Classes operating out of makeshift campuses, faculty shortages, unfilled seats: the slew of new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are still struggling to match the conditions and reputations of their flagship predecessors. In 2008, the union human resources development ministry announced eight new IITs in a bid to set up institutes of excellence throughout the country, taking the number of total IITs to 15. Two weeks ago, the government said it would focus on quality, not quantity, in higher education and set up just four more IITs as laid out in the 12th five-year plan.
However, even as the new ones are announced, the second generation of IITs - in Hyderabad, Ropar, Patna, Gandhinagar, Indore, Bhubhaneshwar, Mandi and Jodhpur - are still struggling to get on their feet.
"Five or six IITs is the best the country can handle," said PV Indiresan, former director of IIT-Madras, who criticised the expansion when it was first announced. "I don't think any other country has expanded institutes of this kind at this rate; no one has multiplied - Harvard or Stanford. I doubt it is advisable."
His most trenchant criticism was about the inadequate staffing and the dipping student-teacher ratios at the new IITs. "Where is the faculty? Teachers used to know most students. Now there is decreased student-teacher contact," he said.
But it's not all bleak, and all the new IITs need is time, say former and present IIT directors. IIT-Guwahati, which was set up in 1995, and is among the newer of the old IITs, has seen its share of similar problems and scepticism. "There are issues when any new IIT starts," said Gautam Barua, director of IIT-Guwahati. "We had the experience of starting out 15 years ago. When we moved to the campus in 2000, within time everything had become smooth."
The problems have multiplied though, with a rash of new IITs all being set up together. They began admitting students three years ago, but not even one is operating from its own campus. (See accompanying reports from each IIT). "More were required but they probably shouldn't have started together," said Barua. "But four more won't matter."
Also, adding seats hasn't blunted the competition, which means the demand for an IIT education is as high as ever, despite an array of other options now available in India's growing economy. This year, for instance, 4.85 lakh students competed for 7,563 seats, which means that only 1 exam taker out of every 64 got in.
"The rationale was that some parts of the country don't have an IIT," said Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director of IIT-Madras. "There are so many good candidates who don't get through the JEE (Joint Entrance Exam), so 25,000 more students could do quite well at the IITs."