Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The IIT-K letter and my comments

I received a copy of the letter written by 125 faculty members of IIT Kanpur to the President of India and the Prime Minister of India.

I respect the faculty members of IIT Kanpur. They are all accomplished individuals. However I must say that I was disappointed with the letter. I could only sense a mood of desperation in it. They seemed to be in a hurry and panic and hence did not think through sufficiently each of the points they had raised in that letter.

Here below, I have tried raising some of the points I disagree with in the letter. The quotes from the letter are all in italic. The rest are my responses. I was asked to quote the letter in full so that readers can make up their own mind. I have therefore posted the entire letter as a separate blog post.

"The undergraduate students of IIT Kanpur do not usually, or even often, come from wealthy and privileged backgrounds. The vast majority come from the smaller metropolises like Kanpur, Patna and Allahabad, or cities like Bareilly, and the moffasil towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A typical example is the late Satyendra K Dubey, an IITK alumnus, whose murder in 2003 while working on the National Highway project got national media attention. He came from a small village in Bihar."

I studied B.Tech Mechanical Engineering in IIT-Madras between 1987 and 1991. I was from Nagapattinam. In the graduating class of '91 in IIT-Madras, I could locate only 10 people or so from the whole of Tamil Nadu outside of Chennai. These people were from Madurai, Coimbatore, Vellore and Trichy. No one went to IIT from Nagapattinam before my time. No one has gone to an IIT since my time. The bulk of the students - over 90% - who qualify for IITs from Tamil Nadu continue to come from Chennai.

I reckon that over 70% of students who get into IITs come from large metropolitan cities. The percentage could be more. I refuse to believe that "the vast majority come from the smaller metropolises like Kanpur, Patna and Allahabad, or cities like Bareilly, and the moffasil towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar." I find it a wild claim, not supported by what I saw between 1987-1991.

"Most IIT Kanpur students thus overcome poverty, bad schools, and many adverse circumstances to compete in a gruelling entrance examination for the right to be here."

The way IIT JEE is structured, it is very difficult to get into IITs overcoming "bad schools" or "adverse circumstances". Nor is it easy to overcome "poverty".

"Backwardness is not determined by caste alone. It is clear for all to see that other factors like poverty, region and gender have greater adverse impact on the chances of a person becoming an engineer or a doctor. [...] However the point we wish to make here is not to argue for one set of criteria for reservations over others. Rather it is to argue that the best institutions in India should be the preserves of excellence, with proven performance as their only selection criterion."

Despite agreeing that backwardness is created by caste, poverty, region and gender, the professors believe that nothing is to be done to improve the backward lot, and that "best institutions in India" select people only based on performance as the sole selection criterion. But then they go on to say:

"Even if Government insists on affirmative action programs for IITs, we are sure that the IITs can be trusted to evolve and implement such programs by themselves."

That is, IITs will look at an affirmative action program only if the Government insists, and not on its own. Given the antipathy towards caste based reservation as demonstrated by this letter, and the attitude of "performance as the sole selection criterion", can one trust IITs "to evolve and implement [affirmative action] by themselves"?

While I agree that affirmative action is not exactly equal to numerical quota, it is certainly not selection based only on proven performance. IITs have to agree to an aggressive "affirmative action" policy. If they want to be taken seriously, they have to propose their affirmative action plan. The statement "After all, IIT Kanpur has had an exemplary record of implementing the SC/ST reservation in a supportive and pro-active way that became a model for all IITs" is strange. What is the exemplary record demonstrated by IIT Kanpur in this regard? How many SC/ST students have they trained in the last 25 years? Surely the professors have access to these records?

"In fact, many of us, and our students, spend time in school education, health, and rural developmental projects outside our busy schedules. We could participate in major ways in innovative research in education, health, and grassroots work, and thus contribute significantly to affirmative action."

It is nice to know that the students and faculty take time off from their busy schedules to contribute a bit to the society. Such charities are always welcome. However, we are not talking about charity work here. We are talking about proper affirmative action. We are talking about bringing disadvantaged people with considerable abilities to be trained by IITs and thereby enhancing the human resource potential.

"Past injustices cannot be redressed by further injustices perpetrated today."

That is why extra seats are added so that no forward caste groups are affected. In what way is the new scheme proposed akin to "further injustices perpetrated today"?

"If a sudden increase of faculty is imposed on us by a drastic increase of seats, the entire academic standing of the IITs will be compromised, and they will go the way of so many universities before them."

Why is the best institution in India afraid of scaling up? They say that "in recent years, they have doubled their intake". Has that resulted in the lowering of the quality? Are they saying that they can only scale up so far, but not any further?

"So the IITs are already short of faculty, as few applicants meet our exacting standards of academic excellence."

What is the real truth? (a) The IITs are struggling to attract talent. (b) Very few applicants meet the exactling standards of excellence set by the IITs.

I would reckon that the answer is (a). I know how a friend of mine, an IIT-Delhi almnus, who had a PhD from University of Massachusettes and was a Post Doctoral Fellow in Cornell University found the whole hiring process in IIT-Madras unpalatable. But he persisted. He left US, camped in Chennai and eventually got a job. He could have walked into any University in USA, but he had to show tremondous courage and he had to risk his career to get into IIT.

I find it an absolutely childish statement that the standards set by IITs in faculty hiring are somehow better than those of US Universities. A few bloggers who are currently faculty members or researchers in USA and Canada have hinted about how pathetic the hiring process is in the IITs. (Sundaramoorthy, Venkat and Rozavasanth should write their detailed experiences on how the great hiring process works in the IITs.)

IITs can hire top class faculty if they wanted to, very easily. There are several talented Indians working abroad who would love to come to the IITs. IIT professors should take a relook at how their hiring process is managed, rather than claiming that it is not easy to find quality faculty. They are misleading the public.

"Many institutions in India now have good undergraduate programs, but only very few other than the IITs can train students in the highly specialised engineering and scientific skills required in India if it is to become a developed country."

This is why more IITs should be created and each IIT must take many more students than is the case currently.

"So there has been a concerted effort in the IIT system to shift our focus to post-graduate education and to creating an excellent research environment. This was the direction provided by the IIT review committee and Government over the last decade. To this end we have been working hard to increase postgraduate intake and provide more time to faculty for research. A drastic increase in undergraduate strength will derail this effort indefinitely."

Unless IITs produce large number of undergraduate students of great quality, and a substantial numbers of them decide to stay back in India and continue their post graduate studies in IIT, the postgraduate programs cannot produce the desired effect.

A way must be found to increase the undergraduate and post-graduate intake simultaneously. Surely the best brains in IITs can think through this problem and solve it easily?

"At this moment, when the entire nation is on the verge of take-off to becoming a major economic power, when multinational companies are shifting their research and development centres to India because of the vast technical manpower here, let us not play with these great institutions and cripple them in the hour of their greatest utility."

The insinuation that reservation will result in lowered quality of the output, and thereby crippling of the institution and the progress of the country - is getting to be ridiculous. Reservation is only for the intake. The students will have to subsequently clear the exams, and the exacting standards set by the professors of IITs. Did they think they are being asked to set separate question papers for the reservation students? Is that what they have been doing for the SC/ST students?

"We share the concern of the government for providing the young generation with good education and economic prospects."

Please, then do not oppose the reservation proposal suggested. I would go further and request you to develop an affirmative action policy that can be applied within the reservation percentages. Students from rural areas, women and economically disadvantaged can be given preference within each of the reserved areas. Thus, the IITs can show the country how reservation, combined with further affirmative action can help provide the young generation with great education and greater economic prospects.

27 comments:

  1. It threw more light on certain critical issues such as faculty recuritment etc. Your stance is commendable on this issue.

    Rajkumar

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  2. It is a good one. In someother blogs I am reading criticisms (not serious ones)about you in this regards. Without bothering them, you are writing effective articles. Bravo!!! keep it up.

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  3. Future Shock

    Wisdomless Politicians
    Meritless Admissions

    Meaningless Curriculums
    Substance less Examinations

    Faculty less Departments
    Student less Colleges

    VC less Universities
    Knowledgeless Society

    Developmentless Nation
    Into that hell of gloomdom

    My Father, let my country
    go to Sleep
    let my country go to Sleep.....

    Poem by BR Natarajan BITS Pilani

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  4. "the vast majority come from the smaller ..... I find it a wild claim"

    I too find this as a wild claim.I am from a town like yours , never got thru ITT JEE.I strongly believe it depends on the school where you go for your Higher secondary and the nature of training you get.City students always get the best..
    so don't you think it is very imporatant to have good schools and training institutions, rather then having caste based reservation.
    "...hiring process in IIT-Madras unpalatable"
    Badri , I really don't know what kind of process he went thru..A friend of mine who has MS PhD from US university and worked as consultant in US got into IIT Madras few years back.He filed his applications , attended an Interview and met faculties....Thats all.Ofcourse he flew to Madras twice and the whole process took some where between 8 to 10 months.Never heared
    of any complaints.

    I don't know whether is it wise to compare the US recruiting process, because each university has its own process in US.In my opinon if you have published few good (not copy and paste)research papers,and if you have good connections in the universities it is easy to become a faculty.I am working as a Adjunct in a university , I happend to see this stuff.I am sure lot of our people are getting Assistantship like this..Anyway I am eager to see what your buddies have to tell.....

    "This is why more IITs should be created and each IIT must take many more students than is the case currently."

    Yes we need.In one of my earlier reviews I have mentioned this as B level schools.

    In my view giving just caste based reservation is not going to get the people from rural areas, I have a feeling this caste based reservation will only help backward clas people(creamy layers) from chennai like cities... so I vote for good schools and qualified teachers in all the schools and very important good training institutions .

    with best
    CT

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  5. Nothing wrong with the thrust of your argument. So, at a 30,000 feet level - no right minded person would disagree with you.

    If you want to contain the discussion at the 30,000 feet level, then we all agree on the need to make our campusus more diverse. Case closed. Even the striking students agree on the need to help the deprived, disadvantaged, underrepresented, so there is no issue.

    However, intentions are one thing and implementation is another. If you want to talk at this level, what actually happens then read on.

    There are two ways to look at the quota policy. Maybe I am talking to someone who knows much more than me about social stuff, but here goes anyway.

    1. Preferential treatment because of historic and cruel injustice meted out to a large section of society due to our caste system. This includes all social evils like untouchability, carrying night soil, preventing access to wells + tanks etc. Only SC/STs have a justification to this quota. If OBCs try to extend the narrative to cover themselves, it would be extremely unjust to the Dalits. Unfortunately, we see a lot of that happening. As far as I know, everyone - understands the need for this. Lets move on.

    2. Preferential treatment just because of lack of representation in various walks of life - including at IITs/IIMs. Now we are talking a whole new ball game here. This form of treatment (which the OBC quota is) requires extremely careful monitoring, because at the root it assumes that caste is the best approximation to measure access to groups of people. If you do not monitor this OBC quota, the system is worthless. This is what we have today and that is the main issue being raised by everyone. The students do not mind giving up their seats for the interest of social justice, they just want to get facts about who is actually benefiting. I hope you are not against that demand ! If you agree with this demand, you support the strikers position - because at the moment that is their only demand.


    In the face of personal anecdotes, we cannot have a reasonable discussion. You say the OBC quotas are reaching the target population efficiently with little misuse, I say that only in rare cases that the OBC quota is used correctly. In fact it is so rare that if a hotel server or lorry drivers son make it to a college, it is newspaper headlines. Isnt this supposed to be normal ?

    Try to reply - leaving out the hapless SC/STs out of the discussion.

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  6. CT: Without doubt, the school system right across the country should be strengthened. Those who go to city schools are already in an advantageous position. Those who are rich are in a position of advantage. I do believe that in addition, those coming from several caste groups are in a position of disadvantage. So all of this must be addressed.

    Is caste based reservation the only solution? Can there be other, more effective affirmative action policies? May be. But in the absense of any other proposals, caste based reservation goes a long way in addressing the imbalance.

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  7. rc: on historical injustice. I am not at all looking at reservation as a way of righting a "historical injustice". That is how several may see. But to me, education at all levels should be widely distributed across castes, regions and gender for uniform and fast paced development of the country and massively enhancing the social capital in our country.

    I believe quotas help in achieving this.

    OBCs or for that matter any disadvantaged community/ gender/ region should look for ways to push their group up to make the most out of the new opportunities that are currently available in India.

    When the Government recognizes the just desires of any specific group, they should look for solution without affecting other groups, as far as possible. I believe the current proposals are doing precisely that.

    Your contention - in your blog and the comments you have written in various other blogs - is that OBC quota will be hijacked by rich and powerful lobby amongst the OBCs.

    I accept that such a possibility exists. But creamy layer, and effective monitoring of the same will go a long way in addressing the same.

    I also know that you have stated in a few places that creamy layer does not exist in Tamil Nadu's reservation policy and the politicians from Tamil Nadu (particularly PMK) are demanding that creamy layer be not included in the current proposal.

    I think creamy layer concept must stay, but it can be made more lenient than it is - I have read the definition of creamy layer in the National Commission for Backward Classes. So something in between the Tamil Nadu approach and the National approach is probably a better solution for defining 'creamy layer' and excluding them from the quota. This will help directing the benefits of quota to the needy.

    I am not with the striking students and medicos at all. What they have done is unacceptable. They are one of the reasons why more medical seats should be created in the country - 100s of new medical colleges must be opened in the country. 1000s of doctors spread across all communities should be created. We cannot let a few privileged to hold a country and its sick and dying to ransom.

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  8. So, you do not want hard data about the system ? Do you want personal anecdotes and feelings instead to guide the public discourse ?

    Amazing, nothing more to say.

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  9. I didn't say I didn't want hard data about the system. Hard data should be obtained.

    In fact the current PIL in front of the Supreme Court is demanding hard data.

    However the 'status quo'ists always demand hard data, committees, proceedings and so on to delay anything that is going to spread the power. Those fighting for improvement of their status will always demand that they be given immediate benefits.

    The Government must balance the two. Immediate relief wherever possible and backing the same up with hard data and subsequent correction wherever needed.

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  10. Badri,

    So our differences have narrowed down to one single point.

    I (and the agitating students) want data to be collected and analyzed scientifically before a quota policy is enforced. Keep in mind that we do not even have rudimentary data about OBCs.

    You want the quota to first implemented with immediate effect and then (maybe? when?) institute a statistical study. You say at that later date, you can remove some communities or cut the quota down if the study indicates that the quota is not reaching the needy.

    You tell what is realistic.

    You tell will any community anywhere in India agree to be taken off the list or agree to a reduced quantum.

    No public policy (in a civlized society) can "act first and study later if that act was even required."

    Finally, you maybe aware that in 1971 TN appointed a commission to study the OBCs. It found that a section of OBCs were cornering a majority of the seats, and recommended a strict creamy layer for those communities. Now fast forward 35 years later, and two generations later, 18000 doctors later, those same communities are still cornering the seats, is that fair ?

    The OBC quota is far more complicated than you think. There are many dominant communities in there that are much wealthier, own more land, are more educated than the so called forward castes. If they remain in the OBC pool it means the system is not working.


    My suggestion is study first, prune the OBC list to exclude dominant communities based on the Mandal recommendation for measuring social backwardness, enforce the creamy layer compulsorily, and adjust the quantum of reservation to reflect how many OBCs get in on the open competition.

    Once we do that, we have a legitimate system backed by data. I dont think anyone will have objections if such a system was in place (even in IITs,IIMs,anywhere else).

    We can always conduct a time bound study if there is an apprehension that these studies take too long.

    To wrap up, an important thing to note is that there was no URGENT need for this quota. There was no mass movement demanding an OBC quota in IIMs or IITs. So you cant say that OBCs were getting impatient, because there is no evidence to suggest that position.

    Dont get me wrong, I just want to point out that the demand for a study into the OBC quota effects is not as unjust as you might think.

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  11. The basic problem is that of a value judgement. In your opinion a poorer student deserves a seat more.

    By the way, have you heard that a Rickshaw-puller's kid and a farmer's kid went to IITs last year? A Tea-Stall owner's kid was ranked 34th in this year's civil services exams.

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  12. Badri,

    We were contemporaries at IITM (although not batchmates). I think the experience at IITm does not translate in other IITs, especially IITK. I do think that IITM is heavily populated by people from the major metros. Since grew up in Calcutta, I did have lots of friends in IITK and IITKGP. My broad-brush perception is that there are more people from smaller cities in places like IITk and IITD. I maybe wrong, but your extrapolating your IITm experience is perhaps not valid.

    Before we debate the desirability of affirmative action, we must first decide what the purpose behind IITs are and whether that purpose itself is meaningful in a country like India. From what I understand, the IITs were meant to provide a young nation with with technological excellence needed for development. Have the IITs even remotely done this? IITs have become essentially a method to select among the best analytical minds (one of many possible methods). In short, it has become, in economics jargon, a signaling device. Once we understand this, it is clear why there is such a clamor on both sides.

    The well-to-do OBCs (let us not kid ourselves that OBCs coming to IITm will be from Nagapattinam and places like that) want a piece of the rich rewards that this signaling mechanism provides. Upper castes are worried that their shot at signaling their "high" quality will be further restricted. I am not going to pick sides in this.

    However, in the long run, the signaling device itself will lose credibility if the underlying mechanism for selection has been changed. This probably for the best. There wont be such a clamor for and vast amounts of time and energy spent in signaling. People will pursue true education (hopefully).

    In any case, I frankly dont think the government should be spending crores of rupees on the IITs, when with the same budget you could run 1000 of decent primary schools. What the nation needs desperately is good quality primary schools universally available. Instead of ramping up IIT budgets to accomodate more seats, the government should cutback, let the IITs fend for themeselves and use that money to shore up primary and secondary education.

    What leaves me cold about the reservation debate is that the actual beneficiaries will not even remotely resemble the purported ones. They will not be from small towns and villages. They will not be a poor farmer's or laborer's children. You are going to replace upper-middle-class city-bred upper caste kids with upper-middle-class city-bred OBC kids (I am sure this assertion will be contested but this is as good as you own observation about the composition of IITm students). I dont see why or how this furthers social justice in any meaningful way.

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  13. @anon above me: Though, the precentage of students who come from major cities in IITK may not 90%, most of the students are from Delhi or Kanpur or Patna or Lucknow. So, it may be around 70%. Dont quote me on that because there is really no data for this.
    Secondly, you say that it would be only the city bred kids who would get the benefit of this reservation. Perhaps, that would be true about IITs and IIMs but you must realise that this reservation is all-India and in all government universities and colleges. Somehow, in all this ruckus and debate created around AIIMS and IITs, we tend to forget that.
    So, it is definitely going to help students from smaller towns.

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  14. Hi Badri,

    First of all its an amazing post. Probably the best one I have read on the reservation issue. I am not only saying this because I share a similar opinion with you on this issue but rather the well balanced and well thoughout nature of the arguments you have made.

    Inspite of this being a really emotional issue to many people (and understandable so) I think it will be quite hard for people to dispute your arguments.

    - Eshwar

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  15. The discussions seems to be going in different directions from voicing support to increasing the seats to affirmative action.

    How do you expect increasing the seats will provide opportunities for the rural students? Again, the majority of the seats will be taken by the already opportunity rich urban students.

    In business education, you can relate diversity to the success and bring a balanced class with representation from all quarters. It wont apply in technical education. So, what is a good affirmative action for such institutions ?

    Has there been single institution which has implemented such action effectively?

    Has there been any review on the impact of IITs and IIMs to our society? If it truely represents the urban, what is the point of funding them?
    May be scrapping JEE an option? Or should the IITs provide some "quota" based on the local +2 exam results?

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  16. Hi Badri
    Thank you for the response.I appreciate it....
    I think, if we give this reservation on war foot basis...it is very difficult to ammend at later stage on negative side.I would say government should use all the technological advancements to get the authentic data on war foot basis and come out with a plan (preferably not on caste basis )which can really benefit the people who deserve... also we should have some measure of success of these people...

    with best
    CT

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  17. In democracy it is not enough if one is a good citizen. In order for democracy to work effectively it is necessary as a Good Samaritan one ensures that others are also good citizens. If one observes bad behaviour one needs to be vocal about it and condemn it. If somebody feels that something is not right they need to make their voice heard and ensure that people hear their voice.

    Being a mute spectator in democracy is not participation. One needs to get involved in everyday activities related to ones surroundings, society and country as a whole. A citizen needs to have unflinching love for his country and must get involved in betterment of the society.

    Every step that he takes towards goodness hinders the evil pervading the society by another step. It is an everyday war between the good and evil. Nothing good will happen on its own cosmically. One needs to assume that there exists no cosmic force outside us and all the force that needs to bring the change in society lies inside us.

    If a change or revolution needs to be brought into the society it we who need to cause it. We have to exert ourselves to action in order to ensure that there is movement of the wheel in the right direction. By inertia the society will move in the wrong direction. It is we who need to make it move in the right direction.

    Why should I care? I pay my taxes, isn't that sufficient? No, If you are paying taxes more the need for you to get involved with the country. You need to find out how the government is utilizing your money. Is it using for the benefit of the society. What is the use of paying money every year to somebody if he is not giving it back to you with interest? The idea behind collecting taxes by the government is that government uses its judiciously for the collective good. You have to be concerned if the government is not using it for collective good.

    What the reservation movement needs is not your money. It needs your time. You have to stand there in the roads holding the placards in the hot sun, bearing the rough weather or in the rain as the case may be. You must be undeterred and your focus should be on the vision. Every act of voluntary work done by you will help in a great way in the cause.

    If you don’t act now, history will look upon you as coward, who didn’t act when he was supposed to. He didn’t do when his country called him to act. Good will slowly lose grip over society and evil will take over. Once evil takes over don’t ask God for help or don’t curse yourself for not having acted when it was time to act.

    Act now for history will never forgive you.

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  18. A lot of your argument is based on dismissing what the IIT profs have to say about the make up of student body while extrapolating your own 'experience'. Let me inform you that the make of students in IIT KGP was not as elitist as you have mentioned about IITM. In fact, a huge number of students in our batch came from small towns and villages in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Considering that, I am totally prepared to believe that student population of IITK is made up of people from the not so elite places.

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  19. I agree with you because i dont know how many study in IITM come from the outskirts f Chennai however IIT K and IIT Kgp i can definitly say for sure it is different. In west Bengal the number of ppl getting into IIT from Kolkata can be counted on your hands but from far flung places the count is higher. Please note the professor mentioned from the villages of UP, Bihar etc. You havent seen the people who get into IIT from the places in Bihar which ppl in Bihar havent heard of. Its just a case of knowing. There are even ppl who have to explain to their relatives why they prefer to go to IIT rather than stop studying after high school.

    As for the seats reserver there is one complain which will have to be addressed don't you think. What about the seats that do not get filled? This happens all the time. The IITs used to take in NRI students based on their SAT scores but they discontinued it a couple of years back when they found the students were not performing well. Excuse me but then these guys actually pay their way through collage, so we should not have removed the seats right?

    You seem to think by just having more profs the number of students can be accomodated. I dont know about IIM but having seen the senario in IIT Kgp and IIT B i shudder to think what will happen when we increase the number by 54% (provided that all the reserved seats get filled anyway). Infrastructure is something which no1 seems to consider anyway. After all who cares about the students anyway? Let them live in hostels which do not receive water for 7 days in a row, we need more places lets just partition a room into two and put more beds in . Opps we have already done this. Ah yes what about labs. Hmm we already have the labs in use monday-friday in both morn and aftea. Lets do night shifts and the weekends as well. What the doubling of intake has done has created chaos in the depts. And i am not even talking about professors here.

    Yea they are definitely strugging to attract talent. Not to mention the sky high salaries which the government has fixed, or the research grants or the clearance of any person aspiring to be a professor must come via the government(read CBI), not to mention their children will have be taought in schools whose teachers are neither here nor there.

    Not seperate ppers but definitly lower qualifying marks. Didn't you know that ? Same paper score less get same degree. And yes they will take a few more years to pass sometimes but if they dont then what happens?

    Let's be real here, the IITs will accept the reservation cause it will happen. The SC/ST results are not allowed to be shown because the GOVERNMENT OF INDIA does not allow it to be quoted, else we would have all the sides quoting it wouldn't we. Especially if it has been a success then they would be shouting it off the roof tops to garner support for the reservation.

    Why dont we keep the reservation as such This caste has this percentage so they shall get only this many number of seats. Lets club some castes together cause otherwise they wont be able to have a seat maybe. Lets do that after all we are looking for fair representation.

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  20. I want to add one more data point to the other posters here regarding the diversity of the student body at IIT Kgp when I was there during 1995-1999 - as the professors contend in their letter, it was indeed diverse with people represented from all over India, both urban and rural. In fact I heard the names of some of the small towns such as Darbhanga because of the incoming class has students from these towns.

    Also having interacted with my school mates who went to other IITs like IIT-M (my parents too would have wanted me go to IIT-M, alas my Hawaa was too screwed up! :)) or IIT-B, I can also see how these places might be dominated by kids who transition from the big city schools to IITs located in the same city. I mean even if you open an IIT, at say Vellore, which IIT do you think kids who grew up in Madras would prefer to attend? As an aside my anecdotal data from that period of time also indicates that the student body at IITM in particular is split almost evenly between folks from TN and AP, with a representative slice from the rest of India. If nothing else, this in particular makes me glad that I ended up at IIT-Kgp instead of IIT-M , with no offence intended to IIT-M folks. :)

    As for debate itself, I second rc's arguments, because that I don't trust the exsisting political system not to f**k up whatever distribution scheme they might come up with (not that it won't end up being hazaar f**ked eventually) by implementing it without doing any rational study.

    On a more anecdotal level, I had an classmate from Sikkim at IIT Kgp, who could have gotten into the Computer Science program if he chose to use the SC/ST reservation quota. But since he did not care to be slotted into want he percieved (rightly I think) a less desirable category, he chose Civil Engineering corresponding to his AIR. One can't deny that SC/ST students, fairly or unfairly, weren't (aren't currently?) slotted by the rest of the students into a seperate category; at Kgp the terminology used to classify these students was 'sheddus'.

    Clearly as the rationale behind IITs being percieved as the best, as well the self perception of the students at IITs of themselves as being the best hinges on JEE, replacing it with any other less background 'blind' scheme would lead to fracturing, at a pyschological level, of what I would call the intellect rationale on display at any IIT.

    That said, it is still necessary to ask questions regarding the function and place of such 'elite' (and 'elite' making) instutions in any socitey.

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  21. Hi Badri, these are my response to your response to the letter written by faculty IIT Kanpur. Your points are in italic.
    I see that comment moderation is enabled , hope you publish it unedited.

    I reckon that over 70% of students who get into IITs come from large metropolitan cities. The percentage could be more. I refuse to believe that "the vast majority come from the smaller metropolises like Kanpur, Patna and Allahabad, or cities like Bareilly, and the moffasil towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar." I find it a wild claim, not supported by what I saw between 1987-1991.


    I will tell you. I am a student of 2002 batch at IIT Kanpur. In our batch of about 450 students, there are hardly 50 students who come from Delhi, Chennai, Bombay, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad(considering them to be metros)

    The way IIT JEE is structured, it is very difficult to get into IITs overcoming "bad schools" or "adverse circumstances". Nor is it easy to overcome "poverty".


    You are true to a large extent but not exactly. Believe it or not there are students at IIT's who come villages where teachers haven't heard of IIT and poverty - sorry, a large fraction of students opt for educational loan. Just drop in to some IIT during admission. Increase in fee around year 2001 has made it difficult for parents of students coming from humble background to pay the fee but fortunately it did not bar their kids from clearing JEE. I would like to invite you to IIT Kanpur to note the diversity of student over here. To your surprise fairly large number of people are from villages of Andhra, W.B and TN. We have students from villages of Rajasthan, UP and Bihar, and there are students from metros too.There are students who find it diffuicult to follow English, there are students who don't know Hindi.We have son of rich businessmen, we also have children from not so elusive background and as is true for any heterogeneous sample of Indians everybody has his own view of things, hardly anything common between us except academics and may be ability to toil . But unfortunately in the debate of reservation who cares for these facts. Everybody tries to convince other that he is discriminated, and wants to be a part of this revolution marching backwards.


    Despite agreeing that backwardness is created by caste, poverty, region and gender, the professors believe that nothing is to be done to improve the backward lot, and that "best institutions in India" select people only based on performance as the sole selection criterion.
    You did not take the statement in its spirit, backwardness is created by caste, poverty, region and gender but then its solution is not that there should be reservation in higher education. WE should strive for a society where there is no caste and hence people are not discriminated on the basis of caste, but with reservation on, I am sure we will never reach that utopian state. Why? Simply because nobody would like to lose his caste based backwardness tag if loses some previleges(read reservation). Moerover caste is used here for reverse discrimination here. If you justify it by revenge then fine(because war/revenge etc need not be justified and their outcome and impact can't be predicted in advance and generally are not as expected) but then don't portray the picture of a better society.Moreover there is one more point here, I don't know about TN, but in North India , OBC cant be clubbed with SC/ST if you try to argue on the line of oppressed class. I believe people over here have read the recent article "Doesn't help to typecast", which argued the same.

    Then there is region based backwardness : Do you suggest people of Bihar and UP should have reservation, what about reservation to people of North East ?? If it is justified what is wrong with reservation based on religion ? Not that I am supporting reservation based on religion but my poor mind finds no difference. Let's talk about gender too - do you remember that once upon a time there was something called 'Women's reservation bill' nobody cares because it is not directly related to votes who cares if it is related to upliftment of society.
    Point is that as long as we divide ourselves in groups and demand reservation for our group, we can never be sure of progress(because there are endless ways to subdivide ourselves, each with its own reason) but we will always be sure of a divided society.
    While I agree that affirmative action is not exactly equal to numerical quota ...

    but quotas must be implemented. Without caring or studying if they are meeting their purpose. Do you believe 50 years of reservation helpled 1.5 % of people, should the SC/ST quota be reduced from 22.5 to 21 %. Come on , I was being foolish. Anybody with minimal senses knows that it is irreversible.

    That is, IITs will look at an affirmative action program only if the Government insists, and not on its own. Given the antipathy towards caste based reservation as demonstrated by this letter, and the attitude of "performance as the sole selection criterion", can one trust IITs "to evolve and implement [affirmative action] by themselves"?

    The statement "After all, IIT Kanpur has had an exemplary record of implementing the SC/ST reservation in a supportive and pro-active way that became a model for all IITs" is strange.



    I don't know whether you know, IIT Kanpur has something called preparatory course- where in students of previledged class(ones getting reservation) are tought for one year then they are admitted in IIT and also slow paced program for students who can't catch up. But point is not this, IIT's being a higher education institute can't open a center in remote village to teach children, affirmative action for the real upliftment of poors has too be done a t a lower level. Simply if you reserve the post of Chief of DRDO for some xyz category this doesn't solve India's missile blues :) say with respect to China or USA or some other country. And after all ability is not such a bad thing when you want to designate somebody as heart surgeon or space scientist. I don't like to remind but you must have heard about Mr. V.P. Singh's illness. I would love to say more but that won't be very polite and would digress the healthy discussion.
    How many SC/ST students have they trained in the last 25 years? Surely the professors have access to these records?

    That is another good point. They have trained all who could be trained. Unfortunately some could not be trained either because they failed to meet the academic standard of the institute. Yes professors have access to these records, but they *CAN'T* publish it, law prohibits it. Recently there was an article from a professor at IIT Delhi dwelling upon the similar issue, records related to performance of students frorm priviledged class kindly google that.

    Why is the best institution in India afraid of scaling up? They say that "in recent years, they have doubled their intake". Has that resulted in the lowering of the quality? Are they saying that they can only scale up so far, but not any further?

    I believe you appreciate that scaling up here is much more that making buildings, biggest problems is faculty. Recently at IITD, out of 135 candidates none was found good enough to be inducted. Also do not take it to heart, but I guess researchers would think twice before joining IITs as professors if half of the class comes via backdoor(fun in teaching from their standard would be lost , why should they not go and teach at a better place abroad where students come after stiff competition?) I would like to draw your attention to the fact that IIT professors are basically researchers , they are passionate about their area of research which demands the best. Saturday is a holiday at IIT Kanpur but all the Professors come to office on Saturday, they come to labs in the night. Won't the proposed scenario be unfair to their dedication and hard work.


    What is the real truth? (a) The IITs are struggling to attract talent. (b) Very few applicants meet the exactling standards of excellence set by the IITs.

    I would reckon that the answer is (a). I know how a friend of mine ...

    IITs can hire top class faculty if they wanted to, very easily. There are several talented Indians working abroad who would love to come to the IITs. IIT professors should take a relook at how their hiring process is managed, rather than claiming that it is not easy to find quality faculty. They are misleading the public.

    Sorry to say but this point was really in bad taste. It looks more like a lawyer's argument and less like an IITian's. I fail to see reason why would IITs shy away from hiring bright researchers as faculty and focus on misleading public. I would give example of my department, have a look at the following link
    this page, I don't know how you can devise a simpler process. I don't know what was problem with your friend and what is the procedure at IITM but this argument lacks reasoning. Moreover seeing objectively I doubt if you can really find several Indians working abroad who would like to come back to IIT, what is the advantage ? We have generous research grants and cutting edge seminars here and there, sky rocketing salary for professors , right ?

    Unless IITs produce large number of undergraduate students of great quality, and a substantial numbers of them decide to stay back in India and continue their post graduate studies in IIT, the postgraduate programs cannot produce the desired effect.

    A way must be found to increase the undergraduate and post-graduate intake simultaneously. Surely the best brains in IITs can think through this problem and solve it easily?

    You being an IITian suggest that OBC reservation will lead to more of IITians joining post graduate programs here and contributing to quality research.


    The insinuation that reservation will result in lowered quality of the output, and thereby crippling of the institution and the progress of the country - is getting to be ridiculous.

    Dear it is not so easy and simple to decide whether their argument is ridiculous or yours. More so if you do not take pains to explain why . Why should I believe it is different from Arjun Singh's interview to Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN.
    Reservation is only for the intake. The students will have to subsequently clear the exams, and the exacting standards set by the professors of IITs.

    Passing the exam is one thing and maintaing the IIT standard is quite another. Moreover why do you think they should study, any way there is reservation in higher education, jobs and where ever it is not there we will probably have it soon. Armed forces,judiciary,private sector,research institutes. If they fail or are not selected for jobs they can always sing the song of oppression and discrimination. I am not being sarcastic but this is fact. Why would you study 19 hours if it yields same result as from studying 5 hours .

    Did they think they are being asked to set separate question papers for the reservation students?

    The way things are going this could be an option. This option looks quite illogical but why should logic be involved everywhere !
    I would go further and request you to develop an affirmative action policy that can be applied within the reservation percentages. Students from rural areas, women and economically disadvantaged can be given preference within each of the reserved areas.

    I seriously doubt that we will have people from rural areas, women and economically disadvantaged section in the reserved category. Opposing the concept of creamy layer Mr. Lalu recently said - "Do you expect son of a Rickshaw puller to join IIT?"

    .... Thus, the IITs can show the country how reservation, combined with further affirmative action can help provide the young generation with great education and greater economic prospects. ...

    What about renaming them to IIRAA - Indian Institute for Reserved Affirmative Action ?
    Moreover do you think they won't complaint of discrimination. If students from rural areas are asked to form a group , what stops them from claiming that they are being discriminated against the ones coming from Bombay and Delhi, just look around this is what happens.

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  22. In any case, I frankly dont think the government should be spending crores of rupees on the IITs, when with the same budget you could run 1000 of decent primary schools. What the nation needs desperately is good quality primary schools universally available. Instead of ramping up IIT budgets to accomodate more seats, the government should cutback, let the IITs fend for themeselves and use that money to shore up primary and secondary education.

    If they did that Indian politicians will be out of business.They can survive only by keeping people poor and backward.

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  23. I think reservations might be an incomplete and inapropriate means of trying to achieve social justice.

    The arguments for reservation are social but what it aims for is economic. People argue that once there is economic balance then the social justice will be achieved. I don't that is going to happen.

    The correct approach in my way to acheive social justice is the abolishing of the caste system. Read My Blog on this.

    In order to acheive economic justice run programmes for the economically deprived. Mixing the social and economic justice will just widen the divide on caste lines and if you haven't already noticed, even those who don't believe in caste are increasingly becoming conscious of their caste.

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  24. Prashant Kumar writes:

    "...but quotas must be implemented. Without caring or studying if they are meeting their purpose. Do you believe 50 years of reservation helpled 1.5 % of people, should the SC/ST quota be reduced from 22.5 to 21 %. Come on , I was being foolish. Anybody with minimal senses knows that it is irreversible.

    1.5 per cent people has been helped by reservations; and so, the precentage should be reduced."

    Kumar, the precentage that helped is only in IITs and other educational institutions?

    Most of those SCs and STs get reservations in group 'D' posts in government like farash, mali,peon etc. The percentage of IAS or higher posts is so small.

    Why don't you look at the faculty at your IIT and other IITs to verify my statement? Why don't you also look at the number of vacancies filled up in your IIT and others?

    If you go by increase or decrease in the percentage of reservations that helped the SCs and STs, you will be in for a shock.

    The percentage of 15 and 7 were fixed decades ago on the premise of percentage of population of SCs and STs. If you take another census of these people, (dont do that!), the case for increase in the percentage of reservations will stare at you; and you will cry. Definitely, you will have to increase the percentage then. Pray God that no one takes that census and ask for more!

    As I see it, the reservations at higher educational institutions are opposed mainly to stop these people coming up.

    Merit is a myth. Anyone with fortunate circumstances right from his childhood will become definitely meritorious. Since dalits did not have that opportunities, they linger and getting mocked at not being meritorious.

    Merrily the meritorious walk into IITs and IIMs and then, on to America!!

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  25. What is the real truth? (a) The IITs are struggling to attract talent. (b) Very few applicants meet the exactling standards of excellence set by the IITs.

    The answer (at least in IIT-M) is (a). A simple question would be, how many non-IITM graduates has IIT-M managed to hire recently? A more revealing question, not restricted to IITM, is how many faculty have left after being disillusioned? Sure they are managing to hire more (thanks to the efforts of the younger faculty), but they are also starting to lose more (thanks to the efforts of the senior faculty).

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  26. excellent analysis and comments, Badri.I wish these were available to the public at large through newspapers in reg. languages anjana

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  27. Hey! My name is farhan.. i'm studying in from 4 in Hong Kong, which is like the 9th standard in india apparently.. I will be doing my public exams HKCEEs next year.. what should i do to get into B.Tech? i have no idea it seems all so complicated, please can you shed some light on this? it would be nice if you can email me at iceking6@Hotmail.com Thanks!

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