Sunday, April 10, 2005

The IITs won't be the same again

Tehelka, dated 9th April 2005, has a story on the changes likely to be brought to the IITs. This report is based on the minutes of the meeting of the standing committee of the IIT council, held on 5th March 2005, headed by the Chairman CNR Rao.

Let us look at one of the proposals being discussed:
Instead of the two-stage screening process, only one examination may be introduced from the year 2006-07. ... [T]he JEE should be made more simple and based on Class XII syllabi. Performance in the Board exam may be used as criteria for determining the eligibility. The directors of all the IITs would examine the possibility of making the examination more student-friendly giving due credit to the school system, and thereby enhance the credibility of the Board exam.
The two-stage screening process happened when the number of candidates writing the exam increased phenomenally in the late 1980s. I think this process was introduced from JEE 1988. Since the time JEE was introduced, until 1988, JEE followed its own syllabi and there were three hour examinations in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and English. The ranking was determined from the scores in these examinations and Board examination for Std. XII were not taken into account at all.

Since 1988, there is a first-stage screening process through a multiple choice exam, and those who qualify go through the second stage exam in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics.

It is unclear what the standing committe's suggestion is with respect to making the exams student-friendly. The exams are being used to filter out students and choose a smaller number - on par with the number of seats available across the seven IITs. What use is there in making the exams simpler? One can argue that the exam pattern may have to change to find the really deserving students, than those who learn how to crack the problems but may not have the real aptitude.

It appears that the main reasaon for making changes in the examination system is because of the "mushrooming of coaching institutions." However, the suggestions will not result in curbing the coaching institutions. There are coaching institutions for IAS exams, GATE, SAT, GRE, GMAT, JEE, CAT and any other abbreviations you can throw. When something is coveted, like a seat in the IITs, as much, coaching institutions are inevitable. Starting up more IITs - another 10 over the next 5 years, and increasing the number of seats in the existing institutions should help. There is anyway a need for high quality engineers. The Central Government could convert some of the existing engineering colleges (like it did with Roorkee) into IITs, bring in more funds and improve on the infrastructure.

It appears that the IITs are also starting all sorts of crazy courses at the undergraduate level, such as B.Tech in pulp and paper technology (IIT Roorkee), B.Tech in environmental science and engineering (IIT Bombay) and a course in Earth sciences (IIT Kanpur). This seems quite stupid to me. IIT Madras had courses in Naval Architecture.

There is nothing new in Naval Architecture. It is a specialisation in Mechanical Engineering with perhaps a bit of Electronic instrumentation etc. It is enough to offer a few more interesting courses as electives. I am afraid courses in pulp and paper technology, environmental sciences etc. will only create unemployable students, who will soon take up jobs in information technology sector coding for Google, or take up an MBA, and start selling soaps and napkins for P & G.

I cannot remember anything more than 5 or 6 options in Cornell University undergraduate engineering program. Civil, Mechnical, Chemical, Electrical, Computer Science and Metullurgy. I guess most American Universities follow a similar model.

It is only our premier institutions who come up with crazy ideas.

IITs are also planning to attract talented professionals to work at IITs. Since they cannot match the salaries offered by the industries, IITs will be looking at offering certain other perks such as employment opportunities for their spouses, education for their children etc.

The same tehelka issue also carries an interview with SG Dhande, Director of IIT Kanpur, but that is a topic for another post.

7 comments:

  1. Badri, I agree with you that if these decisions are carried forward, then the IIT's will never be same. It'll be sad if such a thing is to happen. Let me also point to you that the US Universties treat Engineering and Technology degrees distinctly. I wonder if there is any such distinction between IIT and an engineering college. For example, my university, Purdue, has the Electrical, Mechanical, Nuclear, Civil, Chemical, Aeronatical, Materials, Agricultural engineering programs (computer science is a science degree here) and also few other (non-conventional) technology programs like Aviation technology, Building Construction and Management, Organizational Leadership and Computer Graphics etc. This is to point that the latter degrees are more practical/hands-on and are rightly called technology degrees. Similarly the major degrees in the IITs are actually engineering degrees and the Paper and pulp tech could be the technology degree, with a narrow scope.
    Frankly speaking today, we can count the number of people who take up a profession in the field, they obtained their degree. So the situation is not getting worse/or being altered by these courses.

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  2. Very well, add this to the news and we can effectively deface IITs.

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  3. I agree that the IIT's will no longer be the same again without the JEE. In fact I feel that the prestige and pride enjoyed by the IIT and IITians is only because they had cracked one of the toughest exams in the world. With dilution of syllabus and exam standards we can expect a rapid decline in the mighty standards set by the IIT students. I wonder why the IIT officials want to make such a judgement

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  4. Regarding the so called speciallised courses like environmental enggineering et al. :
    The government bodies identify the requirement of specially trained people in the sectors of its interest. Then they give a recommendation to the organisations where this could be implemented. most of the times top institutes forced into the groove.
    But the fundamental purpose of its initiation are not channalised properly. For example at IISc, space technology cell. They train master students in space tech .They are not necessarily adsorbed at/by the centers in India. So I think, if they initiate a program based on requirement, that has to be followed till the requirement is met. During the program itself there should be some symbiosis in the training and the requirement. Then these programs will get its own credits. For example electrochemical engg. course at CECRI, Karaikudi. Most of the projects the students handle is to work towards some aspects of the requirement of that organization.

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