IITPosted: June 5, 2011
There are quite a few folks, much more knowledgeable than me, who have written about the question of IITs. While adding to the reams of disk space already devoted to the topic, i would like to write a few thoughts about what i feel could be the way forward for IITs, and what are some of the things we need to look for to continue to bring success through the model of education which the IITs are. To be able to do this, the first thing we need to do is to understand some of the factors which have contributed to the success of IITs (and these i write from the perspective of a student, and of someone who looks at young folks graduating from IITs and joining the work-force every year), and the factors which may not actually have so much of an impact.
From what i am able to understand, some of the factors that have contributed to the success of the IITs could be excellent faculty and an entrance exam where even mathematical induction could give you nightmares (couldnt quite come up with an adjective, so just thought would use an example)
Huh? Yes, those are some of the things i see as being the prime factors.
To begin with, the entrance exam, the famed IIT-JEE is one of the most difficult exams in the world. This means that anyone who is scoring good marks in this exams is exceptional, and any college which comprises of these students would find that the quality of output is excellent. Its a simple question of output being a function of input. That said, there is also the process of conversion of input to output, and this is where the faculty play a critical role. Certainly, infrastructure is indispensable, but to my mind, faculty is the most critical aspect.
Coming now to what i feel is the concern that needs to be addressed today. To begin with, from what i understand (please correct me if i am wrong) that the cut-offs arent what they used to be. What this means is that as the number of colleges has increased, somewhere the quality of student intake is dipping. Is that a right assumption? Maybe, maybe not, but would like to stand corrected on this.
The other aspect is the faculty. When we were students, the Professors who taught us were among the creme of their age, who took to research or academics as a profession. In other words, four decades ago, academics was not only fashionable, it was also a desirable career option for the brightest. Two decades ago, though, the brightest did not opt for academics as a career option. And the folks who went into academics two decades ago are the ones who would be the guiding lights of the academic world today, and going forward. This is not to say there are no bright sparks in the academic world. Far be it from me to say that, but what i am saying is that we need many, many more bright sparks if we are to sustain quality on a much larger scale.
So, what are we to do? To my mind, there are a few things which need attention. To begin with, academics needs to be brought up the value chain as far as a career option is concerned. Now, thats easier said than done, and even if it is done, it would take quite a bit of time to achieve this. So what are the options? One, i feel, would be to position academics as a career option for mid-career executives. If management schools can do that, why cant IITs? Mid-career executives may not be the stars of the research domain (thats only an assumption, and i feel it may not actually a correct assumption), but there are quite a few folks i know, who find it a passion to learn, and to teach, who have kept in touch with things happening, and who, given a chance, would like to look at academics as a career switch. While i do agree that this may not be so easy to achieve, its worth a thought, and with the right kind of tools, it may actually be quite easy.
Question … Is it feasible to create a course designed at enabling mid-career executives to make the career switch into academics? Given the passion i see with a lot of people, and given that students could definitely benefit from the knowledge and experience of these executives, and the dearth of faculty, not just at the IITs, but at other engineering colleges (why only engineering colleges, it could also be management colleges, or in science, humanities, or courses as well) also, and the need to enable higher quality education for a much larger proportion of the people of India, this may be something much needed.