Thursday, March 13, 2008

Anand Mahindra on the future of IITs

His address to an audience of IIT-B alumni, students and faculty during the institution's Golden Jubilee Celebrations has been published by the Economic Times. Here's the section where he talks about the possible futures of IIT-B:

... I believe that an IIT is not just an institution, a place of brick and mortar. Rather it is an idea that ability deserves excellence and that excellence in education needs to reach all who merit it. And I believe that the Dharma of an IIT is to be the Constant Gardener of India’s technological future – to spread excellence as far as it can go without compromising on quality. And I believe you should not remain islands of excellence--the time has come to be a tsunami that inundates the whole of India. If you define your Dharma as spreading accessible excellence, then the ways to nurture and spread the seeds are many. Let me be consistent in my use of the metaphor of seeds and gardening, and suggest four possible routes.

You could simply ‘sow the field’ wider and deeper by creating more campuses perhaps using the wonders of technology to create virtual campuses. In our own small way, we are planning to create a Mahindra College of Engineering, which envisions five geographically dispersed campuses, each one of which will have a particular discipline, or two disciplines in which it will develop distinctive competence. But all campuses, through state of the art technology, will be networked and will benefit from the collective competencies through virtual classrooms and networked knowledge management. I’m sure that IIT could achieve this orientation faster and better than we could.

Second, let’s consider the technique of ‘grafting,’ adding your skills to existing institutions to upgrade them to IIT standards. I know that there was a programme to upgrade certain Regional Engineering Colleges that met particular criteria, to the status and brand of an IIT. I’m not sure how rapidly that plan is progressing and whether it is being passionately fostered by existing IIT’s, which are the only ones with the wherewithal to make this initiative succeed.

Third, you could employ ‘hybrid’ techniques to create joint programmes with other institutions. During my days in university in Boston, I recall how enthusiastically the great institutions of learning there collaborated on permitting students to cross-register for related course work; undertook joint teaching courses; and even established joint degree programmes. Such policies here would allow aspiring institutions to raise their standard of teaching in a dramatically brief period of time.

Finally, and most important in my view, you could go undertake ‘intensive irrigation.’ Could a task force examine how IIT could itself encourage or even incubate an army of Anand Kumars, who could establish centres of additional training in many neglected and benighted areas of the country which suffer from poor educational opportunities. I know this is a controversial topic, and will face a barrage of questions such as the role of tuitions in education, and even the role of privatization in coaching. But this is happening, as we all know, in any case, and all I’m suggesting is helping to level the playing field for aspiring IIT candidates in areas where private enterprise may fear to tread. Irrigation could also mean, in a non-controversial manner, the creation of a cadre of great teachers with IIT training, who could be placed with myriad institutions in the country, thus elevating the standards of learning in a widespread manner.


  1. Anonymous said...

    hmmm ...

    Actually, there's many a slip between the dharma and karma. IMHO, the role of IITs are not clearly defined; or, if they are defined, they arent that well implemented. Are they supposed to be great teaching institutes, or great research universities?

    Or may be both? In which case, there has to be some faculty who do more research while teaching may be one course an year, while another set who teach 2 courses per sem while doing a little bit of research. I dont think IIT faculty have such well-defined roles. Its unreasonable to expect faculty to teach a lot (teach, here, includes "sowing seeds wider and deeper",grafting, intensive irrigation, using "hybrid" techniques in addition to conventional classroom teaching).

    During my time in IIT, I observed that the more active researchers were also the ones handling more courses; the ones who stayed idle in research typically offered less courses.

  2. Anonymous said...

    ** "teach a lot, while doing a lot of research" is what I meant in the above comment.