In its over-eagerness to ‘revamp’ technical education in the country by announcing a common entrance test for all centrally-funded engineering institutes and the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has completely messed up the situation. The Ministry has managed to upset the IITs, the State Governments and the IIT alumni association with its decision to implement the common test from the academic year beginning 2013. All of them have offered various reasons for their objections, but the underlying theme is that the Ministry has pushed the proposal through in undue haste, without factoring in the relevant concerns. While Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal claims that the IITs were on board in the decision to switch to a common admission test for all engineering institutes including the IITs, it does not appear to be the case. Else, why would IIT-Kanpur have rebelled against the move and announced its own test for 2013? Various reports that have appeared recently clearly suggest that the IITs have by and large been unconvinced by the HRD Ministry’s stand.
It is quite possible that, given Mr Sibal’s obstinacy, they might not have pushed their objections too hard in the meetings they have had with the Minister. But then, Mr Sibal knows well that the IITs are not really on the same page, and that he should have spent some more time with them to find common ground. There is no reason why the UPA Government should have been in such a tearing hurry to rush through the proposal. It is not as if the IITs are entirely opposed to the Government’s decision. All that they had asked was to defer the move to at least 2014 so that the students have the time to adjust to the new system, and to have further deliberations to fine-tune the new arrangement. The contention of the various IITs and the IIT alumni association essentially is that the quality of students who enter the IITs could be seriously compromised if the IITs are clubbed with the rest of the engineering colleges in a common entrance test. While this may sound like an elitist argument — IITs wanting to shut its doors to the thousands of deserving students and create a aura of exclusivity — the fact of the matter is that IITs are considered amongst our best educational institutes because they have succeeded in sustaining a high level of quality. True, not all IITians are geniuses; neither are all non-IITians morons. But that is no argument to lower the standard of the IITs by admitting students through a less than rigorous process. To that extent, the IIT alumni association is right in fearing that the Government’s decision could end up destroying the IITs, though some political points may be scored in the process.