Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A quote that jolts ...

IISc [is] not a substitute for IIT.
-- Prof. U.R. Rao

That's the headline of this story on a recent meeting in which a number of public intellectuals in Karnataka spoke in favour of starting an IIT in the state.

* * *

Last year, the Central Government announced a wide range of initiatives in India's higher ed sector; they included setting up of eight new IITs (six of which have already admitted students), 16 Central Universities, 7 IIMs, 20 IIITs, and 14 'World Class' Universities. Despite a Central and a 'World Class' university coming its way, Karnataka is unhappy with not getting an IIT.

Isn't it sad that people -- and people who (should) know better -- whine about not getting a technical institute when they have an opportunity to create a great university? Particularly since a university can have a huge, positive influence on a far larger number of the state's people. Consider an institution that

  1. is configured to be what I call a 'real' university -- a research university that does undergraduate teaching, covers natural and social sciences, humanities and languages, liberal arts and professions, and promotes exciting research in many interdisciplinary areas.

  2. has the kind of autonomy enjoyed by our INIs -- 'Institutions of National Importance' -- the IITs, IISc, IISERs, IIMs, etc.

  3. gets the kind of government grants that flow to the INIs (about 25 to 40 lakhs per faculty member).

  4. has a governance structure that manages to avoid political interference (which plagues many state universities).

  5. that draws faculty (and a large fraction of its students, too) from all of India.

Aren't these the nutrients that explain the stature of the IITs? Shouldn't our intellectuals be arguing for a flow of these nutrients to all our institutions -- INIs, Central and State universities?

* * *

To the list above, I would also add another key nutrient: scale. A 'real' university that graduates, say, ten of thousand students with UG degrees, and several thousands of PG degrees is far better than a technical institution that, almost by design, would not grow to beyond a few thousands of UG degrees. A large size gets the state more graduates at a lower cost, making this model replicable. Even at the State level!


  1. Anonymous said...

    this debate make me suspect that the demand for IITs by states is merely to get more central govt. money that can benefit local communities.
    some ways around it could be -
    (a) Equal sharing of expenditure between state and central govt for starting and funding new IITs
    (b) no new IIT will be set up within XYZ miles of an urban/metro city (so that benefit really percolates indirectly)
    (c) rather than starting a new IIT from scratch the state has to suggest an existing state enggr. college that can be converted into IITs
    (d) govt. preference to starting a good technical enggr. college within a university system so that money spent can benefit science and humanities depts. too.

    Abhi overall I agree with you -rather than merely starting a world class science or technical center of excellence there should be a world class university which happen to have good enggr depts. like many univs in US

  2. Vikram for All said...

    it's great news.our government is thinking to establish more inc's in india.while establishing more first we think,how many imc'c getting placed as a world best universities.our iit's got above 50th position.first we need to think while providing more inc's we need to provide best services.

    i agree with the word IISc is not a susstitute word for IIT.


  3. Pratik . said...

    For a country to progress, advancement has to be made in ALL directions, not just engineering.

    The first-world countries understood that and invested not just in engineering education, but also in science and humanities. The third world countries did not, and stayed third world. And if any example is needed, one need not go further than India.

    The present reactions is simply a manifestation of the same attitude that prevents India from attaining her true potential. It all boils down to getting a lucrative job (never mind job satisfaction, its all about money and numbers). Tech provides the easiest passport to such jobs and so every one has to be an engineer in this country! Even amongst engineers, one should strive to become only a software engineer or a electronics professional.

    Heck. Absence of proper universities apart, that's my real grouse. Not one of the new IITs even have a metallurgy/materials department. BTW, most dont even have a chemical engg department. Makes me feel that energy, chemicals and metals arent that important for India's future after all.