Friday, May 04, 2007

M. A. Pai on the future of the IIT system

In an ET column M.A. Pai shares his views on the problems faced by the IIT system, and on the way forward:

It is well known from the U R Rao committee report, which unfortunately is still not widely known to the public, that there is a tremendous shortage of PhDs in engineering to man the existing engineering institutions. There are more than 1,000 of them in both the public and the private sector. All the seven IITs have PhDs in their faculty in the ranks of Asst Professor and above.

The extension of the retirement age in IITs seems to have come at the right time to relieve the teaching load crunch. Starting a new IIT, from acquiring land to having a full fledged teaching and research institution, however, takes anywhere from 4-6 years. Additionally, recruiting faculty with PhDs in adequate numbers will be a challenging problem in itself. The production of PhDs in engineering in the country is about 900 per year in all disciplines with perhaps the lowest in Computer Science, a scant 50.


  1. Unknown said...


    This article has many problems.

    1. At least 50% of faculty with PhD implies the rest could be without ... this is almost outrageous. An M.Tech teaching B.Techs! I feel its only during PhD that one gets to think a bit about the basics to get some of them right. PhD must be mandatory before one starts teaching a practice oriented degree such as B.Tech.

    2. Jacking up PhD production in India and manning the new IITs has an assumption behind ie., the faculty at IITs are drawn from Indian PhDs. Thats not fully true. The problem is that most of Indians who earn PhDs abroad donot want to join IITs for various (including pay) reasons.

    3. The tremendous success of ISRO ... marginal involvement of IITs... is again a blanket statement. I would believe it if it comes from Sri Madhavan Nair.

    4. Doing away with tutorials! Again, a big mistake. As the cross section of students becomes wider, the faculty needs to spend more time clarifying concepts to the students.

    5. The student to faculty ratio thing is not a subject to compare with US universities. Do the faculty at IIT get the kind of TAs that US universities get? Heck no.

    All in all, an aweful article.


  2. Anonymous said...

    If we dont get sufficient number of PhDs, we need to ask a few questions -

    1. Is there sufficient incentive for a person to do PhD (in India or abroad) and then come back / stay back? If the answer is no, then we need to ask how could one provide the added incentives

    2. Where do the engineering students go off instead of doing a PhD? The most likely answer is: off to a software / management / banking job.

    3. ... which would make us ask, then, do we really need so many engineering institutes? If, at the end of the day, the enigneering institutes would turn out software professionals who read mechanical or civil engineering, then perhaps we dont really need that many engineering institutes. Always better if the software companies lap up the students on basis of board exams/entrance exams right after high school, with only the very few students - only the ones really interested and the ones who can look away from the lucre of software - pursuing engineering in college.

    I would assume this wouldnt cut down the supply for PhD students (since from amongst the ones truly interested in engineering a significant fraction would want to come for research). At the same time it would cut down the demand.

    To summarize, there is no need for teachers with PhDs to teach engineering to a bunch of disinterested students who would end up in the software heap anyway. Heck, for such students, you dont even need an MTech or a BTech. A mule which can read overhead slides would do for their "college education" and the actual burden of teaching them tech stuff may be best left to the companies who hire them.

    The PhD wallas would be better off teaching students who really want to learn.

  3. Anonymous said...

    The article is vague about two things: it says that post graduate enrollment can be increased in various ways, but none of these ways have been mentioned. Bright graduate students are hard to come by as you very well know.

    Secondly , the question of Ph.Ds who will become part of academia has not been addressed. I have not read the u r rao report thus do not know whether any data has been collected as to the career choices of the doctoral students.

    Questions of supply are paramount, logistics remain a secondary issue at the post graduate level.

    Prof gulhati has published an article in the financial express with some numbers. Seems like a pretty dark situation.

  4. Pratik Ray said...

    Prof Gulati makes sense. However, if the govt stops regulating higher education, its quite likely that soon, higher education will become the bastion of the rich.

    Even in US, where private universities flourish, there are still ample number of good government universities where the tuition is low enough. The pay scales dont vary enormously, and the govt as well as pvt univs manage to retain good faculty.

    In India though, such a situation is unlikely. The govt wont pay beyond a certain limit; and in absence of regulations the private universities would end up luring the better faculty - most of them at any rate. Which would once again consign the not too well off sections to 2nd rate education.

  5. anonymous coward said...

    the article makes ridiculous suggestions like removing tutorials. tutorials are the place where some actual learning takes place if the prof is good. tutorials have a 15-20 students in the class, as opposed to 80 odd in the lecture class. it gives the students a chance to interact with the prof and clear doubts. of course, if the prof is bad or students are disinterested, it is a pointless exercise.

    as far as PhDs go, most of the faculty, atleast in CS dep were PhDs from abroad. one perhaps needs to ask the question why some one, after spending 4-5 grueling years getting a PhD would want to sweat it out for the measly salary that IIT offers ? Some one, whose sole qualification is knowledge of english would be able to earn 10-15k in a call center. what is the point of becoming an assistant prof if you are going to be paid the same ? people may argue that those who are truly interested would still come, but why penalise them for their decision ?

  6. Anonymous said...

    I have a phd from IISc in engineering and want to apply to IIT Madras for a faculty position. But they want me to send a cheque for Rs. 100 or $25 if I am outside India, along with my application. Can anyone tell me why I should pay this ?

  7. Anonymous said...

    I seriously doubt that there is any great demand for people with PhDs in engineering in India today. However, I don't know about fields other than Mechanical Engineering/Materials Science and things might be different in other fields. I have been planning to return to India for while and have looked around for positions both in academia and in industry. I have contacted engineering departments in 14 schools (including several of the IITs). None of them have even bothered to acknowledge receipt of my query (whether electronic or paper). Interestingly, most of the places that I contacted had postings requesting applicants on their websites. If there was any immediate need for new faculty I'm sure things would have been different. I am led to believe that all this hooplah has some other (possibly political) reason and has no factual basis.