The Indian Economy Blog

December 20, 2006

Upcoming IIT Hoopla In Mumbai

Filed under: Education — Atanu Dey @ 6:15 pm

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!


  1. well if i had to choose between energy and talent i would choose energetic young people …what we need is basic minimum qualification …and as i see even double degree holders in india do not know what “GDP” is ….indian youth has ignored economics from the very begining …we need compulsory economics in college …

    Comment by ganesh — December 22, 2006 @ 7:58 am

  2. when one is a commodity “that comes with certain price tag , and is not innovative”, it does not matter if he is graduate from iit or graduate from govt college palampur …or from mit …

    Comment by ganesh — December 22, 2006 @ 11:54 am

  3. Days of strong IIT brand are numbered. The most important factor in IIT’s excellence i.e. merit based admissions, will be diluted by 49% reservations. The brand name is also being extended to other schools. The 25 year prospect for the brand is dismal.

    IIT’s death knell is going to be a boon for the private colleges. In any case, the future high demand for education can only be met by private schools. Therefore, this tragic outcome may not be altogether negative for the society.

    Comment by Manu — December 22, 2006 @ 12:19 pm

  4. Indians are very hardworking, and for Indians work is worship.
    But just the hardwork will not suffice.
    India must try to raise the level of educational quality in all Universities.

    IIT needs competition……and that competion is flaring, but alas not from India!, but from Chinese Universities…..knock knock & they do not have any quota system.

    Rather than expand quota in IIT, government should do the reverse, i.e. abolish all quota.

    Anil Passi

    Comment by Anil Passi — December 24, 2006 @ 2:20 am

  5. Currently there is a ‘hoopla’ around many things Indian – IITs being one of them. There is an element of celebration required to mark, what has been achieved. I fervently hope, that the din does not signify the imminent onset of hubris. The IITians network may have contributed to laying the seeds of the IT industry, and you could see many of the leading lights at this do. I am yet to see more such signs of entrepreneurship or far-sightedness in other industries/ walks of life. After all IIT,s are not only about IT, but other subjects as well.

    I do hope that this attention and support will be converted into improving the badly required linkages between industry and academics, in other departments as well. One should not be too bothered whether this happens in IITs or colleges with other names. In that aspect BITS was one of the first colleges (others being Tata Institute of social sciences etc) where the students spent almost 8 mths in what was then a 5 yr course, entirely in the industry

    We did have an IITian who was a Chief Minister (Mr Parriker of Goa) but i dont really remember any visionary change in the administration. This just illustrates the point that you not only need technocrats but also an entire system to go along with you to make an impact

    Comment by envenkat — December 26, 2006 @ 9:58 pm

  6. Well , can I know comments of Atanu after the event ?

    Comment by manish — December 27, 2006 @ 10:52 am

  7. More typical BS from our self-styled “intellectuals”. If we want to build world class universities,49% reservations is not the best way to go. If we want to transform IITs into world class research centers,the government should play an active role in the transformation. Blaming the IITians wont cut it. It is because of our half baked economic ideas the these bright young men and women were forced to migrate instead of sticking with their alma mater. Our public research and education funding per capita is one of the lowest in the world. Until the time the gov’t gets its act together IIT will never become a world class research centre.

    Oh and BTW I am very proud of the accomplishments of my fellow IITians,and we pat ourselves on the back all the time.

    Comment by AS — December 27, 2006 @ 9:35 pm

  8. here’s a link to a blog written by Britain’s Telegraph newspaper’s Delhi based correspondent. He uses Ram Kelkar’s article on the IITs to gloat that Oxford is much better than the IITs (The Times Higher Education Supplement also told him so). The title of the blog is ‘They are not as smart as they think’

    shivani ratra

    Comment by shivani ratra — December 28, 2006 @ 8:09 pm

  9. Testing comments. This should go through…

    Comment by MadMan — January 2, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

  10. Its easy to blame India and Indians, but look at the achievements of the IITs and offcourse IITeans. This is no simple task to achieve in only 50 years.
    However, the basic purpose with which Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad alongwith other legands from industries paved the stone for IITs (and IIMs); is not understood by the IITeans. Rather I would say by the IITeans for last 15 years or so. The money spent on you was supposed to bring development (Through earned knowledge and your intelligence) to India. Its useless to say that we are sending foreign currency to India.
    I don’t consider that the standard of education in IITs or IIMS is dropping or less than MITs, Harvard, Oxford, kentucky, etc. Don;t go by the surveys done by these western agencies who have pre-determined notions about how these schools should be. They don’t think that there can be a different model of education.
    Who needs to know about GDP? a neurologist? an HVAC engineer or a Sanskrit teacher? I don’t think more to be said about it.
    The most funny thing is – Indian education (especially engineering and science) is the most research oriented, however most of them get employed in applied engieering. This is basically the issue, your education teaches you good theory, principals, formula, R&D but what you do is work in production or IT or chip manufacturing (applied engineering). Hardly 2% get the jobs to do what they were taught. And out of the 98% something like 5% apply the education in a better way at their jobs. Yes, this is agreeable that there are really a few jobs in India of the correct nature. But this no way the reason to leave the country.
    Running away from a problem is not a solution to the problem.

    Comment by Ashutosh — January 8, 2007 @ 9:09 pm

  11. On one hand we have a highly set of highly intelligent people selected on the basis of merit but all they do is to earn a degree at the end of all this study and go on to earn money. Research is not given the right priority in the IITs as is the case in MIT or Harvard. However, this is not just an Indian problem; in most parts of the world very difficult questions are not being tackled by the best brains- the best are using their competence not to solve the universal problems of earth/space but making money and more money. So we have mediocre people and unscrupulous politicians in charge of changing the world.

    Comment by Revathi — January 8, 2007 @ 9:27 pm

  12. being in iit myself, i can tell you that when you compare iits to the other institurtions in india, it is certainly much better. but just compare it with the world, and you get a very different picture. the level of research is indeed dismal, and in my little interactions with the PhD scholars here, i can telll you that they do not do much, sit around, laze and just get a Phd after wasting the resources of the system for five years. the professors are ofcourse good, but all of us in my batch have serious doubts over the ability of these current phd scholars as future profs.

    Comment by Aashish Gupta — January 10, 2007 @ 10:21 am

  13. It is a well established fact that brand IIT is definitely sought after by most global corporations across domains & business functions. The young guns coming out of the haloed portals of the IIT’s possess the sharpest of minds.. they are the cream of our nation but the story does not end there.

    I feel it is the governments duty to buckle up & start taking higher education seriously.
    This can be done by improving the standards of the NIT’s (some of the are in dismal condition) & set up a few more IIT’s without any dilution in their quality.
    It should also endeavour in attracting & retaining world class faculty & invest in infrastructure.
    Those chinese guys are not sleeping!

    Comment by Platypus — February 1, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

  14. If IIT students are really meritorious, why do they turn away from research and join money making businesses? That shows that it is not merit but something else is the key to entry into IITs. Some of the IIT students prepare for JEE for more than 5 years (from 7th standard to 12th standard), from 4 AM onwards everyday. Five years of day-night preparation for getting through JEE! You call this merit? You call this brain power? They consider it a big burden – donkey work. That is why the moment they pass out of IIT, they leave all research work and get into money making jobs. To do genuine research you should have genuine liking which in turn depends on genuine merit. This genuine merit can not be tested by JEE. In other words JEE can not distinguish whether a person got a good rank because of merit or five years of donkey work. This is the reason why even after 50 years IITs are nowhere near MIT and Stanford. And the reason why IITians do well is because of links provided by the environment and also the false perceptions about their merit.

    Most of the IIT students attend well-known JEE coaching centers and most of the students come from big cities. Does it mean that only big cities produce meritorious students. Very stupid assumption. Merit is uniformly distributed across the nation, not just concentrated in the big cities. So if IITs have huge percentage of students coming from big cities, it means IITs have failed to identify true merit, but they depend on some pseudo-merit indicators.

    To make India really great is to look for real merit, not just hyped-up IITs.

    Comment by SpeakTruth — February 1, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

  15. good article
    ajay singh

    Comment by ajay singh — March 18, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  16. @ajay
    iitians are a smart bunch of people whether u doubt it or not that’s your problem. about preparing for jee a fu ppl do it from 7th as u have mentioned and those who do are exceptionally brilliant.(shubhanmesh bose jee2005 120th rank holder,he did his preparation and dude he was f****** smart and extraordinary made alsmost thru all the international olympiads)
    about shying away from research… dude v from middle class background and with parents retiring from job pretty soon dun expect to burden them more….and u do get more paid in a job than doing some research moreova v are ENGINEERS NOT SCIENTISTS!!
    and if u think merit is not tested by the IITJEE exam (dunno about the recent pattern but pretty sure about the exam that i passed)… trust me its a really diffclt one with hell lots of surprizes!

    Comment by puneet — July 14, 2007 @ 7:01 pm

  17. @ Puneet

    I’d take you a lot more seriously if you had not sodomised the English language as horribly as you just did.

    Comment by Aneesh — July 14, 2007 @ 11:39 pm

  18. Speaktruth:

    “Most of the IIT students attend well-known JEE coaching centers and most of the students come from big cities.”

    I do not know recent statistics but when I was in school, most top rankers came from a secondary school in Bhilai – not a coaching centre, not a big city…


    You are experiencing what exasperates some but apparently not many. Some even justify awful usage, spelling and grammar as an unimportant thing in today’s “war for talent”. I am not sure I agree. What good is an idea one cannot communicate? (See an earlier post on the matter:

    Comment by Shefaly — July 17, 2007 @ 11:59 am

  19. puneet,
    did you not take the english exam in iit?

    Comment by andiron — July 19, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  20. a good number of iitians are there due to coaching, no doubt. you would alse see bigger cities will dominate..
    i hear, nowadays, coaching has become an art: a development that augurs ill for an avg iit calibre.

    Comment by andiron — July 19, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

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