Setting up of 6 new IITs is a big victory for India
It's important to make quality technical higher education available throughout the nation.
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The Lok Sabha has unanimously passed a legislation to facilitate the setting up of six new IITs.
The establishment of these new IITs will take the total number of IITs to 22. The past decade has seen an unprecedented expansion of the IIT network, with 16 of the 22 IITs having been established in this period.
The setting up of new IITs at such pace has generally been scorned by many as a step which will reduce the IIT brand name. But such criticisms fail to give due consideration to the many benefits of establishing new IITs.
It is desirable for multiple reasons as discussed below:
1. Bridges critical demand-supply mismatch
The huge demand supply mismatch in terms of those seeking admissions in IITs and the ones actually securing one is apparent to all. Of the 12,00,000 students who registered for the AIEEE mains, even after the addition of the latest new IITs, only around 11,000 will get a seat. That is an admission cut off well over 99 percentile.
The inability to meet such a large demand means our society is failing to provide an adequate platform to our youth to enhance their productivity through quality education. This results in India being robbed of the full benefit of demographic dividend that our surging youth population can provide.The new institutes will be able to leverage the IIT brand name to get a good start.
The new IITs are required primarily to bridge this demand supply mismatch.
They will allow us to make quality technical higher education more broad-based and increase the talent pool of technically-trained people.
Such an expansion in the talent pool is vital if our aspiration for a manufacturing boom and the rapid expansion of the software and IT sector is not to become a victim of scarce and expensive labour resource.
But even when many agree on the necessity to rapidly expand technical education in India, there are many others who question if the setting up new IITs the right approach.
2. Benefits from an established brand's name
The IIT brand name is well-established and is globally respected.
The new institutes established within the same framework will be able to leverage the IIT brand name to get a good start.
As long as these institutes are able to maintain a certain standard after they are fully established, there won't be a fear of them diluting the IIT brand name.
Even if there is some dilution, why should preserving an elite club be privileged over making education more broad-based and equitable?
The fear of dilution is also in part owing to the inability to take a long-term view of things. We get too fixated by starting blues and forget that even the now old IITs were once new and they too had to undergo troubles in their formative years.
3. Gives them head start in attracting quality students
Carrying the IIT name helps these institutes attract quality minds.
The social prestige that the IIT tag carries has helped many of the newer IITs to steal a march over older rivals which don't enjoy the IIT tag.
Already most of the newer IITs have beaten the older NITs (barring a few of the elite ones like NIT Warangal) in getting the best minds.
In fact, top IITs like those in Hyderabad, Gandhinagar and Indore have their top branches closing ranks above that of some branches of the older IITs.
Being IITs they are able to conduct their admission through the widely acclaimed AIEEE advanced (better known by its old name JEE).
This has multiple benefits; the process is seen above reproach in terms of its integrity and is renowned for its rigour. It also ensures that the students are the cream from across the nation and are not being selected out of petty political and local considerations.
This advantage of attracting and being able to select the best minds transparently is a huge benefit that can barely be overstated.
In fact, from my personal experience of having studied in an IIT, I feel that the great learning environment is among the biggest benefits of an IIT education.
To a large extent, even the new IITs will offer this advantage to their students.
4. State-of-the-art infrastructure that puts even the older established IITs to shame
The new IITs are bing constructed at a time when government finances are much healthier than the times when the old IITs were created.
Also they are being built with more modern technology and they all are being provided prime land, usually to the tune of 500 acres. Though much new infrastructure has been added to the older IITs too, still a brand new campus and a renovated one are not the same.
This ensures that once built, the campuses of the new IITs would be second to none in terms of infrastructure. Researchers will flock to these campuses once they realise the state-of-the-art facility being provided. The same goes for other stakeholders such as faculty and students.
5. A liberal institute culture insulated from political interference
The salary of the faculty of the new IITs will be decided under the same framework as that of the old one.
Moreover, the new IITs once completed will have better and modern residential facilities.
These institutes, like the older IITs will be insulated from political interference that mar other education institutions.
Also many of the professors and administrators at the initial stage will be deputed from the older IITs, thereby ensuring quality in the infancy of these institutes. The new IITs also have been assigned older IITs to guide them and help them in these difficult early years.
So on the parameter of having good faculty and administration too, the new IITs will score well.
6. Address regional imbalance
The new IITs are also important to make quality technical higher education available throughout the nation and not be confined to few pockets.
For example, before the current expansion began, the whole southern India had only one IIT - the one in Madras.
This regional imbalance has been addressed with the setting up of new IITs which have been established more or less on the principle of "one state one IIT".
The paucity of IITs in the south used to result in many students from that part of the country who wanted to stay closer to home flocking to IIT Madras or otherwise being left without options. But now many of them have a reasonably good choice in IIT Hyderabad.
The newer IITs mostly are coming up in fast-growing cities (Hyderabad, Indore, Gandhinagar and Bhubaneswar) or places with their own industrial hinterland (Bhilai, Tirupati and so on). This can help many of them rise, as the region they are located rises in profile.
A case in point is IIT Indore. In terms of students closing rank, placements and so on, it has done reasonably well owing to the benefit of being situated in a fast-rising industrial city - Indore. Same is the case with IIT Gandhinagar. This city-institute relationship can be a symbiotic one where both mutually aid each other's growth.
In the cases where new IITs have good connectivity too, they can attract guest faculty and recruiters. Here again, IIT Hyderabad, Gandhinagar and Indore stand out. The new IITs are also wisely focusing on having better tie-ups with foreign institutes.
But the above discussion about the merits of establishing new IITs is not to say that the method of establishing them couldn't have been better.
Perhaps establishing them in a more planned way, say, establishing new IITs every alternate year rather than establishing six or seven at one go would have allowed better resource utilisation, reduced chances of dilution of the IIT brand name and given firmer footing to the new IITs.
Also the location of the IITs in certain instances could have chosen with lesser influence of petty politics.
But despite factoring in these limitations in the way the new IITs have been established, it's important that we recognise that in times to come the IITs will be the pillars of our technical progress and will contribute immensely to making our aspiration of providing quality education for the future generation come true.