Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why IITs should scrap JEE: Two more data points!

Memo to the IITs: Wake up, People! You are losing the battle.

  1. Mainstream media have started comparing IIT faculty to cram school faculty. And, guess what? It's the cram school guys who get the "World Class" tag!

    While comparing the calibre of the students of the Indian Institutes of Technology versus the teaching faculty there, Jairam Ramesh left out one crucial element in the equation: the coaching classes. Even if the much-vaunted tech schools' teachers do not match up to the environment minister's exacting world standards, our tutorial networks certainly do.

    I checked, and checked again: there's no indication (on the website) that this story is in the "Humour" section of that newpaper.

  2. Mainstream media have also started celebrating reporting on the "success" of school shirkers [Many IIT faculty would tell you in private conversations that these students bring this attitude to the IITs]:

    [Student X] echoes a dominant trend among students these days, an increasing number of whom are paying little attention to HSC exams, and are instead concentrating on entrance tests for medicine and engineering colleges, since professional courses have their own entrance tests.


  1. WebMiner said...

    "Many IIT faculty would tell you in private conversations..." --- why private? Because they might get suspended by "the authorities"?

  2. WebMiner said...

    I can't wait for the IIT system to be dismantled. They really do not belong in India; the middle class has to earn them back. Kapil one-IIT-in-every-chawl Sibal is doing exactly that dismantling job, but the process is suitably and nicely veiled from low-wattage plebs.

  3. jv said...

    I always thought premier indian institutions should teach undergraduate students like any university in the US would. Now I am beginning to think otherwise. At least until the holy cow JEE is killed, I see no hope.

    I think IISc can take a lead by rejecting JEE as a mode of entrance to its new UG program. Do you think it can, and it will?

    Disclaimer: I did study UG in an IIT through JEE, and I dont even want to talk of "world classiness" of students.

  4. Prashb said...

    I appeared for the JEE a decade ago [ the subjective test, fewer seats and fewer candidates].

    Most of the people who cleared the exam were school toppers or at least high scorers (aggregates of around 90% or more) in the board examinations (Class 10/12) . There were a few exceptions which were students attempting JEE for the third time ( some second timers as well ) .

    My point is that IIT can keep experimenting with [ subjective JEE / objective JEE / board exam marks/ some other common entrance test] but the students who end up clearing the criteria will be (approximately) of the same kind each time even though it might not be the exact same set and the ordering of the ranks might vary . I still go through through resumes of IIT students and nothing suggests that this trend has changed .

    I took limited coaching for the JEE ( one tutorial of 2-3 hours, once in a week or ten days or so ) . Many people from my center cleared the JEE ( still do ). To me it was convincing enough that the JEE could be cleared with limited coaching or even no coaching . But I agree the good ranks generally go to those who have been through an extensive coaching schedule .

    Unless you switch to a drastically different system like the American admission system which takes into accounts Statements of Purpose, Essays etc. you will not get a very different set of students. But then, the American style of admission might not be practical or possible in India unless you have tolerance for extreme dishonesty and manipulation since this method is based on subjective criteria and not objective test metrics .

    So, what should IIT do ?

    As far as the test is concerned, apart from adding some language-skills component to the JEE, IIT should stop this wasteful redesign of the JEE again and again - it has been done enough times already and nothing suggests that the composition of students has changed .Isn't it unfortunate that the JEE pattern is revamped with greater frequency than the curriculum of most IITs .The JEE is distracting IIT from itself .

    The problem can only be solved if IIT administration realizes that the intense competition for the JEE isn't for getting into IIT, it is specifically for getting to study the Circuit Branches (CS/EE/Related Branches) at IIT and not for studying Civil/Metallurgy/Textiles and the likes. With some effort ( and without a whole lot of coaching) , most good students can find themselves on the JEE merit list . If you want to use the IIT tag to get into Management Consulting and Finance and those kind of fields then the branch doesn't matter much but even for those, it makes things much easier once you are from the Circuit branches. The Financial services for instance require good programming/ signal processing skills which CS/EE students have.

    The pressure for getting these branches leads to the pressure for a good rank which in turn leads to these brutally intense coaching centers .

    Instead of funding unwanted seats in Civil/Chemical/Metallurgy etc., IIT should redirect a significant chunk of those resources to expand the CS and EE departments. Even MIT has 50% students in the EE/CS group. At different point of time, different branches might be "hot" and IIT should redirect its funds to those departments accordingly .

    I agree that a good chunk of the students lack interest in Science & Engineering altogether so there isn't much you can do about them . But I can guarantee you that a good fraction of these students would have actually studied CS or EE much more seriously. I think CS and EE profs might find their students at least a bit more interested than professors in other departments ...contd..

  5. Prashb said...


    Currently, for most of us from non-circuit branches whatever we manage to do in our careers is despite IIT and not because of it ( not to discredit the role of that "Tag" ) . From the very first day at IIT it becomes priority number 1 to either change the branch, or look from an exit out of engineering altogether and get a semi-management kind of job.

    If IIT increases the size of CS/EE departments at the cost of others - I understand that it is not an optimal situation when the college churns out a large number of EE grads and almost no Civil Engineering grads . But an EE or CS grad often wants to work in his/her engineering field at least for a couple of years unlike a Civil Engineering grad who wants to exit engineering altogether. So even if IIT doesn't create enough Civil Engineers, at least it will be creating more Engineers.

    I have enough data and examples to back this statement of mine .I have seen many students from EE/CS giving up roles in coveted Management Consulting or Financial services jobs - to pursue an MS/PhD; or to do something technology related. But barring a few exceptions a Mechanical Engineering student will not even go to MIT or Stanford for higher studies if such jobs come their way. IIT should have collected enough such data by now to identify these trends.

    You might think I am needlessly harping on the EE/CS affair but that is one of the primary reasons for disinterested students and it is surprising that no one has ever looked at the situation this way, possibly for maintaining diplomatic relationships with faculty from all departments .

    Let me give you my own example . I was AIR ~2000 . I went to KGP and studied a branch which was a hybrid of EE+Mech . I liked a many of the EE courses . I disliked many of the Mech and Power Engineering courses . I was very passionate about programming, and did some 12 Computer Science courses ( many of them as Credit Overload ) . I never took any interest in the classes I disliked (Mech,Power) and never wasted my time scoring anything more than the bare minimum passing grade in them. On the other hand I liked CS courses and got A grades in most of them ( despite competing with students with a much better AIR ). So a Mechanical Engineering professor would have looked at me as a disinterested student ( one even commented and I couldn't have cared less ) but to a CS professor I would certainly not come across that way . The way I chose my(academic) priorities in college has served me well.

    Of course, if CS and EE professors start to find majority of their students disinterested - then there is a major problem . But complaints coming from professors in non-circuit branches don't really count since those students are stuck in a course out of compulsion and not out of choice .

    So till the proportion of EE/CS seats is increased dramatically, IIT administration can keep wringing its hands and complaining about the "quality of students" and conducting experiments with different entry criteria - nothing will change.

    ** No offence to core branches .I can understand that the need for infrastructure (hence, core branches) specially in India is real and not virtual. But I am just stating people's priorities as they are .

  6. Ramnath said...

    I checked, and checked again: there's no indication (on the website) that this story is in the "Humour" section of that newpaper.

    - Must have been the third edit.... In ET/Times, the third piece in the edit page is usually funny/sarcastic.

  7. sm said...

    From "Inside Higher Ed", a proposed alternative to standard entrance exams:

    "If anyone doubts that a new approach is needed in admissions generally, he suggested thinking about the state of society. "Our society has made the serious mistake of overemphasizing analytical skills in creating social stratification, with the result that we end up with people in top positions who are very analytical but who may lack creative, practical, and most importantly, wisdom-based skills," he said. "Look at our leaders in government and finance. How many of them would you call wise?"