"When you hear of IIT, what strikes your mind first?" Well before you answer the question, read what President A P J Abdul Kalam has to say about it.
The President, on Saturday inaugurated the PanIIT Global Conference 2006, the largest gathering of the IIT alumni at the Bandra-Kurla Complex in suburban Mumbai.
The President, in his usual witty way told the gathering that, while preparing his speech on Friday he had gathered some very interesting facts about what Brand IIT means to people in general. He called a few friends, from different walks of life and sought their reaction to the word 'IIT'.
Before he started, the President asked the audience if they were willing to hear positive, negative or mixed things about them. The answer was a resounding: 'mixed'!
His observations focussed on where the Indian Institutes of Technology lag and how IITians can actually make a difference.
He said he first called a professor of Indian origin in the US. "He was frank enough to say that it conveyed immediately nothing. He said 20 million children are born in India every year. Only one per cent joins the IIT. They are the best children in India. Wherever you put them they will do very well. The value addition by IIT is very low to the students, he pointed out."
The professor felt that, there may be many hidden Ramanujans and Einsteins amongst the vast majority of the students, which the IIT system does not touch.
"The greatest challenge for the Pan IITians and the nation is to find a mechanism to identify those needles in the haystack," the President said. He urged the IITians to look for hidden Ramanujans and bring them to the mainstream.
The President's next call was to an Army General who said they have nothing to do with the IITs. "While we see many engineering grads join the army we are yet to see any IITian the last two decades," the General had told the President.
The President said, while a professor from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore said that it is a great challenge for the professors to teach the students at IIT, as they are the 'cream of the cream', an IIT director said the institute stands for 'excellence and discipline'.
The President told the gathering that a friend told him that IIT takes the best students and delivers the best to the world, but the direct benefits for the nation in terms of knowledge products and intellectual property is rather minimal.
Kalam was quick to add that since they (IIT) selected the cream, the 'output is also cream'. The cream of the cream, he said, goes to the US and they become the best. "The best in and best out."
However, in a somber note he added that it is ironical that the IIT, which is mandated to produce the best minds for teaching and research is unable to attract the best faculty today.
The President emphasised the need for PanIITians to expand the spirit of IIT to touch every technical university in the country. "This will create a vast number of quality students and faculty. This is particularly important not only for taking care of the faculty needs of IITs but also for taking up the challenges of development that would be thrown open by the vision of the nation to become a developed one."
Continuing with what people from different walks of life has to say about IIT, the President said that a senior government officer had a significant point to make. "IIT stands for Brand India. However, of late it has become an exclusive institution in a world, which should become more and more inclusive and converging.
"Today more children from urban affluent families who can afford to pay Rs 10,000 per month on education alone could dream of joining the IIT.
"There are around 8 per cent of girl students in IIT, while the general average over 30 per cent in engineering.
"Many institutions of the same caliber as IIT in the western world, have been contributing much more to the industry than the IITs in India."
The industry-IIT interaction, he said, has to become an icon to put their brand on many products that will be used by the public on a daily basis. The President said there should be a little bit of IIT in every Indian. Since the Pan IITians have been in IIT, have been in India, seen the best of educational institutions and industry across the world, they can work with our present IIT system to bring this transformation of making 'IIT inside' in all of us Indians and in India, he added.He urged the IITians to think over the independent views expressed and reinforce the niche and unique place that IIT occupies.