By Soumya Priyadarshini
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
The first IIT was founded in May 1950 at the site of the Hijli Detention Camp in Kharagpur. Jawaharlal Nehru, in the first convocation address at the IIT Kharagpur in 1956 said:
“Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands the fine monument of India, representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are coming to India.”
So, IIT was constructed with this motive. It was supposed to be the driver of India’s technological advancement, producing the best human resources the country would need to make a dent in the world after independence.
Recently our HRD minister promised to establish an IIT in each state. At present, there are already sixteen Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) viz. at Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras, Guwahati, Roorkee, Hyderabad, Patna, Bhubaneshwar, Ropar, Jodhpur, Gandhinagar, Indore, Mandi and Varanasi.
Now, is it wise to open new institutes in every state? Can India actually afford it in the present scenario where other issues are of a much greater concern?
I don’t think so. Because, establishing a quality institute or especially an IIT requires a lot of resources. While the total government funding to other engineering colleges is around Rs. 100–200 million (USD 2–4 million) per year, the amount varies between Rs. 900–1,300 million (USD 18–26 million) per year for every IIT. Not just this, it needs well trained and experienced faculty, which is its lifeline. Faculty is the driver of IIT, money is just the fuel – very important, but insignificant if there is no good driver.
Honestly, given a population of 1.2 billion and a GDP of 1.8 trillion USD, it seems an obvious ‘yes’. But it does not. It has the money, but even the existing IITs lack a world-class faculty. The conditions of other institutes are even worse, call it infrastructure or facilities. Well, on a lighter note, students are trained to live in extreme adverse situations which make them tough enough.
A lot of regional engineering colleges and private institutes do not have necessary equipments and a good teaching staff. My friend who joined a engineering college complains that most of the time either the faculty is absent or the college is closed. Surprisingly the newer NITs do not even have a campus of their own. NIT is an institute of national importance. In such a condition establishing IITs namesake with poor infrastructure will just denigrate the brand value of the institute.
Okay, for a while let us even consider that we’ve funds. But, a very important question that arises here is, do we actually need an IIT in each state?
While India produces millions of engineers every year, industries are complaining that they are facing a severe shortage of well trained people. This is a real challenge for India. While we have the world’s largest population of young people, we are ignoring the fact that they many of them are untrained, which would become a liability rather than an asset.
We should keep in mind that creating more IITs would probably give us a few thousand more engineers, but unless vocational institutes and other universities are upgraded, the problem cannot be solved.
A typical engineering graduate follows this treaded path: work for a private firm (most of them end up in the IT sector or consulting, irrespective of their stream), get an MBA and then work for a private firm or go abroad for studies. It is rare that they would join some research institute, or go on for civil services. Some of my friends joined the government agencies, but they told me that they have nothing to do there. I definitely blame them for the brain-drain problem, if the government can’t excite the fresh or talented graduates, then one must not resort to the term “patriotism” and blame the students.
Furthermore the education in our country focuses more on a paper-pen module and mugging up whereas in the US and other countries, there is an emphasis on practical aspects, training and projects. The Government can fuel this sector instead of generating more and more bookworms so that people consider India as the first option for research instead of foreign universities, where they have to go unwillingly and spend huge sums of money.
In addition to that, with the mindless reservation system in India, it is really tough for general candidates to get into this. Definitely they’ll prefer to work where they are chosen for their work and not their surname.
So, the real talent of India hardly serves the nation. In this scenario, will more IITs help? Are we magically going to create new minds at the new IITs?
Think over it, that we have NITs in every state, if we could focus on improving the condition and quality of the existing institutes will lead to development and it’ll produce quality engineers. Moreover, with so many IITs and NITs, we can surely erect buildings but we can’t mould each and every brain. It’s high time that we understand that not every brain is meant to be an engineer. There exist artists, businessmen, and writers as well.
With the increasing number of IITs and other engineering colleges, are we increasing the number of talented technocrats in India? Maybe yes, or maybe no. The answer is uncertain because there are a lot of talented engineers in India, meeting the current technological demand along with several frustrated students who are contemplating on other future options while doing engineering like writing, acting, journalism, hotel management, MBA, IAS etc. It’s not wrong, but most of the times the reason behind this is, as they say, that they can’t understand engineering or they never wanted to be one. Most of the students choose engineering because it’s a trend or because it’s a safe option.
It’s time that now we question that ‘Why is engineering the best and perhaps the only safest graduation option?’
Instead of establishing more IITs we should focus on improving the existing institutes, promote and create opportunities for other professions as well. A student should opt for a stream out of choice and not due to the availability of opportunity.
We should really stop this IIT, Kota hype and ask the children, what they actually want to be, where they think they can prosper and give their best, instead of making them mindlessly following the IIT-IIM herd.
It’s a request to the HRD minister, to create opportunities to train students instead of building IITs. Let them secure their dream job; can earn more than just money. I feel that in this way, we can also cope-up with the rising dissatisfaction, frustration, crime and increase the number of skilled people in various fields and not just engineering.
Soumya is currently pursuing B.Tech in Electronics and Communication Engineering. She holds prior experience as an editor at Srijan (her college’s annual magazine). She is a brilliant singer, an avid reader and she spends most of her time pondering over various issues which often inspires her to write. Usually she can be found surfing the internet and reading almost any impossible thing in the world right from biology to astrology. She wants to serve the nation and she feels that writing is the most effective and the easiest way to work on all problems and eradicate them. She believes in learning something new from whatever she experiences. She is extremely excited about writing for a large number of enthusiastic readers here and she promises to deliver her best. She really appreciates constructive criticism. You can reach her at her blog (hearabuzz.blogspot.in) or her email id ([email protected]).