Saturday, November 22, 2008

IITs deflate Yash Pal's trial balloon

The IITs have used some strong words in expressing their opposition to Yash Pal's proposal (which I termed a trial balloon) that they be converted into a university, offering a wide variety of programs. [Thanks to Prof. Ranganathan for the link].

Today, at a meeting with the panel in Mumbai, officials from the IITs, however, said [Yash Pal Committee's] proposal ["to convert IITs from mere 'undergraduate factories' to full-fledged universities"] was unnecessary and “retrogressive”.

The IIT system, they argued, was superior to that employed in central universities, the sources said.

Let's see how Prof. Pal handles the push-back from the "little more than undergraduate factories." Those impolitic words, by the way, are a direct quote from Yash Pal, who doesn't seem to be very good at "how to win friends and influence people."

* * *

Coming to the substantive points, the IITs are certainly right to point out that they offer a wider choice of courses to their engineering students and have started new programs in not only in management, but also in humanities and social sciences. IIT-KGP also has a Law School in the works.

Here are some (not completely original) observations:

  1. I do think that IITs' progress is in the right direction -- I am a big supporter of Real Universities. But I also think this progress is too slow.

  2. IITs are overstating their case about humanities and social sciences; despite their protestations, they continue to remain (primarily) tech schools; H&SS are a sideshow, and they know it.

  3. Prof. Pal should seriously consider a strategy for converting our Central Universities into real universities. Right now, they lack a strong undergraduate program (with BHU being an important exception); they are mainly graduate schools, with perhaps a tiny UG program in this or that subject. This should change.

  4. Three years ago, Prof. Pankaj Jalote (then at IIT-K, later at IIT-D and now Director of IIIT-D) wrote a nice op-ed about the possible futures for the IITs (or, go to his article). He suggested several models: a large public -- and real! -- university (UC-Berkeley), a large tech university (Georgia Tech) and a small university with a greater focus on graduate research (CalTech).

    Last year, in a different context, Jalote revised his views, and offered the Georgia Tech model as the one that was suitable for the IITs.

    To my knowledge, his article received the coldest possible response: silence.

  5. But when someone with a little bit more power -- like Prof. Yash Pal, heading a committee -- comes along and starts thinking aloud about a possible future for the IITs, they come out swinging.

  6. IITs don't seem to like participating in public discussions (I'm sure they talk about this sort of stuff among themselves all the time) about their possible futures. They end up reacting when others start a public conversation about them, and their public response ends up looking either smug (to Jalote) or reactionary (to Yash Pal).

  7. It certainly doesn't take genius to see where it's going: it's better for the IITs to come out and discuss this sort of stuff in public. If they do that, it will give them a way of shaping the tone and direction of the conversation better.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Couple of years back IIT KGP was also planning a medical school. See

    (If the link above does not work, then Google "IIT Kharagpur medical college" to get to the link)

    IIT Madras has started undergraduate program in humanities.

    So I guess all that IITs are saying (but not eloquently) is to let them add new programs at their own pace.

  2. Vinod Khare said...

    IITK too has started a UG program in Economics. We also have a vibrant program in design. And MBA too.

    My impression is that IITs are afflicted with the 'if it aint broken, why fix it' syndrome. And I can kind of understand that. After all, IITs have built a great reputation over the years and frankly, as a student, they're the best place to study. (I'm not saying they're perfect heavens, just that they're better than other places out there.) So people are scared of messing up. Like you're scared of messing up with perfectly working code for the fear it might not compile the next time.

    I think the proper solution is to leave the IITs alone and perform the experiments elsewhere. For example, the IISERs appear to me to be a completely different model than central univs or IITs. The country needs more colleges. Lets start them and experiment with different models in different places. Once we have figured out what works we can go back and change things. Or we may not. Different things work for different people. Lets have diversity and choice in the market. :)

  3. Anonymous said...

    i agree with vinod that diversity of choices and experimentation can be tried in new places. we need "more" good places to permeate the system and geography. why establish medical schools in iits ? it is a tech school..instead a better idea would be to establish a good medical school somewhere else so that system can wean another good student planning to enter the iits and put him into another good place :)