Whither IIT?

Enjoying fame and keeping an independent mind is not something one can expect from anyone. Fame is a double-edge sword. one feel tempted to do whatever one’s admirers want, and admirers are possessed with the one being admired. It creates a loop with ‘positive feedback’; and ‘positive feedback’ is known do nasty thing to a system, especially to its stability. It is far from my intention to build a ‘system theory’ for these kind of social behavior. One probably will not go very far in this direction for humans do not behave like mechanical ‘components’. Nonetheless, even though individuals are hard to predict, a collection of individuals acting together under the influence of other humans (i.e. group)  are relatively easy to predict. So as a group grows, it becomes more and more ‘predictable’. One can use ‘system theory’ ideas to study social groups.

Positive feedback can have severe effect on ‘individuals’ also. On my mind, I have three examples. First is Salman Rushdie. It really hard to believe he is the same guy who once wrote ‘Midnights children’; Arundhati Roy is second. Had she not become famous and then attached with the social-movements, we’d still have a remarkable fiction writer; third and more recent is A. R. Rahman, I find it troubling that he has become capable of producing the kind of ‘stuff’ for which he is being awarded ‘this and that’. Compare with him with that ‘Roja’ guy.

One can have one priorities to act under the wishes of a certain group. In fact, most of Indian chose their careers which are appreciated and encouraged in their social circle. Gone are the days when parental pressure used to make students choose their career though there are movies made in this era which still love to point fingers at parents. Since the consumer of this movie were suppose to be same students, it could not tell them you are responsible for what you do. Its remarkable how a movie titled ‘three idiots’ with so many double standards could become so famous[2]. So if a lot of IIT graduate vie for banking job, its not because they know that they want to do it, but it makes a nice story to tell their friends, family etc.. Brands, whether of clothes or of companies, works in the same way. When there is a high brand value, there is a nice story to share. I have seen people who just love to climb the mountains, prefer using lifts to go to second floor of their hostels. Climbing stairs do not create a ‘story’ to share in a group.

If Rehman wants to please ‘white ears’ so let it be. Most of the colonized minds of ‘Browns’ will like him anyway. Fall of an individual is not as severe as fall of Institutes. A fame which came from incompatible sources can ruin one. Among Institutes, IIT/IIM’s are famous for the reasons generally incompatible with what a university should be known for. What this kind of fame can do to Institutes such as IIT (I am not at all interested in IIMs, they have bigger problems to solve!)?

It is unsettling to note that how easily a semi-literate union minister can lecture IIT (or any Indian university) on what they should do as an university. Or a dim-wit newspaper like Times of India love to give tutorials on how to run a university – mostly written by a five-point-someone. It is more unsettling to note that no one from these institutes can tell them fairly and squarely that its not his expertise to tell universities how should they develop themselves or what should they do. True, that telling truth to a typical Indian who also wield some power can have severe effect on  individual but I don’t think we lack bold people very much. So why politicians and media (which is worse) can get away with it?

Since almost all of the universities are funded by government, one can not be free from their influence. In fact this reason was enough for Kapil Sibal to justify his incompetency on the matter. IIT’s on the other hand, though do few things to bring changes by themselves, feel quite irritated about it. They seek, as expected, to get financial autonomy, mostly by increasing the fees. So that they do not have to listen to government. IIM has already done so and converted themselves into the schools for elites where no poor person, no matter how talented, can dare to seek an admission. Even if one does, with easy loans, he has to play into the hands of industries/corporates to pay back. The guy is dead anyway. Love of the FICCI and others towards IIMs can be understood. They know very well  that everyone graduating from these institutes now will have to privatize this intellect and soul to them — there is no option available to go to the rural hinder-land to serve. Raising fees, without any concern for per capita Indian income, is really obscene. They should know the students from villages also come to these institutes though there are trying very hard to keep them at bay by introducing online exams. How they are to compete on computer when they are used to pen and paper?

Money seems to be of secondary importance these days. What is puzzling for us that IIT’s are reputed for the reasons they really wish to avoid these days, namely, talking about pay packages of their students. In fact, sometimes one wonders whether they do have anything else to talk about to justify their ‘bright mind’. Though this helps newspapers like Times of India to attract some eyeballs; we get a guilty conscience. Nothing can be more crass to be known as a Institute whose students can only prove their worth in terms or Rupees they are able to fetch from the any sort of jobs for which they were not trained using public resources. In fact, this point have been used against us again and again. To make matter worse, media has been silent of our ‘other whiz kids’ like Narendra Karmarkar, Debapratim Goswami, Madhu Sudan, Manindra Agarwal, J Vasi, Deepak Pathak, H Narayana, Narayan Murthy etc. And contrary to popular belief, you can not count these kind of genius on fingers. Nonetheless, you can surely use your finger to count how many of them are in India.

When a person stop appreciating his/her own work or an Institute looses sight of its main purpose, it leads to severe depression in individual and corrosion of an Institute. We also feel helpless in front of these kind of attacks. Who would have thought the the biggest lover of IIT’s/IITian “Times of India” will create the ‘public opinion’ which is now acting as a nail in their coffin. In fact, the most prominent example of this helplessness was visible three years back when government raised the seats in IIT’s and IIT’s could not defend ourselves. On what ground IIT could defend themselves. Unlike Indian Institute of Science (IISc), we are not known to produce Bose and Raman (though we have done that); and if one take pride in producing ‘skilled workforce’ rather than ‘thought-full scholars’, then one is the helpless countering those who are in power and willing to fund for increased capacity. Skills can be produced with money, and it can be taught to incompetent students also. Using a CAD tool or writing codes do not need any sort of genius. Its the generation of ‘ideas’ which needs thoughtful people around you. IISc could defend itself. Indeed, it does not release a second admission list even if only 10-15% chose to join it from its first admission list. And She can get away with it!

Increasing the size of an Institute without any concern for quality and merit is not a good idea. What is the use of having ‘research scholars’ who do not have the sense of what exactly ‘research’ is all about. Sure at the time of joining, no one is expected to be ‘know it all’ but what is pathetic that one is not able to appreciate the value of a theory or an idea. One sails trough his doctorate program like it is a high-school class, doing  the same this again and again.

Talking of ‘research community’. First of all it does not exists on IIT campuses. There are certain groups though. The ‘research scholar forum’ of IIT-B is going on the way B. Tech.groups usually go. Instead of inviting people from academic world, they also invite lecturers from business world. And all of them seem to agree that this indeed is a great thing to do during their Ph.D.. Increasing the size of a community does not translate into quality. In consequence, we do grow in size, but ‘could no longer conform to the original concept of a self-governing community of scholars — they are neither self-governing nor do they have a sense of community or scholarship‘.[1] It, at best, can only benefits industries since skills they learn in technical institute like IIT are exactly those they use. So without spending a penny from their pocket, they get what they need at the cost of the university. A part of it they spend glamorizing their acts. It may also help individual for they also use this sort of IIT ‘fame’ to their own benefits. We also can not stop students using IIT for their personal benefits. There is no use producing a bunch of Ph.D.’s who are not suitable for employment inside and outside an university. At best, universities can plan to retains its best the brightest. By ‘best’ I do not mean champions of Times of India or like newspapers. Academia must keep a safe distance from Industries, no matter how distasteful it looks to middle class consumer. People preferring IITB over IISc is due to same reason. Skills are not the thing university should worry about, universities primary job to support radical ideas.

Indian universities in general and IIT in particular were shown tremendous care by government. And they had been quite successful in reciprocating this love. It really the public opinion which corroded and corrupted them. What a mindless expansion in 70’s did to Universities of Delhi, Mumbai and others can do the same to IIT’s now. Biggest threat to IITs lie within, and as usual, only few seems to understand it. We do have enough ‘arguments’ to justify our existence as a professional Institutes, but as a university, we are only a good-university.

I am not unduly depressed due to this lack of scholarship on IITB campus because scholarships aren’t on any campus anymore. Possibly a few exceptions might exists like Princeton etc. As a citizen of India, I do expect from my fellow citizen to show a appetite for building up native Institutes even though their middle class instincts are better suited to consume them till there is nothing left to extract.

END NOTES :

[1] University at crossroads, Andre Beteiile.
[2] http://www.eledu.net/rrcusrn_data/India,%20Higher%20Education%20and%20Bollywood.pdf, India, Higher Education and Bollywood, EPW


 Dilawar



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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

1 thought on “Whither IIT?”

  1. IIT bombay ke liye itene tension to IIt bombay ke director ko bhi nahi hogi ………bhai …….kya hoga ……if somebody do some meaningful research ………IITB ki ranking 200 se 100 jyagii…… mast rehe yaar …..

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