P.V. Indiresan (ex-Director, IIT-M) has two articles -- Does India need more IITs? and IITs: Quality only because of exclusivity -- on the government's decision to create new IITs (together with new IIMs, Central Universities). I'm not a fan of Indiresan, and these two pieces do nothing to make me change my opinion. His articles demand some serious fisking, but I don't have the time for it. Let me just take a couple of his arguments.
To counter the argument (which he attributes to some IIT alumni) supporting the creation of new IITs since there is so much demand, he uses this absurd analogy:
Extending the argument, as many more people want to become MPs, should we increase the size of our Parliament indefinitely? Similarly, is it desirable to expand the size of the Cabinet?
Implicit in the demand for engineering seats is the demand -- backed by India's fast economic growth -- for well-trained engineers. It is the latter need that drives the creation of new institutions. I'm sure Indiresan knows this, but why acknowledge it when you can use a cheap analogy that serves the purpose -- however illegitimate -- of winning the argument for you?
Indiresan then proceeds to dazzle his readers with some stuff about Nyquist's theorem, and uses it to argue thus:
... [T]he essence of Nyquist’s theorem is quite simple. Its philosophical import is: it is not possible to build a system that never makes mistakes; it is best to correct mistakes after they occur rather than attempt a system that never makes mistakes.
On that basis, it is acceptable to increase the number of IITs even if it is a mistake. However, the Nyquist theorem explains also that not all systems are correctable; only certain designs are stable. In the case of IITs, once poorly trained students flood the market, their brand image is liable to suffer, quite like Humpty Dumpty — not all the government’s ministers and not all their money will be able to get its reputation back again.
Thus, his fear is that since not all IITs can ever be the same, some of the new ones may not be up to snuff. Fair enough. But, he then conflates this fear with the potential erosion of IITs' brand image.
The short answer to this silly (but popular) complaint is: University of California (or, any other state university system in the US with multiple campuses). No one (at least, no one that really matters; since Indiresan is so high on exclusivity, he should be able to understand this) would confuse UC-Irvine with UC-Davis, or UCLA with UCSD, and none of these with Berkeley.
Similarly, each IIT is essentially on its own -- IIT-Patna is going to swim or sink based on how well it manages its affairs: selecting and nurturing its faculty, its pedagogy, its relationship with industry, its research credentials, etc..
But, why should that institution in Patna be an IIT, and not Jagannath Mishra College of Engineering? In other words, what is the big deal about IIT at Patna? The big deal this: since it will have the status of an IIT, it starts with huge probability of success. Why? The argument is fleshed out really well in an article by S.C. Chaudhary, a professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT-M). While I'm sure you too will love this article's opening sentence ("IITs are good colleges" ;-), here's the relevant part:
The credit for the excellence of IITs should go to the system underlying it. This system has two pillars — complete autonomy, and relatively generous funding.
Let us take the funding first. For about 5,000 students and 400 teachers, IIT Madras gets nearly Rs. 100 crore per annum. Even if put together, all universities in Tamil Nadu or in Bihar, with several times more students and teachers, get less.
Besides, IITs earn through consultancy and receive donations from their alumni. They also attract international funding. IIT Madras may not be rolling in money, but it can meet its needs and some fancies. Its faculty may not be getting salaries as in Massachusetts, Singapore, Tokyo or Toronto, but their working environment and the autonomy they enjoy make those salaries a less important factor in career choice. For conferences and researches, they can go abroad. They can buy a book or a laptop.
The other pillar of the IIT system is its autonomy. Reporting to the President of India, Visitor or Chancellor to all IITs, IITs have managed to escape politicians. Ministers have tried to interfere, but the Presidents have used their position and the trust reposed in them to save this their sacred charge. The IITs, therefore, work unhindered; and so do all their departments, laboratories, hostels, libraries, every unit and individual running them. They know their rights and duties, privileges and responsibilities, and enjoy those privileges and discharge those responsibilities without fear or favour.
Coming back to Indiresan's suggestion that "it is folly to increase the number of IITs without enough competent teachers to teach," which institution do you think has a better chance of attracting competent teachers: IIT-Patna or Jagannath Mishra College of Engineering at Patna?