Thursday, September 28, 2006

IIESTs: Good news or bad news?


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).

Two institutions -- the engineering colleges of Aligarh Muslim University and Jadavpur University -- have been dropped from this conversion, primarily because the respective state governments were unwilling to give up control over them.

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.

7 Comments:

  1. Raghu said...

    good news : IT-BHU has long been the Trishanku of UG education in the country. Getting its students through JEE but not an IIT. Inside BHU itself, it has the identity crisis and sense of unbelonging. Finally, all that might be wiped away. Maybe even, resulting in a newer, stronger identity and access to more resources and control.

    bad news : IIEST sounds so uncool. The new identity will be shared with colleges which were once thought to be inferior in quality to IT-BHU.

    In an ideal world, I would prefer IT-BHU to be where Roorkee was, with its own seperate identity. Given that UR became IITR, seems like maintaining a strong, unique identity in engineering education is hard.

  2. Kumar Appaiah said...

    Since you have come down heavily upon the dual degree program, here are some experiences from a dual degree student at IIT Madras.

    First of all, I chose the dual degree programme when I joined because of its clear advantages. Now, you may debate that, I am in no mood to argue.

    Second, a large number of students, at the end of the third year of their B.Tech program have applied and got permission to switch to the dual degree programme. In fact I even know of some who had applied and have been denied.

    I really urge you to reconsider your pessimism towards the dual degree programme and its lack of popularity among students. Just because high JEE ranks don't choose the dual degree programme in no way makes then inferior.

  3. Subrahmanya said...

    >First, their name is a silly mess: what the hell is an engineering science?

    What is in the name? If they name it as IIT, as they expected politics will enter. Each state will ask for an IIT. The Govt is not in a position to open so many IITs right now. Further, they want a blend of IIT and IISc rightly. It is good as the number of QUALITY master degree holders will increase. Even if a fraction of this new set of master degree holders take up academic jobs, the quality of education will improve in other universities and colleges.

  4. Srinivasa Ramanujam said...

    "...the 5-year integrated program is vastly less popular among the students..."
    If a student has the capability to successfully complete the courses offered at graduate and post graduate level within 5 years, then the institute must encourage him to do so by promoting the integrated Masters program.

  5. Abi said...

    Raghu: I too agree that IIEST sounds uncool; as for the second part of your 'bad news', I would like to think of IT-BHU in its IIEST avatar as the first among equals.

    Kumar, Srinivasa: I'm sorry that I didn't express myself clearly in my post. I realize that the 5-year masters has its advantages, and that there are many students who would want to join such a program. However, their numbers are not large; many, many students prefer the 4-year bachelors programs for their own (often legitimate) reasons: they want to start working early, or they want to do MBA or masters or even Ph.D. in some other subjects, etc.

    Considering that a far larger number of students prefer the four year program, shouldn't IIESTs at least be allowed to offer both? Making them offer only the 5-year masters will ensure that they are not even considered by a large majority of students. From that point of view, it's certainly unfair, isn't it?

    Bottomline: I'm all for institutions offering a mix of programs. But, this decision must be taken by the institutions themselves (and they should have the flexibility to change their course any time), and not by some committee which bases its choice on its own perceptions about what our country needs.

    Subrahmanya: I agree that it will be nice if some of the masters students turn to academics. My comment was about the longer term impact of forcing IIESTs to restrict themselves to the 5-year masters programs.

  6. Vishnu said...

    I am strongly against this five year integrated masters or dual degree programmes. Let me tell you my story.

    When I went for counselling, I had no idea what each branch meant, by reading a one-paragraph description about some vague things. (I had some idea of what I got from a family friend who was a professor at one IIT.)

    I was choosing my M.Tech specialization without knowing what I would learn in my B.Tech! Doesn't it sound funny? And, the flexibility to change to something more interesting to you is almost non-existent at the IITs.

  7. Anonymous said...

    We recently had our silver jubilee celebration at ITBHU. The institution has deteriorated in infrastructure but the students we met were smart and sharp as ever due to the JEE. The folks returning from the US were at odds with the archaic thought processes of the current crop of professors and our bacthmates who had remained in India. The few of us returning from the US tried to explain that there is no substitute for the IIT brand. It is a world wide established brand and anything else (IIEST) is unacceptable. Take this advice to the bank, it comes from a bunch of successful executive alumni, who have seen it all in the US.