The Indian Economy Blog

July 5, 2007

IIT Foundation: Foundation for What?

Filed under: Education,Human Capital,Miscellaneous — admin @ 7:30 pm

Nitin Rao, who blogs at Next Billion sent us this guest post

I recently met a senior teacher at a small private school in Hyderabad. What differentiates her school from the neighboring schools, she proudly told me, is the superior IIT Foundation coaching. Schools charge premium tuition and teachers higher pay for IIT Coaching.

As I came out (I haven’t yet learnt the trick to cross Hyderabad roads!), a bus passed us packed with advertisements for IIT Foundation coaching from Class 8.

The Narayana group of institutions in Hyderabad has introduced a seven-year integrated IIT Olympiad program for students aged 11!

We meet hundreds of teachers during our assignments at The Spark Group and I find that teachers take immense pride in saying that they have taught for IIT Foundation. I have met ladies who have no formal teaching experience, but provide coaching at home for IIT.

With these experiences, every time I come across the words “IIT Foundation”, I feel uncomfortable.

While, prima facie, there is nothing wrong with choice and access to service, one does wonder: If students need to spend eight years in preparation from Class 6 to Class 13 (the common “year drop”), is something wrong?

The letters IIT carry immense value: aspirational, matrimonial, whatever.

I wonder: Are these students “Selected into” IIT Foundation pursuing an interest in Engineering they have discovered early, or are they falling in line?

(Update) Full disclosure: Nitin was a Summer Associate with The Spark Group during May-June 2007 and will be coordinating some of their activities through next year. He wrote development-related papers and concept notes.


  1. IMHO, no twelve year old knows what (s)he wants to do in life, considering the level of experience and exposure they are given.

    Comment by Priya — July 5, 2007 @ 9:00 pm

  2. I agree completely. nice crisp article.

    India is a factory that manufactures BE and MBBS graduates. Soon, absolutely everybody will have a BE degree…

    There is no scope for art, music, sports, or anything other than a BE and MBBS…

    Not just the IITs, any damn engineering or medical college is the same… everybody just falls into line. True interest in no more a criteria…

    Comment by Krypt — July 5, 2007 @ 9:08 pm

  3. India is culturally now at a stage where the average student is not encouraged to search or explore his interests, and instead is pushed towards a ‘safe’ choice by his near and dears.

    This leads to rush for subjects like engineering and medical sciences. This creates a big market, with colleges of mediocre quality sprouting up to fill the demand. Naturally only a few (like the IITs) are equipped enough to give a complete education. Thus there is immense competition for the limited number of seats. Only those academically high rated will clear this.

    Businesses sprout for any kind of demand, and IIT preparation is no exception. The teachers in the article have good intentions, but they support a cause that could lead to our country becoming a BE manufacturer, as the above poster noted.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see an immediate solution to this problem. One (partial) solution would be a government encouraged and funded project to educate parents about the modern businesses and the new opportunities that have sprung up since when they were in college and try to remove the BE/MBBS block that exists.

    Comment by Anil — July 5, 2007 @ 9:43 pm

  4. The whole shabang is indicative of the poor quality of education in schools. The IIT exams, if taken as a measure of academic preparedness, are too difficult for most students, hence the “foundation” building, which is not part of regular school curricula.

    While I agree with the final question, what the main problem/concern should also be is about the level of syllabi, the standard and quality of teaching, and of course, the need to let students opt for these kinds of preparation as part of their regular curriculum.

    This is important, because if we want to argue that the IITs/IIMs are meritocratic institutions, then money shouldn’t be talking, i.e. money spent on coaching classes, special schools, 20 year plans and prep and so on – there should be equal entry access for every student, no matter they went to the municipal school or the IIT Foundation boot camp. I find it troubling that the IITs/IIMs let go these ‘difference building’ systems without working with colleges/schools to help them improve the overall standard of their students.

    Viva la Revolucion!

    Comment by Siddhartha Raja — July 5, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

  5. >> I wonder: Are these students “Selected into” IIT Foundation pursuing an interest in Engineering they have discovered early, or are they falling in line?

    At that age they are probably doing what their parents are asking them to, what their peer groups think is ‘worthy’ etc.

    But whats your point ? :-)

    Comment by Sudeep — July 6, 2007 @ 12:24 am

  6. Being the largest producer of Engineers in the world has provided India the edge it has in this economy. So I dont have problems with that. This “proven” method of success is the reason why everyone wants and becomes an engineer.

    The problem however is that how you protect people from overdoing it. What happens if the demand runs out. Is this rush to become engineer adding unnecessary stress on somebody who is actually not made for this stuff and could do a lot better in something else.

    Anybody has ideas?

    Comment by chum — July 6, 2007 @ 1:12 am

  7. It’s not just generals who are always re-fighting the last “war,” chum.

    The only thing that will defeat conventional wisdom is a new “last war.”

    Comment by alphie — July 6, 2007 @ 5:32 am

  8. “I wonder: Are these students “Selected into” IIT Foundation pursuing an interest in Engineering they have discovered early, or are they falling in line?”

    Graduates from the IITs are not required to be interested in engineering. In fact, very few are. The IIT brand gives a person credibility whatever they might do following graduation. In a country where credibility is in short supply that’s an enormous advantage. And that’s what people are looking for when they spend all their energy trying to get into IIT Foundations, pre-IIT Foundations, pre-pre-ITT Foundations and so on.

    I think we could save a lot of money if we just conducted the IIT examination and immediately gave those who qualified a certificate. Then they could do whatever they were interested in secure in the knowledge that they had the IIT brand. Of course, staying in an IIT for four years would also be part of the requirement.

    Comment by Biswajit — July 6, 2007 @ 8:35 am

  9. Where there’s demand there’s a product. The market place is working in private sector. But it’s not working in the public sector monopoly of stingy IITs – instead of, probably, 50 or 70 IITs quality colleges in the country (based on the demand), we have total of seven to date?

    I don’t see anything wrong with IIT Foundation. No one is forcing children to attend the school. In fact, as Biswajit says, most IITian don’t continue with engineering – IAS, IIM and what not. And I am sure most kids, who are not smart enough – it takes more than 7 (or 3 or 5) years of rote to get into an IIT, would go on with their lives in other colleges and other fields.

    The concern of this post is really a non-issue.

    Comment by Chandra — July 6, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

  10. Falling in line…atleast 90% of them. How can people say that it is a matter of choice and no one is forcing the child? The child is 11 years old for god’s sake, they’re still too young to decide what they want in life and then simply pursue what everyone else is pursuing.

    How many parents (and more importantly, schools) today actually make sure that their children explore every avenue and find out about every career and every field during the 12 years of their schooling life? Do most children even know what career opportunities there are outside engineering, medicine and management? Obviously if they aren’t exposed enough to other fields, they have no option but to take what they consider the safest, not what they consider the best career for themselves.

    Comment by Amogh — July 6, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  11. i agree with chandra that this is a non issue..

    the biggest reason why everyone wants to become a engineer or a doctor….future job prospects….secure livelihood. I do not see anything wrong with that in a country with around 20-30% un/underemployment (a wild guess)

    in USA i know few americans who wanted to pursue medicine and pharmacy….but after one semester they gave up, because they think it is too much work to study science/math.

    one guy went into landscaping work…he is already making a ton of money doing that part time (i can see him running a million dollar company in future) .

    REASON: opporutunity exists in USA for other than BE/MBBS

    i also know a indian origin student….who has completed his masters in science……but is still pursuing getting into Medical college….

    if my kid can get into medical college….without brain damage….i would encourage him to drop everything unless he is a picasso in arts…..or a maradona in sports…..

    REASON: a doctor in usa can easily make $300k/year without much hassle…by just doing a job…..some of them choose not to work on fridays….four day week

    I have heard about hundreds of failed artists/sportsmen…..i also know a person who studied religion…..and then after a long struggle he is in IT right now……..REASON: MONEY (you cant be happy if you are not making a minimum amount required to live in this world)

    Comment by TECHY2468 — July 6, 2007 @ 7:59 pm

  12. I see where this is heading…if the demand to get enrolled to the “foundation” goes up, we will soon have an entrance test even to get enrolled…whats next, a “pre foundation” course for the 5 year old get enrolled into the “foundation” course :-)

    Comment by Supreeth Kini — July 6, 2007 @ 10:55 pm

  13. Not very unlikely! After all, don’t they have kindergarten programmes in the US to ensure that children get into Harvard? Won’t be long b4 the same thing happens here

    Comment by Amogh — July 6, 2007 @ 11:02 pm

  14. A few months I happened to discuss the state of the IITs with one of the very first graduates of IIT Kharaghpur. An interesting point he made was that our recent IIT graduates are not necessarily the smartest. The IIT entrance process has become susceptible to “code breakers” (very hard working ones I might add).

    The larger cost is the burden on the regular students. I can’t fathom the amount of material the average school going child is taking in these days. These days 75% is considered a poor result!

    Comment by Nikhil — July 7, 2007 @ 12:01 am

  15. While all of us would agree that getting into IIT is a “big deal”, to start off at an age of 10,11… sounds ridiculous. I honestly feel that we overrate a lot of things -IIT, IIM, Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin etc. I mean they may be good but nothing to die for!!!

    My point here is…give it a shot at right time. If it works, great! else there is something better in store for you, just find it. :)

    Comment by Vinay — July 7, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

  16. with a successful track record of IIT alumni and hall of famers like Rajat Gupta, Vinod Khosla, Arun Sarin and gang, it’s a huge brand name. with middle class population of few hundred million, education is the only avenue out and popularity of IITs is inevitable. we could argue if it’s justified or not. other professions like fashion design, retail, finance, aviation are seasonal and a decade from now they might be replaced by some new buzz words but engineering degree has survived last few decades. Even in US, engineering grads earn higher starting salaries than business or arts graduates in the same university.

    We should all be grateful for the fact that corruption and nepotism haven’t got into IIT selection process. In fact I am surprised how that is so.

    and how about thousands of youngsters who spend their youth playing cricket and only a handful get to play Ranji trophy, forget the national team.

    Comment by ashutosh — July 7, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  17. The biggest problem with the IITs today is their brand. The IITs weren’t set up to simply give its students an ‘elite’ tag – they were founded to provide world-class engineering training to its students. But how many IITians actually take up engineering as a career? Today, a large number of IIT graduates simply go into fields that have no connection with engineering. The IIT tag only serves as some sort of resume-enhancement

    What’s the problem with that? The problem is that these students are denying proper engineering students a chance to acquire training at a top-class institute. These engineering hopefuls are being elbowed out of the way by students who have no plan to take up engineering as a career and are aiming for the IITs only because they want to be associated with the brand. In the process society too loses a good number of top notch engineers.

    Of course, it’s not easy to stop this. Some people will not even want it to be stopped. But I personally feel that if you have no wish to become an engineer in the long run, you should not aim for an IIT seat.

    Comment by Amogh — July 7, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

  18. The moment a child i born in India(especially in middle class) he has 2 choices either Engg or Medical, reason is not that their son has an aptitude for that course but because its the safest(and sometimes only) way to move from middle class to being upper middle class.But now then second question where can my son cheapest education & hefty pay packets after end of his course, obviously “elite” institutes.Third question how can ensure my child’s entry into it, obviously coaching institutes.
    But now as these coaching institutes get more & more fame u r supposed to write a entrance test for entering them, so u take up coaching for that in some other institute & so on………………….
    But who is to blame child, parent or someone else????

    Comment by Shashidhar — July 10, 2007 @ 2:08 am

  19. While India has good doctors, most of the engineers are half-baked.
    A guy with a degree in Mechanical Engineering immediately after graduation would exclaim, I am not sure, what I want to do. Hmmm, maybe take a course from some institute in SAP and become a SAP consultant.
    You see so many of them with degrees in environmental, civil, chemical etc… working as DBAs.

    The situation is this bad.

    Small, tiny east european countries with 1/100th of our population produce much better engineers who build real stuff, real products.

    Comment by Ammadio — July 10, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

  20. The main problem is the lack of alternative path in India. This is mainly due to lack of reputed institutions in fields other than Engg/Management/Medicine. We dont have the equivalent of Harvards and Yales to match our wannabe MITs and Stanfords. Thus, a lot of people are pushed into IITs just because they want to get into a good school. Probably, if there are something like IIAs or IIHs that produce highly respects artists and humanity students, things might become more balanced.

    India doesn’t produce too much of doctors or Engineers for its population size. After all, we produce probably 500,000 engineers/yr for a 1.1 billion population and much less than 100,000 doctors. We definitely need to produce more doctors and core engieers to satisfy the exploding economy. What is the problem is we are not producing people trained in other fields. Once, we build enough colleges and universities to train people in other fields and salvage humanities from communists infested enclaves. Once even artist or a lawyer or a professor teaching humanities earn an income that is comparable to those earned by tech professionals, the IIT-premium would start to drop.

    Comment by Balaji Viswanathan — July 11, 2007 @ 4:53 am

  21. Nikhil..

    Who says you need the smartest kid only to study at IITs? In life there is more than intelligence needed to succeed. I think this idea of being a smart kid to reach IIT is over over over hyped by IItians themselves who think that all the batches which come after them are not as “smart” as they were. I dont hear such comments by any other alumni of any other college ( HARVARD, STANFORD, OXFORD.. you name it)… coz they dont publicize themselves as “smartest”.


    Comment by pravesh — July 11, 2007 @ 11:14 pm

  22. IIT = 10% brilliant students + 90% averages students who gain “entrance” through some hidden hand of god selection committee, shhhh don’t tell anyone……..

    IITans don’t have two horns and tail, if you want to test this hypothesis select 5 IITans and 5 average students from any Engineering college in India tell the IITans they should never mention they are from IIT to any of their colleagues in the company. Appoint them in same corporate level see how they do their jobs there will not be any difference.

    The IIT hype/myth is the last vestige of the caste system, “superiority complex” of “inferior people” who sat on plagiarized sanskrit books for 1500 years without absolutely NO further research or improvement in the knowledge / technology!

    If we want to improve Engineering Education in India then we should set the minimum criteria for becoming a lecturer in Engineering colleges as degree in Engineering + 5 years industrial work experience, then the lecturers will be able to impart real engineering knowledge to the students from their work experience. Since 5 years of industrial work experience will give the teachers industry contacts they will be in better position to collaborate with industry to do research and solve real industrial problems and hence contribute to advancement of technology.

    Comment by General — July 13, 2007 @ 8:56 pm

  23. I’m Rangnath from IIT Roorkee (B. Tech. IV yr electrical engg.). What I feel is that problem is not whether there should or should not be these foundation courses. Qualifying IIT entrance exam is relatively tough compared to other engineering entrance exams. So a deep preparation is required for that. Even I had joined a foundation course. But every aspect has its pros and cons.

    Though a notable amount of money is being invested in education for children, one can not deny the fact of mostly IITians bagging large amount of salaries. B. Tech. graduates from other colleges also get respectable salaries these days. Thats the reason why parents/students are opting for engg./medical as a career. The other thing is also the unavailability of opportunities in other streams like commerce, arts etc. in India. BUT main question is where are we heading? Producing more and more no. of engineers and doctors has now just remained our numerical concern of education. What about the QUALITY of education? Current scenario of technical education in our country is concerned only with salaries or just good job profiles.

    Inspite of being endowed with good infrastructure, IITs do not stand anywhere before world class institutes like MIT and others due to very poor research & development(R&D) . Although our IT industry is booming, but we should know that not even a single microprocessor chip is manufactured in India, only manufactured material is being assembled here. No doubt, IITs are accomplishing its onus of creating good engineers but lacking in research, innovation and creativity. I think IIT foundation course is not the issue here for what the topic has been posted. Mostly IITians have been through these courses. So I divereted the topic. Now the question is how to improve the quality of education in our country. Not only the technical education but also other areas (arts, commerce etc) need to be revamped. But when will the initiatives be taken?

    Comment by Rangnath — July 17, 2007 @ 2:11 am

  24. Wow great to read these wonderful comments. Personally to me IIT is 99% awe inspiring and 1% contribution to GDP. Had this been a similar situation in USA, IIT\’s would have expanded their facilities and scaled up to maintain a 50% intake and ensured they post huge revuenues equivalent ot the entire GDP of India through tuition fees alone. Sadly for this [edited by admin] country called India, its not a matter of concern. To some who teaach and manage these insitutues its a matter of identity crisis, were they to retain more people, to the students its a matter of 50% reduction in number of offers they have on hand by the 3rd year, to the government,, its as usual, it doesn\’t make a difference to them. Even now getting into Harvard and Yale is no big deal provided one can afford tuition. As most pointed out correctly, most indians who are now talking of 6 figures packages are largely from the middle class families whose pops owned no more than a Bajaj scooter in their entire lives with their last drawn salary being one months phone bills of their well to do kids. But largely the cultural motivations in India are to blame. Ham kuch nahi kar paye, isliye bachho se karwayenge. With rare exceptions, most parents think this way. Infact of every 100 guys who are in IITs, 99 must be having a similar parentage. In Andhra, its a phenomenon. They live and die for a engg and medical degree. Institues like Narayana exist for commercial reasons and i think they are entirely right in making money by whatever way they can. Americans leave nothing to make money. They start from application fee itself. Only time can change things.

    Comment by Loknath — July 26, 2007 @ 10:54 pm

  25. [...] Of course, I don’t want the IIT/IIM system to end up like this. Not everything should be laid out to such level of detail that you can game the system. But I am glad we are seeing what we are. [...]

    Pingback by Criteria for IIMs « Epistles — July 28, 2007 @ 3:58 am

  26. This discussion is very interesting. I am a graduate from IT-BHU (Institute of Technology – Benares Hinsu University). In case you do not know the selection for my institute is through the IIT-JEE. I passed the exam in 1984. My rank was 1782 which was a bottom rank at that time as the JEE selected only 2000 candidates those days. I got admission in IT-BHU and had a choice between Metallurgy, Ceramics and Mining Engineering. I was not interested in any of these branches and knew precious little about them. So I chose Metallurgy as that had the highest social standing. I spent 4 terrible years in the institute. It resulted in a lot of trauma and has wrecked my life. Today I am working in a BPO as a senior software engineer. Without taking anything away from the quality of the IIT’s I would like to say one thing for all youngsters and their parents. IIT’s are great. You find a lot of very high quality brains there. But do not run behind the glamour. You can be successful in life only if you find you true vocation. Find what you are good at and what interests you. I read here that people start coaching their children for IIT’s at age 11 !!! I did not know things had become that bad. Yes, if you are interested in Engineering and like it then work for it and go for the IITs. But for heaven’s sake do not run behind it because of the hype or glamour.
    What finally matters is what you have to do for a living in the end. So be very sure you are making the right choice at the right times. That is all I have to say.

    Comment by Jayakumar — March 13, 2008 @ 3:01 am

  27. Living in Hyderabad for over 10 years, I have figured out that there are three kinds description that a person can have. An IITian, an MBBS or working in US. Anything other than these is like a Sin. This is probably one of the reasons of the demand for IITs. Now there a new thing added to the status quo: ISB. But the people at ISB are smart. They charge Rs 2500/- for every application and every student is charged around Rs 20,00,000/- for the course. The demand for ISB is evident from the number of applications they get every year.

    This brings us to a larger picture. When there is so much of hype and demand created about the IITs why isn’t the government making use of this opportunity and still wasting its money in providing subsidized education. I believe that right from the application fee, tuition fee to the final convocation fee should be charged as per the demand. That way the government can make use of these funds in making many other IITs. And a high tuition fee would not be a concern for any section of the society considering the fact that banks would hap[ily give them loans. People should consider this education as an investment for better returns. And believe me, the payback period won’t be more than 5 years.

    Comment by Nikhil Mohan — March 17, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  28. Talk, talk, talk.

    While its all true that “interests” are being compromised for the sake of “falling in a line” (in the terms of article), it seems naive to assume that “other” directions of a career would bear results better than what it is right now. Trust me, i am all pro-choice and frankly i’d want my kids (when and If i have some) to grow up to be what they want to be rather than pushed, but sometimes you’ve gotta wonder; Been living in states for some time now, I have seen what happens to kids who “follow” their dreams (and believe me, most of them are those free bird believers), guess what? they end up in a restaurant doing dishes. (Well may be i am exaggerating) but hey!.

    I’d rather sit in a boring job (Its fortunate that i have been passionate about programming and software in general since my wee years) which is like 8-5 which pays me well and hear all bragging about “hey i know this language or framework” from my fellow workers rather than looking @ Mirror every evening tired and sick of not doing proper groceries (meaning groceries @ an Organic Store or something and not @ Walmart) cuz i am short of money.

    Vyas, Anirudh
    Camp Hill, PA(U.S)

    Comment by Anirudh Vyas — March 19, 2008 @ 9:17 am

  29. I live in Aurangabad city situated in the State of Maharashtra(India).
    There is a big wave in the city regarding the IIT foundation at 8th,9th and 10th class level.Paraent of each student wants who is better in school exams. wants to push the student in the stream of IIT foundation.One of those parents is me also!

    Comment by sunil — June 26, 2008 @ 7:49 am

  30. I am an IIT Kanpur Btech, ENTERED IN 1987. There has a lot that has changed since then. Here is what i see:

    [1] Too much voodoo stuff -> coaching classes, myths, rumors.. and what not. Too much rote -> when in doubt compare and contrast the exam papers – circa – 1978-1993 : Try and see -the difference -> the questions are easier and based on ROTE -> do – over think.

    [2] People talk lot about IIT these days. In USA also. Even my girl friend does – and she isnt even Indian. IIT talk is not new, its just that the amplitude and the frequency – makes you wanna do the do.

    Some things havent changed though: and here is what i feel after graduating almost 2 decades ago:

    [a]My fellow Indian brethren havent realized: this is not new. In every nation, elite schools are a big deal and will be a big deal. And, no, a degree from – even – an Ivy League -with BA History written on it – doesn’t cut it, somehow. Yeah, it would be nice if there were some better schools that taught economics, and medicine – better..

    [b] Some people keep on bitching about IIT and IITans = :-) Guys.. and girls, men and women -> can you please loosen it up? I have not met many people that are that arrogant – as the IITans are sometimes described. In fact i find them quite pleasing.

    ps: the reason I am bitching about the pre – pre foundation stuff – is -> It is against IIt religion. IIT means a strong culture -> it used to mean – THINK – over DO. Funda over Rote.. and hence this is sad, as it rubs against the grain.

    PS2: i usually dont respond to any threads that have IIT in it – mostly because i have to be very careful of what to say, and how to say -> sorry but this- burden of carrying that elite tag – is something a bit too heavy – that i have to wear, when the plane lands east.. its never a problem in USA, CANADA and in Europe – but somehow – here – i have to be mindful.. of what i say -> and this – my fellow Indians – is wrong -> this is akin to a white man’s burden.. please don’t make the debate – undebatable..

    btech iit kanpur
    mba – insead

    ps -:> i had to do an mba – yes.. :) and
    psn-1 -> India doesnt need engineering degrees – half of that is useless..

    p2 n -> in the entire planet earth – Undergraduate is not about the branch – > yes, you can check, the elite institutions there – as well, I speak from experience of mine – as well, as that of my friends -> yeah this means – teaching there.. and lecturing and also hiring there

    Comment by ajay mishra — August 20, 2009 @ 4:21 am

  31. my request ->

    If you a parent -> trust me :
    we have 5 brothers who went to IITS { 2 of my mom and dad + 3 cousin brothers}

    parents have NO idea – whats involved – they dont know that they dont know.. and this is more dangerous than those who know they dont know and hence dont impose, their preconceived thoughts.

    so, dear parents -> PLEASE listen -> do not over burden your kids – this will become a zombie nation is the kids are told that early in their age -what not to do ..

    God please..
    ajay mishra

    Comment by ajay mishra — August 20, 2009 @ 4:27 am

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