Sunday, September 25, 2005

The IIT Dream

A couple of weeks back, Prof. Gautam Sinha (Training and Placement-In-charge of IIT Kharagpur) held a meeting with the students to discuss the changes in the the Training and Placement schedule commencing this year. As major changes have been introduced, he wanted to take the students in confidence by meeting them in person.

Here's the jist of the change...Starting this year, the training and placement process of all IITs will begin in December.

Definitely, if there's smoke there had to be a fire. So what was the collective 'fire' in all the IITs that resulted in this collective decision? The answer is obvious to the insiders, but hardly guessable to any outsider.

It was observed that IIT students (regardless of the IIT they study in) have been making the T&P process an excuse to miss classes. Regulations allow students to miss classes provided the timing of the Test/GD/Interview of any company clashed with the lecture hours. But it was observed that many a times the students start skipping classes even a day before the event, and missing all classes on the day in question is considered a birth-right. If the students were really serious, there would have been no problem, but the truth is that the students hardly utilized this time to prepare. What most of them do is spend the time on their computers, looking for new movies to watch, or just spend it playing LAN games.

And this wasn't difficult for the T&P section to find it out. With a majority of students flunking the tests, one doesn't need a sixth sense to guess. There is one very famous incident about the student's attitude that many of us know. It so happened that Tata Motors came for an interview last year for jobs, and majority of the students (including the department topper) flunked scoring less than a score (20) per cent. And what more, the guy in question argued that its not possible for him to get so bad marks and challenged the integrity of the Tata Motors selection panel. What happened next brought shame to all of us. Tata Motors sent back his copy to show that his answer-script has been graded according to the established norms and standards. What more, they pulled up the T&P section for having such mediocre and arrogant students, and claimed that the same question paper in other colleges like Jadhavpur had plenty of students scoring well above 80. The reprimanding trickled down the level and our Head of Department scolded us for being similar to him.

And this was another issue that Prof. Gautam Sinha discussed with us in the meeting. He told us how the times are changing and the IIT stamp is losing ground to the NITs faster than expected. He told is how the other colleges have started scoring better than IIT Kharagpur in the placements.

Companies are fast realizing that the IIT stamp is fame and no longer valuable as it used to be. Many companies have even started to avoid coming to IITs as they believe that IIT students are usually aloof, don't work hard enough, expect higher salaries and leave companies early. Even those who come to the IIT campuses have felt that the IITians are no longer the material they used to be.

But what has changed over the last few years that has spelt doom on the IIT dream? Here's the things that have changed.

IITs have emerged like a brand, brought popularity by the strong alumni, and over-hyped by the media. But IITs are not soap-making factories that can churn out good soaps given the quality of the raw material remains the same. The IITs have been based on discipline that has been inculcated in successive batches given the competition they faced from their peers. Getting into the IITs was tough and then competing with the 'chosen few' made the IITians strong as a rock when they went on to face the world. All the IITs strived to keep themselves out of politics and set aspirations for higher standards. This created the IIT brand as we know it and the recruiting organizations knew they would get the gold if they came to recruitment here. But what the media did was a doomsday spell. It created an atmosphere that made people feel that cracking the JEE was the final frontier, and failed to account for the IIT system and the real value addition. This had a very bad effect. People who aspired for IIT felt that once inside, the IIT will take the trouble of giving them good jobs regardless of whether they are serious or not. And this was apparent from my very first year in IIT Kharagpur and the same experience continues till date. And it has been this attitude that has spelled doom. As years pass by, more and more companies are realizing that judging a batch based on its predecessor is getting more and more illogical.

Even the assumption that the raw material is the same is no longer valid. With centres like Bansal's that make the student mug their way into the IIT, the proportion of mediocre students in the IITs is increasing.

Another major change that the IIT system has seen is the introduction of free internet facility for the students. While originally meant for education, it is hardly used for what it was originally established. This started some four years back in most of the IITs, and the result is obvious. Instead of reading in libraries and playing outdoors (read:enhancing their personality), people glue onto their computers and do all sorts of activities, even bringing their IIT into the news for the wrong reasons. And today, the LAN of IIT Kharagpur boasts of 10 TeraBytes of data, most of which is pirated softwares/videos obtained from the net.

A person who joins an XYZ college knows that the world is tough. And throughout his education, he is reminded that if he has to survive, he will have to improve himself. Its a different story about those who don't have any inclination to succeed, but those who want good, do good. And at the end when they emerge out of the college, they are prepared to handle the world. An IITian on the other hand, feels that he already has success stamped on his back and need not stress himself any further. In the IITs, there are many people who want good results but refuse to stress it out. And the trouble is, this tribe is fast increasing.

Then how come we still have IITians among the successful in business world and even in IIMs, etc. The reason is similar to the gambler's world. Only those who make it big make the news. Only the alumni who are successful will come back to his alma mater with a head held high, giving us the false impression that all IITians are successful.

So is it the end of the story? The end of hope for all those who pursue IIT as a brand? Thankfully, the answer is "No". And there are enough reasons for this.

Ironically, it will be the media again who will bring back the glory to the IITs. And this process has already started. One regularly gets to see news that a certain college student has achieved something big and then the newspaper claim "and he isn't an IITian!". The stories of NITs and other colleges doing well will also find welcome approval with the media as this is "News". Slowly the horror of these details will trickle into the minds of the IITians and they will stop seeing themselves as special. The technologies that made the IITs elite (like the internet) will reach these colleges pretty soon and establish a level playing field. And this will happen before a student freshly out of school starts to choose an NIT over an IIT giving the IITs an edge with a better raw material. Amen.


Vivek Vaidyanathan said...

Good post. Succinct analysis.Agree with all your statements except the conclusion. Brand IIT will die its death.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis. Very few are utilizing the Internet and LAN Properly. Many are wasting their times in playing CS in LAN etc. IIT administration should impose new rules to avoid this. Although it will be harsh decision. They have to take it.

SKM said...

Good post. I agree with almost everything you have said. But I tend to feel that the IIT brand will soon die.
Varadhan SKM, IITM

Abhishek Basu said...

Its all very nice of you to make a detailed and neutral analysis of the ongoings at the IITs. But one should not forget that just as the media are apparently over hyped about the IITs there are plenty of "outsiders" who are always on the prowl to mock the standards set by our alumni and students just be`coz they couldn`t clear the entrance. Their comments about IITians are neither creditable nor favourable. Such writings only invigorate their jealous propaganda.