Saturday, August 11, 2012

JEE, Engineering and Reality

In a recent TOI article titled Anyone worried about what’s wrong with our education?, Prof. T. T. Narendran from IIT Madras observes:
JEE ranks do not correlate well with the academic performances at IITs. Rarely has the JEE topper finished first in the BTech programme.
If the primary occupation of the engineer should be creation, design and development of new products, then the very existence of engineering education in this country looks purposeless.
Although not offering any solution, Prof. TTN raises several concerns about the current engineering education system. Read more...


  1. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    IITs are institutes of technology. Engineering involves application of standard methods and practices. Technology concerns the development of new methods and practices and is fundamentally more creative than mere engineering. At IITs we hope to create technologists, but we only teach our students engineering. An ideal technology course should involve design courses in a substantial way. If necessary, even at the expense not teaching (or teaching in a modular form) the more mundane aspects of engineering. We don't do that. We make students go through vast curricular details as if they are preordained; whereas for teaching technology we need to teach them a more pragmatic, selective acquisition of information and its creative application.

    Some students do learn the latter skills due to the extreme workloads they are subjected to, selectively learning and optimally memorising the vast curriculum. It is by accident, not by design, that several students still learn this skill. Others who only learn to manage workloads become MBAs.

    We need to move from a paradigm of where we expect students to show a mastery of curriculum to one where we expect them to show a mastery of learning and application. IIT students are far too talented to be tied down to former.

  2. ajitjadhav said...

    >> "...then the very existence of engineering education in this country looks purposeless."

    I am surprised that Tenured Professor T. T. Narendran, Dean, Industrial Consulting and Sponsored Research, IIT Madras, is not aware of the by now, I guess, 15+ platforms of 4-wheelers (i.e., easily, 30+ brands/products) more or less ab initio designed in India. Not to mention numerous 2-wheelers. And, 3-wheelers (in which the Indian contribution is unique in the world, in case the reader didn't know it). Also, more than one electric (battery-operated) 4-wheeler platform. I mention these products because they are very visible even to the layman. I am sure there are new products designed completely here, also in every other field of engineering, not just autos.

    I am not saying that copying---err, reverse engineering---does not exist. In fact, if you take all Indian products (designed by engineers or otherwise), copying would be found to be there in a majority of cases.

    However, in recent years/decade, I can now also see very direct evidence to be able to clearly say that new, complex, and engineering-wise demanding products are really, actually, being designed here, in India, these days.

    The Tatas began fully _designing_ cars in India right in the 1990s, heavily using CAD/CAM/CAE technology, followed soon, I suppose, by the Mahindras. And, by design, I mean here: both the detailed as well as the systems-level mechanical engineering kind of design---not of the (Italian/IDC etc.) styling kind of design. BTW, the "noncreative" or mundane kind of undergraduate courses are necessary at the detailed design level. Reality is hard and messy, and real work is often very mundane---something any one who has at all worked hard to achieve any concrete goal in reality (as against piling adorations and prizes and selections and high salaries and prestigious post-docs for fasttracked floating abstractions) would know.

    The designed-here autos have been commercially fairly successful in India.

    The leading design engineers in most such companies typically have _not_ been JPBTIs (JEE Pass B Tech IITians), even though all these companies have been hiring a lot of JPBTIs, and even _retaining_ quite a few of them.

    The SAE Baja design competition, now 5+ years old, almost inevitably sees colleges other than the (now 15) IITs bagging almost all the prizes, in each category, whether labeled "engineering design" or "technology innovation" or whatever else. The first-ever SAE Baja competition event (i.e. the only one without any preceding direct example about how to go about doing anything, i.e. without a prior example already set for emulation and improvement as in the later years) was won by the COEP team. (Yes, COEP is my alma mater.)

    There does seem to be something not just silly but actually enormously wrong (perhaps even morally wrong) with almost every aspect of the undergraduate education system at the IITs---their admission criteria, who they select as their professors, their undergraduate students, and the views of both the professors and students concerning all: other engineering colleges, their graduates, the capabilities of our (Indian) industry, and above all, IITians' views of what needs to be better taught to whom and how, and who needs such improvements first and foremost.

    Get real. First, figure out who needs to improve, where, and why. (Yes, COEP does need to improve in terms of funding, obviously. As to the IITs.... (LOL!))


  3. Vatsheel said...

    "JEE ranks do not correlate well with the academic performances at IITs" - I have serious reservations about this claim. I do not have data to support my gut feeling but when I was in IITK it was very clear that in all the courses involving more disciplines(compulsory and electives) the students of Computer Science, Electrical, Mechanical and Chemical did better than the departments with lower ranks. In fact in Fluid mechanics and Thermodynamics lot of CS students outperformed Chemical ones.

  4. Pranav Dandekar said...

    The benefit of writing in popular press as an IIT professor is that you get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to vague, dataless, claims.

    Whatever little merit his argument has, it is undermined from the get-go by the obviously incorrect premises they are based on.

    Consider the following statements at the end of para two of the article:

    "JEE ranks do not correlate well with the academic performances at IITs. Rarely has the JEE topper finished first in the BTech programme."

    Either Prof. Narendran does not understand correlation, or hasn't looked at data, or both. If all students graduated in the exact same rank order from the BTech programme as their JEE ranks, it would be called *perfect* correlation, which is rarely seen in the real world.

    So we should set our correlation bar lower. In that case, here's some data:
    1. Here's the list of JEE Toppers from 1979 on ( I don't know their exact rank in the BTech programme, but (a) they went to top PhD programmes (Stanford, MIT, Cornell) which means they must have done very well in their BTech, and (b) have been extremely successful in their careers in academia and industry after a PhD (my advisor at Stanford was a JEE rank 1).
    2. Most often the President of India Gold medal winner is from CS or EE, which means they likely had a top-100 JEE rank.
    3. Most IIT students that I know in the CS/EE depts at Stanford graduated at/near the top of their Btech class (and because they were CS/EE, they likely had a top 200 rank in JEE).
    If you need concrete examples, drop me a line.

    I've always wanted to ask this question to IIT professors, and since many of them read this blog, this seems like a good place to ask it:

    If IIT profs are unhappy with the academic performance of their students (i.e., the argument that students are not motivated, slack off, spend time on non-academic activities, are only interested in finance/MBA/consulting), why is the unhappiness not reflected in the grades/GPAs of graduating students? Why don't the profs decide together that they will only give out Cs and Ds to students in their classes. That way, at least the GPA accurately reflects the IIT's evaluation of a student's academic abilities. By not doing this, IITs are diluting their standards, and for that, the faculty are primarily responsible.

    Ideally, IITs should fail the students that don't pass muster, but I understand that failing a large number clogs the pipeline and strains resources (hostels, classrooms, etc.)

    I would love to hear the thoughts of the bloggers or other IIT profs on this question.

  5. ajitjadhav said...


    >> "So we should set our correlation bar ... drop me a line."

    Admissible hypotheses, valid cited examples, but statistically insufficient data.

    >> "I've always wanted to ask this question to IIT professors ... I would love to hear the thoughts of the bloggers or other IIT profs on this question."

    Indian rope trick.

    BTW, I loved the orderliness evident here: "the thoughts of the _bloggers_ or other IIT profs." ... Keep up the good work.

    @All: Also, any thoughts on including all other profs of all ... err ... "high profile science and engineering institutions in India," in there?