In a country that is starved of good educational institutions, big brands like IITs and IIMs are obviously in great demand.
They also bring some kind of an economic and social heft to the place where they are located and hence the clamour for more IITs/IIMs.
The political classes are aware of such aspirations and have often used the establishment of new IITs/IIMs as a sop to appease voters.
Earlier this month, the Centre cleared a proposal for the setting up of six new IIMs.
Since 2008, there has been an expansion drive of the IITs: From seven IITs in 1994, the plan is to have 23 this year and eventually 29 — one in each state.
These institutions have a cache brand value, hence the demand for their proliferation.
While there is nothing wrong in the demand for and establishment of IIT/IIM ‘branches’ in smaller towns, what the government needs to review is whether they are spreading these brands too thin?
According to a HT story that appeared on Sunday, the IITs that were set up after 2008 are suffering from a host of problems: Many are operating out of borrowed campuses and are plagued by a lack of labs and other infrastructure, like hostels.
The students depend heavily on online lectures by faculty members sitting in some other IITs. Digvijay Patil, an IIT-Kharagpur student, launched a petition last year, pleading with union HRD minister Smriti Irani to stop launching new institutes.
When older IITs are struggling with teacher vacancies of up to 43%, how would the new ones attract staff?
Every good educational institute and faculty needs a flourishing ecosystem to survive and most small towns don’t provide that. The same argument holds true for AIIMS.
All this has diluted the brand of the established institutions of excellence without adding any value to the new ones.
The building of branches of IITs and IIMs also shows our obsession with IIT/IIM brands. Instead of pandering to the demands of the voters, the government should invest more in other institutions.
India cannot afford to have islands of excellence like the IITs and IIMs or institutions that have the brand tag but are actually below par when it comes to quality. In fact, the IIT/IIM brand name will suffer in the long run if the new institutes don’t live up to the standards set by the older ones.
And the worst sufferers will be the students.