I received by e-mail an article by Rahul Varman a professor of industrial engineering and management at IIT-K. I wrote to him seeking his permission to host it here, but someone else (in fact, quite a few people!) has already beaten me to it! So, here it is, on Amit Kumar Singh's blog; Singh seems to have pruned the article, though.
After a bit of search, I found the version that I received by e-mail (the main difference is at the beginning). This, more complete, version is at Fiaz Babu's Blog: Crap and More.
While Rahul covers quite a bit of the ground that we have already gone over, here is the bit that's new (at least to me):
For the last few years I have been studying small industry clusters, like Moradabad brass, Varanasi silk and Kanpur leather. Put together (all the clusters in the country), they are exporting more than the IT sector and their cumulative employment will be several times of the whole of IT industry. In all these clusters they operate with miniscule resources – small investment, no electricity, forget about air-conditioning, non existent roads, lack of water, and little formal education. These clusters are primarily constituted of these so called backward/ dalit castes and are truly a tribute to the genius that our society is. But in spite of centuries of excellence these communities have hardly produced any formal ‘engineers’, ‘doctors’ and ‘managers’, and conversely these elite institutions have not developed any linkages with such industries and their people.
This brings me to a further question, what do ‘meritorious’ students from these institutions do when they pass out? I recall what Srilata Swaminathan, the noted activist, had said at the beginning of her talk at IIMA in the early 1990s (I at the time was a student there), “I am told that this is the cream of the country, and what do you do, sell soaps and toothpastes (ITC, HLL, etc. were the most coveted recruiters those days)?”. There was hushed silence in a room full of students and faculty. I remember in the mid-90s my sense of disbelief, when I was the placement coordinator for my department, the HR manager of one of the big three Indian IT companies told me, “as long as somebody can recognise a keyboard we take him” in response to my query about what they sought in a potential employee. Remember this company over the years has employed thousands of IIT-IIM engineers - managers. As a child I remember the famous surgeon in my home town, who would first cut up a patient and then renegotiate the price with the relatives, before proceeding with the surgery! Or everywhere around me I find ‘meritorious’ doctors employed in public hospitals, drawing comfortable salaries and doing roaring private practice! You are not even required to turn up in the village health centre even once if you have a rural posting. If the majority of our people usually have to do with the village quack, they would not mind a ‘slightly less meritorious doctor’ coming to take care of them, instead of finding solace in the fact that super-specialised doctors are ensuring that the elite of our country have no wrinkles, and such like grave ailments. [...]
Could a more diverse student body work more broadly in the national interest than it currently does? The national institutes produce computer programmers, dam builders and investment bankers, and fine ones at that. But perhaps a more enlightened investment would also produce managers of farming co-operatives and social movements, and young engineers designing check-dams and inexpensive power generators for remote hamlets.
Diversity of outcomes is closely linked with what is taught. "In my civil engineering classes at Kanpur, we never discussed issues of displacement that accompanies big dams, says Shivani Saxena, who obtained a BTech from IIT Kanpur and went on to get an MS from Berkeley. "There is a severe disconnect between the class work and what are the real issues around infrastructure projects. It took me many years to develop a holistic view of my work."
This disconnect comes not just because of the demands of the curriculum, but also because there are very few students who have been displaced by construction projects. How different would the classroom be if tribal students from the Narmada valley also present?