It is now well known that the S K Joshi Committee has selected seven colleges/universities for potential upgrading to Indian Institutes of Technology.
The committee took into account parameters like faculty strength with percentage of doctorates, research papers published in a year, courses offered, student strength and physical infrastructure, et cetera, and arrived at the following list in the order of merit:
- Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University (IT-BHU), Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
- University College of Engineering and College of Technology, Osmania University, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.
- Bengal Engineering College, Howrah, West Bengal.
- Jadavpur University's Engineering and Technology Departments, Calcutta, West Bengal.
- Zakir Hussain College of Engineering and Technology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, UP.
- Andhra University College of Engineering, Vishakhapatnam, AP.
Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), Kochi, Kerala.
The meeting with MHRD
Having short-listed the institutions that can be upgraded to IITs, the Union ministry of human resources development (MHRD) invited all seven colleges for a discussion at Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi, on May 3, 2005.
For the colleges, it was a red-letter day as the most important discussion in their lives was to take place to decide their future. Recently, the government has formed a five-member expert committee, headed by HRD Minister Arjun Singh, to further select from among the seven colleges that will be given IIT status and to oversee the progress achieved by these colleges.
The meeting was chaired by the following members of the expert committee:
Sudeep Banerjee, IAS, additional secretary, HRD ministry;
Ravi Mathur, IAS, joint secretary, HRD ministry;
Anuradha Gupta, IAS, member secretary, All India Council for Technical Education; and
Dr R A Yadav, Vice Chairman, AICTE.
All the colleges, except the Andhra University, were represented at the meeting.
Banerjee began the discussion, saying that the meeting has been organised to understand the '5-year and 10-year Vision and Mission' statements of all the institutions and the manner in which the HRD ministry can help these institutions achieve their vision / missions, and to work out a way to treat these institutions differently from the other institutions in the country.
The discussion focussed on staff quality and improvement plan, research output, admission policy for students, facilities and infrastructure upgrade, etc. The colleges were asked to measure their performance by comparing it with that of the existing IITs. A government official will also visit all colleges after a few months to witness the progress, it was announced.
The race for obtaining IIT status has begun. It appears that the final selection will depend upon 'politics,' location and quality of the college, in that order.
This will play a major factor in arriving at a final decision. Since the central government has to depend on the regional parties for political support and existence at the Centre, it has to make a careful move before declaring IIT status for any of the colleges.
Out of 543 total elected Members of Parliament, Kerala sends 20 MPs, Andhra Pradesh 42 and West Bengal 42. The current United Progressive Alliance government depends upon these states for their support.
Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University are central universities under MHRD control. Rest of the colleges are controlled by their respective state governments, which will be consulted before arriving at any decision.
Geographical location is also an important factor in the race for IITs. For example, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh have two colleges competing for IIT status.
In case of West Bengal, the two colleges are located within 100 kilometers distance of an existing IIT (IIT-Kharagpur). In such a scenario, probably only one college will win the race.
Since southern India has only one IIT (IIT-Madras), efforts will be made to provide one or two IITs in that region.
This is also an important factor that will decide the fate of a college. All the parameters of a college shall be compared with the standards achieved by existing IITs. The IITs are known for excellence in the following criteria: faculty, students, research and academic excellence. This subject was discussed in detail at the meeting at Shastri Bhavan.
Some of the other significant factors in the making of the new IITs are faculty, students, research, academic excellence, funding, etc.
While IITs have all faculty members with doctorate degrees, the percentage of faculty members with PhD qualification across the seven selected colleges varies from 80 per cent (at IT-BHU) to 40 per cent. This is because these colleges follow AICTE rules for staff recruitment, which allow post-graduates for teaching positions.
It is also due to insufficient funding received from the government. All the colleges have been asked to increase the proportion of doctorates in the faculty. This will be achieved by hiring only PhDs for teaching posts, enrolling the existing staff into doctorate programmes, and by shifting the remaining staff to non-teaching assignments (labs, research, workshops, et cetera).
One of the problems likely to be faced during faculty recruitment is the availability of suitable candidates for teaching jobs, since India produces only about 400 engineering doctorates per year and a majority of them opt for lucrative industrial and research positions.
There is a small talented pool of 'foreign-qualified' doctorates available, but they tend to settle in a metropolis or with reputed institutes.
The colleges have also been asked to increase the number of teaching staff and to achieve a faculty-to-student ratio of 1:10 in some departments, to begin with. IITs have a ratio of 1:10 or better.
With a 240-strong faculty, IT-BHU meets the criterion of 1:10 ratio, but for some of the selected colleges it is as low as 1:20. An increase in the number of faculty members will free some of the teachers to work on other important assignments, such as developing curricula, attend seminars/conferences, carry out research, etc.
IITs are also known for the quality of students admitted through an all-India competitive IIT-JEE exam. IT-BHU admits students through IIT-JEE since 1972 and follows IIT guidelines while admitting undergraduate and post-graduate students.
CUSAT and AMU admit students through their own all-India entrance exams, but a majority of the students admitted to these colleges are from within the states that they are located. Bengal Engineering College and Jadavpur University admit students through West Bengal-Joint Entrance Exam (WB-JEE). Osmania University and Andhra University conduct their own state-level entrance exams.
The MHRD has instructed all colleges to have at least 50 per cent of their intake on an all-India basis through AIEEE (All Indian Engineering Entrance Exam). This popular exam has seen the rank of candidates swelling from 250,000 last year to 400,000 this year, and the government's decision will benefit about 1,200 to 1,500.
The government has also offered students from IIT-JEE exam for colleges showing good progress. Some states showed resistance to admitting students on national basis. However, experts ask how can these colleges become national institutes if they resist in such fashion?
Moreover, students entering through national level entrance exams are more adaptable to other cultures, more risk-taking and thus more successful in their careers.
One significant parameter for the progress of an academic institute is the research output by the colleges, measured in terms of numbers of research papers published in national/international magazines, patents received, etc.
On an average, each IIT produces about 450 research papers per year. With a teaching staff of about 300-500 per IIT (all doctorates), the output rate comes to about one paper per doctorate per year. It is good to know that the output rate of these seven colleges is almost same as that of the IITs, but due to a smaller teaching staff (and all of them not being doctorates), the output is slightly low.
The number of patents filed by colleges is much less compared to IITs due to less research funding received. To provide information and to assist in the filing of patents, a patent sub-office will be opened at each college campus.
The Institute of Technology has an advantage of being a part of research-oriented Banaras Hindu University.
As per central government instructions, the World Bank carried out a survey of leading technical institutes/engineering colleges in India and submitted a report in August 2003. According to the report, IT-BHU was ranked second in research category, just behind the top ranked Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
The colleges are expected to achieve a general standard of academic excellence comparable to that of the IITs. They should implement reforms such as grading of marks and course evaluation, revamping curriculum and introducing modern programs, improving official Web sites and developing media relations, admit students as per reservation norms of IITs, etc.
However, one MHRD decision is being looked upon by academics with some scepticism. The ministry has decided to reserve seats for Muslims for post-graduate admission to various courses at the Aligarh Muslim University. The decision says that 50 per cent of the seats be reserved for Muslim candidates and the remaining 50 per cent for graduates from the college, effectively making 80 to 90 per cent of seats available only to Muslim candidates.
This decision, which has been opposed by AMU administration and many Muslim religious scholars, could affect the reputation of the college.
Students at one of the colleges are boycotting the exams, because few students were barred from exam for poor attendance. Such campus indiscipline is not tolerated by the powerful IIT board (the apex council of the seven IITs), which will have a say in the selection of colleges.
Only three colleges -- IT-BHU, Bengal Engineering College and Jadavpur University -- offer some of the post-graduate and doctorate programmes under TEQIP (Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme, also known as the QIP program). It is offered at all IITs.
Colleges have been told by MHRD to begin courses in social sciences and humanities, and have been encouraged to start management, law and other programmes.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for these colleges is lack of adequate funding. Most of the colleges receive only Rs 10 to 20 crore (Rs 100-200 million) per year (except the IT-BHU which receives about Rs 40 crore -- or Rs 400 million -- per year).
Also, a major portion of this amount is spent on staff salaries, maintaining infrastructure, etc, leaving very little amount for upgradation, research or hiring of new staff.
Compared to this, each IIT receives between Rs 90 to Rs 130 crore per year (Rs 900 million to Rs 1.30 billion), excluding special research grants. The government has decided to give each college a one-time grant of Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion). This is most likely to be matched by a grant from the state government for a similar amount for colleges under its control.
Each college is also likely to get a grant of Rs 50 crore (Rs 500 million) from the World Bank. The government will also increase the annual funding by an additional amount of Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million). With the additional money available, the colleges will be able to recruit additional staff, add more buildings, hostels, labs, etc.
The Dataquest-IDC-NASSCOM survey
Recently, Dataquest, IDC (International Data Corporation) and Nasscom (National Association of Software and Service Companies) announced the results of their survey of 118 engineering colleges all over the country. The colleges were ranked in parameters of placements, infrastructure, intellectual capital, industry interface and HR (human resources manager's or recruiter's) perception.
IIT-Kanpur was ranked No. 1 overall, followed by IIT-Bombay, IIT-Madras, IIT-Kharagpur and IT-BHU. No other college (from the seven selected ones) were ranked in the top twenty, although six NITs (National Institutes of Technology) were able to make it.
IT-BHU came first in the intellectual capital (faculty strength/quality, research papers published, etc.) category, while Jadavpur University was fourth in industry interface category.
Colleges selected by NDA government
It is interesting to note that the same S K Joshi Committee selected different a set of colleges for conversion to IITs during former the National Democratic Alliance government's rule. The fortune of these colleges changed when the present UPA government came to power after the May 2004 general elections.
The colleges selected during the NDA rule were:
Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh;
Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh;
Government Engineering College, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala;
NIT-Suratkal, Karnataka; and
A brand-new IIT to be set up in Basar, Andhra Pradesh.
Some of the changes were also due to change of governments at the state level, thus fortifying the view that politics does play a major role even in the world of education.
A long journey ahead
The trip to Shastri Bhavan for a meeting with the HRD ministry was short for the seven selected colleges, but the journey to getting the IIT status is likely to be long and full of uncertainties.
Although there is no fixed timeframe for approving and converting a college into an IIT, it is expected that the process would take between one to five 5 years, depending upon progress made by the individual college. In principle, any college that nearly meets the academic criteria set by the IIT Board can be declared an IIT.
However, due to various reasons, only about three to five colleges will be successful in attaining that status. The rest of them that show high level of achievement shall be labelled INIs or Institutes of National Importance.
A five-year timeframe is too long for our country's political scene. During that time, it is possible that a new general election may result in a change of government at the Centre, which will -- in turn -- set up a new committee to select a new set of colleges again.
It could be déjà vu all over again.
The author is chemical engineering graduate from IT-BHU and an MS (chemical engineering) from Rutgers University, New Jersey. He has deeply interacted with the HRD ministry, state ministers, IIT board, IIT Selection Committee. The views expressed here are personal.