Last week, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) has been in the news for two reasons. First, Infosys co-founder, NR Narayana Murthy commented on the falling standards of its students.
And second, Aakash — the tablet priced at R2,250 — was developed, among others, by students of IIT Rajasthan.
While doubts about the quality of education at IITs have been raised before (prior to this by minister Jairam Ramesh) research from these institutes has invariably helped the country make a mark. But the perception of deterioration in the IITs has been gaining momentum. And not without reason.
According to an answer given in the Parliament two months back about the faculty positions lying vacant across the country, India still needs 1,50,000 qualified teachers for engineering colleges. While most of these vacancies are in private colleges, IITs and National Institutes of Technology (NIT), too, don’t have a good record. In 15 IITs, 1,693 faculty positions are lying vacant. In NITs the number is 1,522.
At IIT Delhi alone, around 150 faculty positions are lying vacant. In the last five to six years around 125 teachers have been hired at IIT Delhi alone. The student teacher ratio in most IITs, especially in the eight new ones, is thus skewed. While the prescribed teacher- student ratio for IITs is a healthy 1:10, the average ratio at IITs is around 1:20. At IIT Delhi, it is 1:14. According to international standards, the ideal ratio for a world class engineering institute should be 1:10.
“When you explode, not grow, there will always be a shortage of qualified teachers. On top of the sudden rise in the number of engineering institutes, the government has not formulated any teacher-training plans. This growth is not commensurate with the government’s plan,” says Rakesh Sharma, registrar, IIT Delhi.
“An engineering graduate cannot teach a Nursery student with a B. Ed degree but in most engineering colleges, B Tech graduates are teaching students. Where are the training institutes to groom teachers for engineering colleges?” he adds. Not only IITs, this is a problem being faced by a majority of the higher educational institutes in the country.
Murthy’s contention that coaching centres are to blame, however, does not have many supporters. “The paper is being prepared by IITs themselves. And if rote learning is one method to make it through, then perhaps we need to take a closer look at the Joint Entrance Examination rather than the coaching institutes. Our students are extremely hard working and make it through because of this virtue,” says the managing director of a leading coaching institute in Delhi on condition of anonymity.
In the past few years another trend has been observed at engineering institutes — that of finance companies and consultancy firms hiring engineers. Around one-third of the companies that come to IITs to hire are finance firms. “Their salary packages are undeniably much better than those offered by core engineering companies,” says Sharma. Most top students, therefore, prefer to join WPM (Whoever Pays More), a term coined by writer Chetan Bhagat, IIT Delhi alumni, in his book 2 States. “Choosing jobs depends upon the value system. The fact that this is the trend now clearly shows what we value,” said Surendra Prasad, former director, IIT Delhi.