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Saturday, 18 November 2017

IITs Have Not Failed India. India Has Failed the IITs.

IITs Have Not Failed India. India Has Failed the IITs.


IITs Have Not Failed India. India Has Failed the IITs.

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 17 November, 2017


Abstract

It has long been the fashion in India to take pot shots at the elite educational technical institutes founded by Pandit Nehru, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), and refer to them as “White Elephants”. The complaint often raised against the IITs is that, despite the huge investment by the government in educating the students of IITs, IITians either go abroad for greener pastures or leave engineering altogether to take up careers in business administration, software, or finance.

But the reality is that successive governments since Independence never provided the economic growth needed to create the opportunities that would tempt graduates from such institutes to remain in India and/or continue in engineering and contribute their skills to manufacturing projects that would benefit the nation.


I was impelled to write this post after reading an article titled “How IITs Turned from Nehru’s Vision of Technology to Catering Engineers for MNCs.” This article is yet another screed against the IITs and their perceived failures, written, incidentally, by two humanities professors at an IIT.

This article is wrong on so many counts that I don’t even know where to begin. But I am going to try. But before I get into details, a general comment. It appears the authors are leftist thinkers, who believe that a person should happily engage in a low-paying job “for the benefit of the country” even if they can get higher-paying jobs. Leftist thinking is fine in theory, but does not work in practice, because everyone wants a better life.

A disclosure before I begin listing the problems with this article and, more generally, with criticisms of the IITs: I studied for my B.Tech. in IIT Bombay, almost 30 years ago. I continue to work in engineering, and returned to India after many years in the USA.

List of Logical Flaws in This Article

    What was the mandate of the IITs? To produce high-quality B.Tech. engineers. Did they fulfil that mandate? Absolutely. The fact that they are so highly sought after in India and abroad is testimony to the fact that IIT produces the best B.Tech. graduates in the world.

  1. The title itself is flawed: “How IITs Turned from Nehru’s Vision of Technology to Catering Engineers for MNCs.”

    I see nothing wrong in an engineering institute providing engineers for MNCs. The MNCs are located in India; they provide employment to Indians; they pay taxes and help the economy. What’s the problem here? Also, many MNCs work in technology. Does Nehru’s vision of technology not include technology for MNCs? Do we know? Did anyone ask him?

  2. Saying that the IITs have failed in their mandate.

    This is just plain wrong. The IITs have not failed in their mandate. What was the mandate of the IITs? To produce high-quality B.Tech. engineers. (Building dams, power plants, and industrial production units is what B.Tech. graduates, by and large, do. There is some role for MS and PhD graduates too, at the higher levels — innovating new products and processes — but the bulk of the basic work is done by B.Techs.) Did they fulfil that mandate? Absolutely. The fact that they are so highly sought after in India and abroad is testimony to the fact that IIT produces the best B.Tech. graduates in the world. Graduate study departments in the US don’t think twice before offering an admission and a scholarship to a student from IIT (unless there is a higher-ranked IITian competing with him/her). In India as well, companies love to hire IITs, whether in manufacturing or software. IIMs love to admit IITians into their management programs. So in practically every post-graduate opportunity you look at, IIT graduates are in high demand. This proves conclusively that IITs have not failed the country in their mandate of producing high-quality engineering graduates.

    It is another matter that most of them are not engaged in the production of dams, power plants, and industrial production units. But the reasons for that are not the failures of the IIT system, but the failures of the government.

    It is another matter that most of them are not engaged in the production of dams, power plants, and industrial production units. But the reasons for that are not the failures of the IIT system, but the failures of the government, as we shall see.

  3. “IITs have not developed the scientific temper of the masses.”

    Where did that come from? IITs have only one job: processing highly-qualified students into well-trained engineers. Where does the question of the “masses” come here? This is nonsense. It is absolutely not the job of the IITs to educate the masses on anything.

  4. IITs do not impart adequate humanities training.

    I can see where this is coming from. The authors are humanities professors in IIT. It is reasonable for them to want more humanities training — it shows that they love their subjects. I am all for humanities education and a more rounded education. But consider the humanities training that most Indian engineering colleges provide: zero. Relative to most of them, IITs impart a lot of humanities training. I studied at an IIT, and I remember at least 4 or 5 humanities classes. Very good ones. But it is not easy to increase the humanities offerings. IITs have a lot of subject material in engineering to teach, and I think this is all that is possible in 4 years. I would like to know how much they teach in Universities abroad for an engineering major.

  5. Caste attitudes of students are not shaped solely by studying a few classes in a University. They are nurtured through 16 years at home listening to your parents telling you who you should socialize with and who you should not, and why we are superior to those other people.

  6. “Failed to bring in structural changes to overcome the hurdles of a hierarchical society because of the marginalised position they have accorded their humanities and social science (HSS) departments”

    Wow, can we load some more on the plate of the IITs??? Now the job of the Indian Institutes of Technology is also to fix the caste system in India? Really? 4000 graduates every year, by studying more humanities in IIT, are going to end up as highly enlightened human beings and will not be casteist?? I’m really sorry to say this, but what are we smoking here?

    Caste attitudes of students are not shaped solely by studying a few classes in a University. They are nurtured through 16 years at home listening to your parents telling you who you should socialize with and who you should not, and why we are superior to those other people.

    I am all for teaching more humanities in IIT to improve the character of students, but let us have realistic expectations.

  7. I graduated in 1990. My chemical engineering class was 55 strong. Of that, 38 decided to go abroad to do their MS. This was pre-liberalization. Some others went for management. The number that actually worked in India in chemical engineering was abysmally low. Maybe 10 or less. And you think 1990s liberalization was the problem.

  8. “Economic policymaking since the 1990s became less methodological and more opportunistic. The policies were framed to facilitate the growing number of opportunities in the service sector, particularly IT and finance. As a result, the economy jumped from agriculture to services without strengthening commodity-producing sectors, including agriculture and manufacturing.”

    The howlers don’t seem to end. So, the problem started only in the 1990s? Until then, we had plenty of manufacturing jobs for IIT graduates? They could make a fantastic living in India?

    Let me tell you something. I graduated in 1990. My chemical engineering class was 55 strong. Of that, 38 decided to go abroad to do their MS. This was pre-liberalization. Some others went for management. The number that actually worked in India in chemical engineering was abysmally low. Maybe 10 or less. And you think 1990s liberalization was the problem.

  9. “Economic policymaking chose to fall in line with the neoclassical framework based on utilitarian thought, which helped strengthen a dream of high-paying jobs and luxurious life in this sector.”

    And what exactly is wrong with dreaming about high-paying jobs and a luxurious life — in any sector?

  10. The media just reports. If an IIT graduate gets a one crore rupee job offer, is that not news? It is a news-worthy story, and so the media is reporting it.

  11. “While it is true that the service sector contributes a large part of the GDP, it is also detrimental to the growth of agriculture and manufacturing.”

    This is just plain wrong. The three sectors are independent of each other.

  12. “Because of a long-term stagnation in agriculture and manufacturing, these students are unable to find any decent jobs there.”

    Finally! One correct point. You know what you do in that case? You fix that stagnation. Do not, instead, tell students not to take up a well-paying service sector job because a stagnant manufacturing sector needs engineers.

  13. Everyone in India wants one and only one thing: jobs with good money. Nobody studies engineering because they have a passion for science and engineering. They don’t even know what engineering is when they take that entrance examination. Not just IITs, but at any engineering college. Why do they apply for engineering colleges? Because in this miserable country, it is so hard to get a job, and so parents tell their kids, “if you don’t want to starve, get an engineering or a medicine degree.”

  14. “Media outlets further the craze by reporting on the highest packages offered to graduating students on the front-page, putting the pressure back on students to pursue education according to what jobs they think they should hold.”

    The howlers just keep adding. Now it is the media’s fault? The media just reports. If an IIT graduate gets a one crore rupee job offer, is that not news? It is a news-worthy story, and so the media is reporting it. Why are you shooting the messenger?

  15. “This resulted in the IITs emerging as the ultimate destination for employment-seekers than for those who had a passion for science or engineering.”

    My head is beginning to ache here at the lack of insight being displayed again and again. Okay, let’s get something clear. Everyone in India wants one and only one thing: jobs with good money. Nobody studies engineering because they have a passion for science and engineering. They don’t even know what engineering is when they take that entrance examination. Not just IITs, but at any engineering college. Why do they apply for engineering colleges? Because, in this miserable country, it is so hard to get a job, and so parents tell their kids, “if you don’t want to starve, get an engineering or a medicine degree.”

    There is zero role for passion in choosing your major in IIT. And this has nothing to do with the neoliberal policies of India since 1992. It has always been that way.

    And let me tell you one more thing about IITs, since “passion” is being mentioned. Do you know how students choose their fields of specialization in IIT? They look at what field they can get based on their rank in the entrance examination. They hear through the grapevine, through career magazines, etc., that some professions are more in demand in the job market than others, and so they go for that. They give their top three branch preferences based on how employable they will be in four years' time, and how much money they will make. Then they accept what they can get with their rank. There is zero role for passion in choosing your major in IIT. And this has nothing to do with the neoliberal policies of India since 1992. It has always been that way. It was that way when I entered IIT in 1986.

    At this point, I really feel compelled to add something. I am amazed that these things are not obvious to professors who live and work in an IIT — that they still do not know what students are thinking, despite all that experience. It is reflective of the ivory-tower approach of these professors.

  16. An IIT degree provides a good job. People want to go to a coaching class to improve their chances of getting in. There is a need, and someone steps in to supply that need. This is the market working. What’s the problem here?

  17. “The menace of coaching classes.”

    Oh. My. God. Here is another ignorant attempt at shooting the messenger. An IIT degree provides a good job. People want to go to a coaching class to improve their chances of getting in. There is a need, and someone steps in to supply that need. This is the market working. What’s the problem here? Of course, they will charge for their services. Let me guess what your problem is: poor people and marginalized people cannot afford to go to coaching classes. And therefore, nobody should go to coaching classes. Classic leftist thinking.

  18. “The decision to hike the fee from Rs 90,000/year to Rs 2 lakh/year smacks of a design to further divide the society on the lines of caste, class and gender.”

    My understanding of a white elephant is a useless, expensive thing. Well, if it is expensive, does it not stand to reason that its costs should be recovered?

    Really? I thought that somewhere early in this article, it was mentioned that the IITs were “white elephants.” Well, my understanding of a white elephant is a useless, expensive thing. Well, if it is expensive, does it not stand to reason that its costs should be recovered?

    For decades, the complaint I have heard from most people is that IITians are getting a free ride, that they pay such low tuition for a world-class education, and then leave India to work in the USA, or join management schools, where they do not use their engineering training, etc. Now, finally, the IITs respond to these complaints and raise the tuition rates so that IITians do not get a free ride — and you are still not happy!

  19. Industry is notoriously tight-fisted with their money for long-term R&D at Universities, whether in the US or in India.

  20. “Indian business houses — unlike their counterparts from around the world — rarely funded research and development at the IITs or, for that matter, at any institutes of higher learning.”

    Not just Indian business houses. Industry anywhere in the world. I have worked in US academia and US MNCs, and I can tell you, this conclusion is wrong. Industry is notoriously tight-fisted with their money for long-term R&D at Universities, whether in the US or in India — though Indian industry is indeed worse. I would never gamble a PhD student’s thesis on an industry-driven project if I were a professor in the US. Too risky. The main reason is that industry has extremely short-term vision; they will generally not fund long-term projects (and I know this from personal experience working at one of the top R&D companies in the world, with an annual R&D budget of $1.7 billion). They are also paranoid about retaining intellectual property, and would not want the student or the professor to publish the results (exceptions do exist, but this is the rule) — which makes it problematic for a student's thesis work, which must be public. The biggest source of research funding in the US for Universities is the government – NSF (National Science Foundation), DOE (Department of Energy), NIH (National Institutes of Health), DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), DOD (Department of Defense), etc. Not industry.

  21. Is it the authors’ contention that IIT graduates should only work for PSUs?

  22. “The appointment of business tycoons into the governing council of the institutes further indicates the wider influence of the neoliberal corporate influence on research and academics at the IITs.”

    Uhh...I thought the idea was for IIT graduates to help in “building huge dams, power plants and industrial production units – and so spearhead the technological force of the nation.” So why is it wrong to have people who are engaged in these activities on the board of the IITs? Or is it the authors’ contention that IIT graduates should only work for PSUs? Or that huge dams, power plants, and industry should only be operated by the government?

  23. You cannot force IIT graduates to build roads in Somalia.

  24. “Thus, it is evident that the institutes were primarily meant to produce quality engineers who would have a greater role to play in building not just a new India but also developing nations in Asia and Africa – as they were direly needed technical personnel to lead their societies.”

    This is a clear case of the authors freely extrapolating from what Nehru actually said to suit their political philosophies. From what they have quoted of Nehru, the late PM never said that the purpose of the IITs was to serve other countries in Asia or Africa. But maybe these professors think of India being a Cuba — just as Cuba used to send its doctors to other countries to help out, maybe they have visions of India sending its engineers to other countries to help out. One difference: the doctors in Cuba have no choice. It is a totalitarian country. India is a free country, and you cannot force IIT graduates to build roads in Somalia. In any case, this is just plain distortion of Nehru's thoughts.

    If IT is the rage of the day, it makes no sense to offer incentives to manufacture steel. A good economic policy needs to be opportunistic and driven by global trends.

    From their own article, all that Nehru is supposed to have said is this: “We take all the trouble to put up this expensive Institute and train up people here, and then, if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong about the governmental apparatus or Planning Commission or whoever is supposed to deal with this matter.” So Nehru wanted India to utilize the engineers properly. He never said we should export them.

    Forget about sending Indian engineers to under-developed countries. Let us figure out how to use them properly in India.

  25. “Economic policymaking since the 1990s became less methodological and more opportunistic.”

    And this is a bad thing because …?? An alternative word for “opportunism” is “dynamism.” If IT is the rage of the day, it makes no sense to offer incentives to manufacture steel. A good economic policy needs to be opportunistic and driven by global trends.

  26. Until 1992, a factory owner could not aspire to increase his output even by 5% without the approval of the government. He could not create a new product without approvals that would need 20 different signatures.

  27. “These institutes were established with an express concern to advance the bubbling aspirations of post-Independence India’s historic tryst with the project of modernity.”

    Wonderful words, I must say. But what aspirations? Until 1992, a factory owner could not aspire to increase his output even by 5% without the approval of the government. He could not create a new product without approvals that would need 20 different signatures. It has taken decades to undo these harmful rules, and they still have not been all undone. What’s a person to aspire for?

  28. Under any circumstances, expecting IIT students (or students of any college or institute or University) to work without commensurate reward for the betterment of society, naively or otherwise, is insensitive and cruel.

  29. And, finally, the authors end with this gem: “Under such market-driven education policies and adverse circumstances, naively expecting IIT students to work for the betterment of society would not just be insensitive but also cruel.”

    Not just under market-driven policies. Under any circumstances, expecting IIT students (or students of any college or institute or University) to work without commensurate reward for the betterment of society, naively or otherwise, is insensitive and cruel.

    Working for the betterment of society, like patriotism, love for the country, or standing up for the national anthem, should come from within and not be forced. These things should not be expected. As Shakespeare says in The Merchant of Venice, “the quality of mercy is not strained.” Not just mercy. Loyalty, patriotism, love for country, etc. — none of these can be forced, and no government should attempt to coerce them out of its people, because such an attempt is futile.

The Real Diagnosis and Real Solutions

Now that I have said what’s wrong with this diagnosis of the IIT professors in their article, let me fill in the rest of the puzzle – what is the real diagnosis? What, if anything, is wrong with the IIT system? If something is wrong, what is the solution?

    Seeking a better life is not a crime.

    The real crime is that successive governments in India did not create better opportunities in India.

  1. Why have IITians being going abroad for ever? Simple. Because they could. Because they were so well-trained, they were in demand everywhere in the world. And you can get a better quality of life abroad than you can here. Seeking a better life is not a crime.

    The real crime is that successive governments in India did not create better opportunities in India.

    Everyone wants a better life. It’s not just IITians, by the way. People from NITs. People from private colleges. People from no-name colleges. People without engineering degrees. People with arts degrees. People with medicine degrees. Hawkers on the street. Everyone wants a better life. You get a better life in the USA. Almost everyone in India would love to leave India and go to the USA.

    What’s the solution? Fix India. Fix the Indian economy.

    Pandit Nehru had a great vision for creating institutes of higher learning – IITs, IIMs, etc., and institutions to serve the country – DRDO labs, HAL, etc. He also understood the need for Indians to cultivate a scientific temper, and did much to advance science in the new republic. But he failed to see the crucial missing piece. A good standard of living. It is folly to expect that people should want to live in misery for the good of the country. But Nehru suffered from this folly. After all, he was the man who told JRD Tata that he thought profit was a dirty word.

    It is not only IITians who rush abroad given a chance. When I was doing my MS and PhD in the US, there were plenty of students from colleges other than IITs there. None of them had any intention of going back to India. They are all happily working in the US today. This is not a problem with IITs. It is a problem with India.

    Pandit Nehru had a great vision for creating institutes of higher learning – IITs, IIMs, etc., and institutions to serve the country – DRDO labs, HAL, etc. He also understood the need for Indians to cultivate a scientific temper, and did much to advance science in the new republic. But he failed to see the crucial missing piece. A good standard of living. It is folly to expect that people should want to live in misery for the good of the country.

    But Nehru suffered from this folly. After all, he was the man who told JRD Tata that he thought profit was a dirty word.

    It started because of the command economy that started with Nehru but went out of control under Indira Gandhi. If you are producing 2000 top-class engineers each year, but they have to work in mind-numbing jobs in India because the government has chained all the companies to only produce those things that are covered in the five-year plan, do you really expect them to stay in India and just sign the muster every day with nothing to do?

    Do you know what the effect of those policies has been? No Indian company today knows anything about R&D. I’ve seen it in Indian manufacturing, so I know. Even today, 25 years since liberalization, Indian companies are finding it hard to compete against MNCs, because those companies come with established R&D operations, whereas Indian companies are finding R&D a huge challenge. For most of them, R&D only means a tax write-off. Even when they hire young engineers in their brand-new product design and analysis teams, the managers of those teams are paper-pushers with no experience in handling an R&D team. I have met young engineers who quit those jobs out of boredom and happily took up jobs in MNC R&D departments when they could get them. How do you expect to get IITians to work in Indian manufacturing when this is the state of things?

  2. What would the authors rather have the government do? Discourage the jobs in IT and finance? Disincentivize the only sectors in India that provide a decent wage and encourage people to live and work in India?

  3. It is interesting that one of the authors teaches economics, but fails to understand simple economics when he blames government policies facilitating the growing number of jobs in the service sector, particularly in IT and finance. What would the authors rather have the government do? Discourage the jobs in IT and finance? Disincentivize the only sectors in India that provide a decent wage and encourage people to live and work in India? If governments have encouraged the service sector since 1992, it is because they have understood (in a welcome break from the past) that, with the advent of computerization and economic liberalization, jobs were going to rapidly expand in IT and finance. I would congratulate the governments that were responsible in bringing in policies to benefit these sunshine sectors.

  4. If you want more IIT graduates to work in manufacturing, make it more profitable.

  5. If you want more IIT graduates to work in manufacturing, make it more profitable. Make companies pay better salaries to IIT graduates so that they will be tempted to drop those IT and finance jobs and work in engineering. How do you do that? By providing incentives to manufacturing, both local and global. By creating more high paying jobs in engineering by making India a destination for high-tech manufacturing. Not, as the authors seem to suggest, by discouraging the sectors that are booming.

  6. 70 years since independence, we should not have a shortage of educational institutions at all, from the primary level to a doctoral degree. Anyone wanting to study anything should be able to. Central governments have expanded the number of IITs, but they need to man them with quality faculty. Teaching standards should be greatly improved and constantly modified. Faculty improvement programs should be continuous. And communication training must be provided to faculty members to teach better.

  7. Increasing numbers of jobs in the service sector are only detrimental to the manufacturing sector if your manufacturing sector is stagnant. Make it more robust. The solution is not to fight over the size of your slice in the pie, but to make the pie bigger.

  8. The solution to coaching classes is that you should not have a shortage of good engineering institutions in the first place. 70 years since independence, we should not have a shortage of educational institutions at all, from the primary level to a doctoral degree. Anyone wanting to study anything should be able to. Once the shortage goes away, coaching classes will not be such a lucrative business and will not cost so much money. In any case, there will always be some engineering college one can get admitted to, even if not an IIT. Even when I graduated from IIT in 1990, IIT was not the only institute producing quality engineering graduates — I have been very impressed by many friends who never studied at an IIT.

    The number of IITs has also gone up significantly in recent years. But the government need to man them with quality faculty. Teaching standards should be greatly improved. Faculty improvement programs should be continuous. And communication training must be provided to faculty members to teach better. A lot of them are terrible teachers and terrible communicators. And by that I do mean English. The medium of education in an IIT, after all, is still English. So everyone teaching there should speak perfect and flawless English, so that language does not become an impediment in teaching and in communicating ideas. And they should teach the students to speak and write flawless English. We need to understand that the language of technology is English. Poor English comprehension among students from a vernacular or disadvantaged background unnecessarily sets them back because often they cannot follow what the professor is saying in class. Now that’s a job for the humanities faculty in IIT to do, if they really want to play a positive role and not carp from ivory towers.

  9. IITs are now focusing a lot on increasing research output. I personally believe this is misguided. We do not need more output in research. Our industry in India is timid and will not use any research ideas even if they are invented in IITs.

  10. Poor rankings in international lists of Universities. This is an absolutely worthless statistic. Our rankings among world Universities are low because our research output is low. As a consequence, IITs are now focusing a lot on increasing research output. I personally believe this is misguided. We do not need more output in research. Our industry in India is timid and will not use any research ideas even if they are invented in IITs. Research innovations will only benefit forward-thinking foreign companies, not Indian companies which have not even figured out how to spell R&D.

    I am not saying IIT professors should not spend time on R&D. By all means let the faculty do R&D if they can think of good ideas. All I am saying is that we should not obsess over them and should not obsess over these meaningless rankings, especially if it might mean a dilution of teaching standards or a loss of focus on our star products - the B.Tech. graduates.

  11. If we are talking about what India needs urgently, it is well-qualified graduates. IITs do a great job of it. They should create even more good B.Tech. students. The expansion of the IITs that has been happening for the last 10+ years in India is a good thing. And not just IITs. NITs and other colleges should also be expanded.

    But it is not about quantity alone. Most of our graduates, especially from the lower-level institutes in India, are unemployable. The real crisis in our educational system is not that we are not producing enough research papers each year, but that so many of our Bachelors degree holders are simply unemployable. We need to fix this.

  12. Create more quality engineering schools. Supply and demand will work, and fees will go down. That will also solve the problem for girl students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Currently there are too many restrictions on creating engineering schools.

  13. The problem of high fees acting as a barrier for poor students and girls. Create more quality engineering schools. Supply and demand will work, and fees will go down. That will also solve the problem for girl students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Currently there are too many restrictions on creating engineering schools. The system to create new Universities should be left completely free of permissions, etc., except for stringent quality checks and certification, so that demand and supply can fully equilibrate.

  14. But none of these will have any impact until there is a boom in manufacturing jobs; until governments start giving incentives to high-tech manufacturing in India so that there will be a market for the skills of all these well-trained graduates. The marketplace needs to be completely open to the world, forcing Indian manufacturing to adopt world-class standards in engineering. A combination of international and domestic engineering companies in stiff competition to produce world-class products, with business-friendly economic policies, will create the right atmosphere to retain the talent, not only of the IITs, but of all engineering colleges in India.

Concluding Thoughts

The “White Elephants” debate has been going on as long as I have been alive. It is a completely misguided debate, because it focuses on the wrong piece of the puzzle. The IITs have consistently delivered on the mandate of Pandit Nehru in their 66-year history by producing world-class Bachelors degree holders in different specializations of engineering and science. The reason these graduates have not ended up building the India of Nehru's dreams is encapsulated perfectly in Panditji's own speech at the first convocation of IIT Kharagpur, as quoted by the authors of this article. I have already quoted this, but it is worth re-reading:

“We take all the trouble to put up this expensive Institute and train up people here, and then, if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong about the governmental apparatus or Planning Commission or whoever is supposed to deal with this matter. Such state of affairs can only be described as fantastically stupid because one trains people for certain ends and then wastes them, not even for a moment thinking in terms of the individual’s employment and his living, etc.”

— Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

“We take all the trouble to put up this expensive Institute and train up people here, and then, if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong about the governmental apparatus or Planning Commission or whoever is supposed to deal with this matter. Such state of affairs can only be described as fantastically stupid because one trains people for certain ends and then wastes them, not even for a moment thinking in terms of the individual’s employment and his living, etc.”

For 70 years, Indian governments, including Pandijti's own governments, have failed to fully create the circumstances needed to utilize the services of the graduates that the IITs have produced. They have failed to think “in terms of the individual's employment and his living, etc.,” to use Pandit Nehru's own words. The solution has been staring us in the face in the form of Panditji's own words, but we have not listened to them: “if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong with the governmental apparatus…” Instead of focusing on better utilization, everyone has been focusing on whether the training of the graduates has been correct, and whether something is wrong with the IITs. Things have definitely improved since the liberalization of the economy in 1991-92, but much remains to be done. Until we become a prosperous country, we cannot reverse the brain drain.

For 70 years, Indian governments, including Pandijti's own governments, have failed to fully create the circumstances needed to utilize the services of the graduates that the IITs have produced. They have failed to think “in terms of the individual's employment and his living, etc.,” to use Pandit Nehru's own words. The solution has been staring us in the face in the form of Panditji's own words, but we have not listened to them: “if we do not utilise the services of those people, then there is something wrong with the governmental apparatus…” Instead of focusing on better utilization, everyone has been focusing on whether the training of the graduates has been correct, and whether something is wrong with the IITs.

India is a free country. If you are a graduate from an IIT, nobody can stop you from choosing to do management as your next step in your career; or to go abroad to the US to do a MS or a PhD if you can get admission to a University there; or to write the IAS exam and become a government collector, join the IAS, IPS, or IFS; join a software company; become an author or a musician; or even start a sweet shop. We in India cannot force people to do things against their will, as is possible in totalitarian states like Cuba. So, if the current situation bothers you, there are only three paths:

  1. Improve economic and business conditions in India to tempt those students to work in engineering in India.
  2. Raise the fees so that, even if they leave India or do not continue in engineering, you have not subsidized their education. This has already been done.
  3. Close down the IITs.

Most people would agree that option 3 is not very good. It is equivalent to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And option 2 has already been implemented. As I have already argued elsewhere, the level of Rs. 90,000 per annum is already at par with what excellent private colleges like SASTRA provide at that rate. That only leaves us with one viable option to address the situation: option 1, improving the economic and business conditions in India. Until that happens, people should stop constantly moaning about the state of the IITs. The state of the IITs is good. In fact, if we had utilized the services of the IIT graduates for the last 66 years, nobody would have even minded the subsidized education.

For 66 years, we have been barking up the wrong tree.

As a final aside, if the kind of illogical thinking that characterizes the article written by these two IIT humanities professors creates educational and economic policy in this country, this is a cause for serious concern. It only highlights the need for common working people from all walks of life to enter the political and policy-making process, rather than vacate that space so that it can be occupied by career politicians and academics (as it is now), neither of whom knows what it is like to hold a real job or face real challenges of ordinary people.



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

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