account. What is required is a change in how these colleges are run. Through innovative financial tools, change of management, and mergers and acquisitions, it should be possible to revamp this programme, if there is a will.
Why should the proposed scheme fail? It will fail if a management is not sincere about the whole idea but wants to enter this “business” mainly for money making. Such a college will not have the required infrastructure, it will charge more than published rates and not pay its faculty well, who as a result will quit the college, leaving the already enrolled students in a lurch.
This is where the Government should step in. Until now, the roll of the Government envisaged in this scheme is restricted to giving subsidies. Coming up with a framework for appropriate disclosures and enforcement are naturally the job of the Government. It should be mandatory to provide all relevant information about the college, for example, who its lecturers are, what facilities the college has, where its alumni are employed, etc.
Several web based information providing agencies that will help the students decide which college to join will come up. We would also have a few independent agencies that rank the colleges, departments, etc., which will help the students decide where to go.
One of the difficulties we now have with our college system is that of quotas - for people in the city, state, out of state, etc. In the proposed scheme, with the seats available on demand, we should actually encourage our students to go to different cities and states. This will help the children understand the difficulties faced by people of other states.
We should allow the possibility of letting the students shift the colleges, with transfer of credits. In this way, we provide a safety valve for students who have the misfortune of joining a college with no scruples. Some insurance companies could create policies to protect such
Another difficulty we have now is that of fixed number of seats in every branch and the rigidity of deciding a branch at the entry level. Making this decision at the age of sixteen is not always easy. It should be left to the colleges to decide whether the branch is allotted at the entry level or after one year or two years of stay.
The students who join a particular branch, even in the proposed system, may want to change it. Before Y2K, there was a mad rush to IT related branches. But when the bottom fell out of the industry, the large number of students already enrolled in this area were stuck. It should have been possible to allow an IT student, who had completed three years, to change over to some other branch, say, electronics, provided they stayed one extra semester and studied five more courses.
How does it work in the US universities? I will narrate a story from Rice University, Houston, where I did my Ph.D. The branches are allotted at the end of first year for undergraduates. The chemical engineering department used to enroll only forty students. They could get away with it because the chemical engineers have always been one of the (if not the) highest paid engineers in the US. In the mid eighties, the bottom fell out of oil and chemical industry and the chemical engineering students could not find jobs. In 1986, the chemical engineering department graduated only six undergraduates and all others had changed their branches! In contrast, eleven people graduated with Ph.D from the same department!
Another important recommendation in the proposed scheme is to provide a lot of power to the college principals. The salary structure allows good salaries, even of the order of ten lakhs, to be paid to the top people. It is possible to get good and committed academicians for these posts. They should be allowed to build the colleges and run them with independence.
5.3 Holistic plans required, not knee jerk reactions
Before leaving this topic, I would like to point out that we have to be careful in reacting to situations. Knee jerk reactions, especially in court cases, could cause a lot of damage. I have a true story to tell in this connection.
In the early nineties, the state of Maharashtra decided to introduce the concept of free and pay seats, with tuition/fees of Rs. 4,000 and 32,000, per annum, respectively. This was based on the assumption that the average fees required to run the college were Rs. 18,000 per year. The Committee members recommended that only after filling the free seats, the pay seats should be filled. The idea was that only good colleges would be able to fill up the pay seats and this would become the incentive for everyone to improve themselves. All the seats were supposed to be filled through a centralised system.
After a court case, it was decided that the amounts of 4,000 and 32,000 should be frozen for three years. The Committee that had come up with these rates were academicians, who had not thought of inflation. Of course, they had not recommended a freeze either.
More damaging was the decision to hand over the unfilled seats to the managements of the colleges. This rule benefitted only the bad colleges. The management of bad colleges could fill the vacant pay seats with students from other states and countries and actually make a profit in the bargain. Unfortunately, the good colleges had all their seats filled through the centrally managed admission system, and hence did not have any management quota. As a result, apparently, the management of a good private college asked its Principal why their college should be so good.
We see that a scheme that was designed to encourage colleges to become better ended up
A holistic plan without knee jerk reactions is the need of the hour.
6 Who will not like this proposal
Obviously, the first loser will be the tutorial colleges. The solution that I have proposed is scalable and hence there can be as many seats as the market can accommodate. Moreover, a large number of these 5,00,000 seats will be of good quality, taught by well educated and well paid teachers. The students will stop spending money on tutorial colleges, because, good quality engineering college seats will be available more or less on demand. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about the tutorial colleges not being happy about this proposal. As a matter of fact, some of the tutorial colleges are extremely well run and they should be encouraged to start engineering colleges and thus positively contribute to the engineering education in the country.
The overseas universities, to which our students go for undergraduate education, will be unhappy about this proposal. But, we don’t have to worry about this constituency as well.
The IIT alumni, who built the IIT brand will be most unhappy about this. To them, my answer is that even if we maintain status quo, the brand IIT is doomed, as explained earlier, because, the brand has become too big to sustain. The proposed plan of increasing the IIT seats so as to accommodate OBCs will further accelerate its downfall. This is not because of reserving seats for OBCs, but because of the increased seats. In other words, if we just increase the number of undergraduate seats in IITs from 5,000 to 8,000 with no OBC quota, the IIT brand is till doomed.
The public is the final constituency that will be worried about this proposal. The most important concern will be “what is the guarantee that the proposed scheme will work?” Some safeguards that we can easily implement have been discussed, but more need to be developed. Before leaving this section, I would like to point out to the public that for every successful student who makes into IIT, there are about 99 who don’t make it. In other words, getting into IIT is like a jackpot. In view of this, the proposed scheme, which will make available good education at a reasonable cost and also on demand, should be of interest to everyone.
In this report, I have proposed a self regulating and a scalable solution that can help provide good quality engineering education at affordable prices and on demand. It is proposed to be achieved by employing, at good salaries, IIT M.Tech graduates as college teachers. To meet the huge demand of M.Tech graduates, for teaching purposes, as well as for the growing, value added intellectual work, IITs have to produce many more M.Tech graduates. To facilitate this, to give back the childhood to our children and to limit the damages caused to our education system by JEE, and because the IIT brand has become too big to sustain, it is proposed that the undergraduate programmes at IITs are scrapped. It is proposed that the IITs help improve the quality of engineering education by writing text books and by documenting the laboratory, tutorial and examination practices through monographs and by active participation in technology based distance education programmes.
The proposed solution will help solve the current problems in engineering education, will help produce a large number of qualified undergraduates as well as postgraduates and help enter businesses that operate at the high end of the value chain. If implemented properly, India could
Some private engineering colleges that have come up recently seem to work more or less in a way suggested in this report. One main difference, according to Prof. Kudchadker, former Deputy Director of IIT Bombay and now an Advisor to the Reliance group, is that these colleges seem to rely only on Ph.D graduates for teaching vacancies. Although my solution does not forbid Ph.D graduates to take up faculty positions, it relies more on M.Tech graduates, which I think is a more practical approach.
I believe that some foreign institutions are also in the process of establishing their campuses in India with western salaries to the professors. If I am not mistaken, some of these are proposed to be established with participation from local engineering colleges. In my opinion, these colleges are targeting the upper echelons of the society, for example, the group that is going to US and UK for undergraduate education and which is growing at the rate of 20%. We cannot depend on these solutions to provide education to the masses of our country, especially, the poor and the downtrodden. As a matter of fact, with proper implementation of the solution proposed in this report, we can give the foreign campuses a run for their money.
In the proposed scheme, the average total cost of an engineering degree has been shown to be roughly half of the annual salary of college teachers at the lowest level. If the industry salaries of M.Tech graduates go up, the professors’ salaries should also be increased, necessitating in an increase in the student fees. But a liberated college system, with a large number of colleges competing with each other for students, will prevent the fees from becoming exorbitantly high. Thus, the proposed solution is not only self regulating, but also scalable. As mentioned earlier, safeguards, such as, transferring of credits to another college and insurance scheme will protect the students. I strongly believe that such problems will occur only in the beginning and that with time, everything will function smoothly.
Having seen the success of the IIT system, China has embarked on building one hundred institutions, comparable to IITs, with the faculty members getting salaries comparable to those in the West. Since we don’t have such plans in India, we will be left behind in the race for becoming an outsourcing centre for high value added intellectual work, if we don’t have alternate plans. The proposal presented in this report has the potential to transform our engineering education system, quickly and at a low cost, and help us compete with China.
I can’t help comparing the current proposal with what happened in the two wheeler industry. In the early seventies, there was a long wait, as long as seven years, for scooters, such as, Bajaj Chetak. Now, after deregulation, we can get much better two wheelers at a lower inflation adjusted prices and, most importantly, on demand. Not only that, we have also becoming the largest two wheeler producer in the entire world.
In my opinion, the ongoing pro and anti reservation struggle does not address the real problems in education. I would like to see all children of India, from both lower as well as upper, classes, to study. Through the method suggested in this report, it is possible to provide good engineering education, for everyone who wants it. We should not be fighting amongst us. On the contrary, we should unite and face the challenges at the world level. This will also help us reap the benefits of opportunities presented by the shortage of skilled people in the western countries.
In this section, I will briefly summarise the strengths of, weaknesses in, opportunities provided by and threats to the current proposal.
A huge market of five lakh students
makes this proposal viable
A large number of colleges provides
efficiency and help keep the cost of
Self regulating and scalable solution
provides operational stability
Wide spectrum of students who
study in these colleges creates an at-
mosphere that promotes innovation
as well as an experience that trains
people to work in any other society
Affordability allows a large number
of children, even from poor families,
to study, allowing all round devel-
It will improve the employability
of our engineering graduates and
thereby help reduce social tensions
Abolition of JEE and the under-
graduate programmes at the IITs is
a prerequisite for the success of this
Making the environment at the col-
leges attractive for M.Tech gradu-
ates to take up faculty positions
Creating suitable disclosure norms
so that students and parents can
take well informed decisions about
admission into engineering colleges
Running the nationwide scholarship
scheme and ensuring that it reaches
the right people
Presence of implicit subsidies
Increasing industrial salaries, re-
sulting in exodus of college teachers
Rising interest rate
Competition from foreign countries,
both rich and poor
To become a hub for inexpensive,
but good quality, engineering ed-
ucation for students all over the
Improved quality and quantity of
manpower, resulting in inflow of
several high-end operations to the
Advancing R&D in the country