Major crisis hits IITs |
Khaleej Times - 11 June, 2012
Addressing the first convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, in 1956, five years after it was established, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, remarked: “Here…stands the fine monument of India, representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are coming to India.”
But more than half a century later, the prestigious IITs — which have, over the decades, catapulted thousands of the brightest engineers of the country to positions of power in the world’s leading corporates and universities — are facing a major crisis. The decision of IIT Kanpur to reject the Indian human resource development ministry’s ‘one nation, one test’ admissions proposal has jolted the system.
Though state-owned, the IITs — there are 17 of them now — have been fiercely independent, resisting moves by successive ministers to interfere in their working. But Kapil Sibal, the incumbent minister, recently got the joint council of the IITs, along with the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and the Indian Institutes of Information Technology to accept a joint entrance examination (JEE) for admission to undergraduate engineering programmes. The new JEE would give equal weightage to the scores obtained by students in their class XII board examinations, a move that was vehemently opposed by the senates and faculty of many IITs. But Sibal appeared to have convinced his opponents by allowing a separate merit list for admission to the IITs in the first two years.
The senate of IIT Kanpur, however, decided to opt out of the new system, to be implemented from 2013, describing the proposal as being “academically and methodically unsound”. The IIT-JEE is one of the most competitive entrance tests in the world for admission to a higher education institution. More than half a million students appear for the test every year and less than 10,000 get admission.The IITs have, for decades, been seen as a bastion of the elite. Every year, a significant number of IIT graduates head for Western shores, causing ‘a brain drain’ in India. Consequently, questions have been raised about the need for the government to subsidise institutes meant for a select few, in a country where tens of millions of children are still unable to get basic primary education. While the debate over the alleged dilution of the quality of education offered by the prestigious institutes continues, the move by IIT Kanpur will set them on a collision course with the government once again.