The American Heritage dictionary defines “hoopla” as
1. Boisterous, jovial commotion or excitement.
2. Extravagant publicity: The new sedan was introduced to the public with much hoopla.
3. Talk intended to mislead or confuse.
Reading about the PanIIT 2006 brought that word to mind.
There will be much posturing and congratulatory mutual back-slapping in Mumbai for three days starting Dec 23rd at the Bandra-Kurla Complex. I will be there to witness the spectacle and for which I have paid my Rs 2,500.
Ram Kelkar, a Chicago-based investment professional and a Director of the IIT Bombay Heritage Fund, wrote a pretty balanced piece called “IITians, Do something for Indian Education.” His assessment is not rosy:
The state of the IITs and higher education in India in general is dismal. One has to remember that by selecting youngsters from the top 3,000 to 4,000 rank holders in a nation of a billion, it is inevitable that IITians will do well, regardless of whether the IITs add any value or not. But has the quality of research, the quantity of publications, and the depth of the faculty reached anywhere close to the calibre of the MITs and Stanfords of the world? Without taking anything away from the many wonderful and dedicated professors and faculty members at the IITs, I am afraid the answer is that the IITs are not even close.
He concludes with
Indians and IITians should shun hubris which contrasts with the sharp focus of China, South Korea and other nations, who are spending less time on self-congratulation and focusing on building truly world-class universities.
While it is wonderful to have events like the upcoming PanIIT 2006 in Mumbai, the focus at these events should be less on rah-rah backslapping and more on identifying the shortcomings of the IITs and the Indian educational system. IITians should be pressuring the Indian government, industry and alumni to provide the funding and resources needed to make the IITs into genuine peers of the MITs and Stanfords of the world.
Even more importantly, India needs to support and fund excellence in many more Indian universities, and not all of them need to be renamed as IITs. CalTech and Stanford did not become well-known by calling themselves the MITs of the West Coast.
Rather than hype the IIT brand ad nauseam, India should build BITS, the NITs, Pune University’s CoE, Delhi Engineering College and dozens of other Indian universities into centers of excellence in research and teaching.
With some luck, there will come a day when the IITs will become truly world-class. And they will no longer be the only globally branded university from India. Until then, Deng Xiao Ping’s advice to Tao guang yang hui is worth remembering.
Ping’s advice? “Hide brightness, nourish obscurity.” Yeah, that will be the day!