Many of you may be aware that seven engineering colleges, including my alma mater, the Institute of Technology at the Banaras Hindu University, have been in the running for getting the IIT status. Yogesh Upadhyaya, who has been following their progress through various committees, reports today in Rediff that five of them will probably be converted into, not IITs, but IIESTs: Indian Institutes of Engineering Science and Technology (Subrahmanya too has commented on this development).
The IIESTs will also get the status of Institutions of National Importance, which implies that they will have autonomous governance structures similar to those of IITs and be funded directly by the Central Government. This is the good news.
Is there some bad news? I believe so. First, their name is a silly mess: what the hell is an engineering science? But, more seriously, the IIESTs face a grim future right from their inception because of an onerous condition imposed by the government: they are being forced to offer only 5-year integrated masters program in engineering. Not only that, they are also being forced to scrap their existing 4-year bachelors programs. I am surprised by this condition because the IIT experience tells us that the 5-year integrated program is vastly less popular among the students.
Don't get me wrong. These five new IIESTs will, for the next decade or so, attract a good set of students into their 5-year masters programs because of their long track record of quality UG education. In the long run, however, the IIESTs will certainly have to compete with many more institutions offering high quality UG programs (indeed, Upadhyaya reports that three new IITs are likely to be set up in the next few years). By being tied to an utterly idiotic, poorly conceived, and ever un-popular 5-year masters program, the IIESTs risk being shunned by top UG students. This can mean only one thing: a steady decline and oblivion in the long run.
I hope the new IIESTs will fight hard to retain the flexibility to -- whenever it becomes necessary -- scrap the 5-year masters and go back to offering the tried-and-tested 4-year UG programs.