The Indian Institutes of Technology hope to compete with the best in the world but a poor student-teacher ratio is thwarting their bid to up their global ranking.
With 35% of sanctioned faculty positions vacant, the IITs — the first choice for aspiring engineers in India — have an average student-teacher ratio of 15:1 against a 10:1 requirement.
The IIT council chaired by HRD minister Prakash Javadekar will take up the issue at a meeting on August 23. The ministry is considering several solutions, including absorbing PhD students as faculty.
“PhD students finishing their courses can be identified and mentored to join as faculty. The council will take up the issue of their campus recruitment. Also, adjunct faculty from industry can be identified and invited to teach a semester or two,” said a senior ministry official.
Another option is getting foreign faculty.
An ill-maintained student-faculty ratio is a major reason for the IITs performing poorly on global rankings. The California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which holds the top spot in the World University Rankings 2015, has a student-teacher ratio of 6.9, in comparison.
Only seven IITs make the rankings. The top two are IIT-Bombay, which comes in the 351-400 section, and Delhi in the 401-500 section (there are no individual ranks beyond the top 100). IIT-Bombay has a student-faculty ratio of 14:1 while it is 16:1 for Delhi.
Even among the IITs, the older institutes have the poorest ratios — 22:1 in Varanasi (IIT-BHU) and 19:1 in Kharagpur — while some of the newer ones are close to the required ratio at 11:1.
Ministry sources said the ratio, if not corrected, will get more skewed as there are plans to add 30,000 off-campus students to the 18 IITs by 2020.
The ministry is also looking at sanctioning new teaching positions specifically at IITs with a poor ratio, an official said.
Despite these numbers, there is fierce competition to get into the IITs, which have 72,000 students at present. More than a million aspirants appeared for the JEE main exam this year.
Defending the schools, IIT Roorkee director Pradipta Banerji said, “All IITs have to maintain a very high bar for permanent faculty. Rather than taking in poor quality permanent faculty, what we do have are high quality DST INSPIRE fellows, DBT Ramanujan fellows and our own institute-funded post-doctoral fellows who perform full-time academic duties but are not counted as faculty.”
Admitting the poor student-faculty ratio was a challenge, a former IIT director, who did not wish to be identified, however, said, “This affects global ranking but not quality as such. It is easy to increase the number of students but not to get quality faculty. And the IITs are hiring.”