The Indian Institutes of Technology are in the news again. Earlier this month, newspaper reports revealed the names of seven short-listed colleges to be converted into IITs, as per the S K Joshi Committee report.
The shortlisted institutions are the Institute of Technology BHU Varanasi; University College of Engineering combined with University College of Technology, both belonging to the Osmania University; Bengal Engineering College Howrah; Jadavpur University's engineering and technology departments; Zakir Hussain College of Engineering and Technology, AMU Aligarh; Andhra University College of Engineering; and Cochin University of Science and Technology.
However, the government is considering the report of the Joshi Committee to constitute an expert group to assess the suitability of transforming seven institutions to the level of IITs, as these institutions 'fall far below the level of the existing IITs in all criteria used for shortlisting.'
But suddenly everyone is asking questions:
We shall try to answer these questions and also discuss the process of 'IITization'.
The need for new IITs
The race for new IITs began even before the former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced the creation of five more IITs 'by upgrading existing academic institutions that have the necessary promise and potential' at a function organised by IIT Kanpur in October 2003.
In 2002, when Roorkee University was converted into the seventh IIT (and first college to be converted into an IIT), alarm bells rang in the capitals of southern Indian states. This was because with the addition of Roorkee, there were three IITs in the north (IIT Delhi, Kanpur and Roorkee), but only one (IIT Madras) in the south. The others are IIT Bombay, IIT Kharagpur and IIT Guwahati.
Some southern states were then ruled by political parties that supported the erstwhile National Democratic Alliance government and the pressure began to mount on the Centre began to mount.
The government then agreed to correct the 'regional imbalance' by establishing more IITs in the south. This also led to demands from almost all the 25 states. Part of the problem was sought to be resolved by announcing that some Regional Engineering Colleges would be converted to NITs.
S K Joshi Committee
In November 2003, the Government of India announced that the S K Joshi Committee would guide the selection of the five institutions to be the five new IITs.
The committee comprised eminent academics, scientists and research administrators. The committee members were:
The NDA government planned to announce five IITs during the general elections in May 2004. However, the plan was thwarted by the enforcement of the model code of conduct announced by the Election Commission.
According to this model code, the government could not announce the list of new IITs, as it would tilt election results in the favour of ruling party.
After the general elections in May 2004, the United Progressive Alliance government came into power at the Centre. The new government was initially slow to react to the demand for new IITs.
However, due to constant pressure from different state governments (all of whom wanted an IIT in their backyard) and business leaders (who argued that the country needed more high quality engineers to feed the explosive demand from the IT and industrial sectors), the central government decided to move in the matter.
Colleges/institutes short-listed for IITs
A total of seven colleges/institutes from four states were short-listed for conversion into IITs. Some of the states have suggested two colleges in the hope that at least one would be selected. The colleges affiliated to the Aligarh Muslim University and the Banaras Hindu University have applied on their own, as they are central universities.
Let us view their merits state-wise:
Uttar Pradesh: Both the colleges -- Banaras Hindu University's Institute of Technology (ITBHU) and the Zakir Hussain College of Engineering, Aligarh (of AMU) -- are part of central government universities.
ITBHU admits students through all India IIT-JEE examination since 1972 and it is the only college among the chosen seven to grant admission of students on an all-India basis.
Encouraged by the IIT Board (an apex governing committee of all IITs), it applied for IIT status in 1973 with East German collaboration. However, the deal fell through due to political reasons.
West Bengal: The state government has put forward two of its finest engineering colleges, namely the Jadavpur University's Engineering and Technical Department, and the Bengal Engineering College, Howrah.
BEC and ITBHU provided most of the faculty members to IITs during their formative years. The state will likely get other institutes, if it fails to get an IIT.
Andhra Pradesh: The state has put forward Osmania College of Engineering (Osmania University College of Technology), Hyderabad, and the Andhra University College of Engineering, Visakhapatanam.
The state is aggressively pushing for an IIT and it has even threatened to establish an IIT of its own if one is not granted. The central government has set up a committee to study the creation of a separate state of Telangana (after splitting Andhra Pradesh), with Visakhapatanam as the new capital.
If the move materialises, Andhra University College of Engineering could be converted into an NIT.
Kerala: It has only one college -- the Cochin University of Science and Technology -- in the race for conversion into an IIT.
This fine institute, which used to offer only post-graduate courses, now also offers graduate courses in a wide range of engineering, sciences, law and management. All 20 Members of Parliament from the state are unanimous over their demand for an IIT.
So which colleges will be lucky enough to get the IIT status?
The S K Joshi Committee list shows colleges in the final round. Not all colleges will be converted into IITs. Although there is no such rule which says that there can be only one IIT per state, the IITs will be geographically dispersed around the country to remove the present regional imbalance.
Ever since the first IIT was set up at Kharagpur in 1952 -- as per the recommendation of the Nalini Ranjan Sarkar Committee -- it was decided to set up IITs in different parts of the country.
The final selection will depend upon both the quality of the college and the political push and pull. Some states -- even those not listed in committee's report -- who are demanding an IIT might be pacified by offering them other prestigious institutes such as the AIIMS, the National Academy of Science and Engineering, NITs, etc.
During the NDA government's rule, the five institutes believed to have been selected for upgradation into IITs were: one in north region (Uttar Pradesh), one in northwest region (Punjab), and three in the south (Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh).
In the present IIT race, it is widely discussed in political and academic circles that only three colleges will be upgraded: one in north (Uttar Pradesh) and two in south (Kerala and Andhra Pradesh).
I do confess that this is an unconfirmed report, since the actual list is known only to the prime minister and a few cabinet ministers, and is subject to last minute changes.
However, the Human Resources Development ministry does act on the committee's recommendation after consultation with the IIT Board, which will have the final say in the selection process.
The government has not allocated any provision in this year's Budget for new IITs. It is likely that the demand for funding of these elite institutions will come up during supplementary budget discussion, when Parliament meets again on May 13 this year. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to announce the names of new IITs by then.
This will also allow sufficient time for horse-trading behind the scenes among states and the Centre. There are also several other legal steps involved before a college is granted an IIT status, even after the prime minister makes his announcement.
For example, Parliament has to amend the IIT Act; the new IIT list has to be published in an extraordinary government gazette; the institutes are to be officially notified by the central government, etc. If there is any delay in any of the steps, then the colleges will become IITs only in the next calendar year.
Brand new IITs or Converted IITs?
Prior to coming up of IIT-Roorkee, all the six IITs were established as brand new IITs, i.e. from scratch.
IIT-Guwahati was established in 1992 with an estimated outlay of about Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion). But on completion, the total cost came to be about Rs 1,500 crore (Rs 15 billion).
Alarmed by this cost escalation, the government decided to set up future IITs only by converting existing colleges. It will cost upwards of Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) today to set up a brand new IIT. A college converted into an IIT will receive a one-time grant (paid over a period of three years) of Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion). It will also receive an annual funding of about Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion).
Fear over dilution of IIT quality
There is an apprehension that with the creation of more IITs, the quality of IITs may be diluted. I believe that this fear is unfounded, since even if there are 12 IITs, it will represent only 1 per cent of the approximately 1,200 degree engineering colleges in India which produce about 250,000 engineers each year.
The one-time massive grant received by each converted IIT will help in upgrading college infrastructure -- such as buildings, labs, workshops, etc. Moreover, substantial increase in annual funding will result in attracting talented faculty, more research scientists and definitely better students for postgraduate and PhD programmes.
The converted institute shall have to comply with strict educational norms laid down by the IIT Board (Council), such as 1:1 ratio of admitted undergraduate/postgraduate students; faculty/student ratio of 1:8 or better; constantly updating of the curriculum; hiring of faculty with only doctorate qualification and a distinguished career; participation in TEQIP (Technical Education and Quality Improvement Programme) by all faculty members, etc.
However, when a college that does not have any affiliation with the IIT-JEE becomes an IIT, it may suffer initially in terms of student quality, as several batches will pass out with the IIT tag without having to go through the tough IIT-JEE exam. It is also true that a new converted college will take a few years to come at par with the IITs' high academic standards and to assimilate into the IIT culture. But this is small price we will have to pay for long-term benefits to our country.
No discussion on IIT is complete without discussing NITs. The National Institutes of Technology came into existence in 2002-2003 when the central government decided to set up NITs by converting existing Regional Engineering Colleges as per the recommendation of the All India Council for Technical Education.
A total of 18 NITs have come into existence, out of a total of 23 planned originally. The decision to establish NITs was prompted by various reasons:
Once ridiculed as poor RECs, the NITs have progressed remarkably well within a short span of 2-3 years. With a one-time grant of about Rs 100 crore (for each NIT) from the central government, they have vastly improved their infrastructure.
With annual funding having been increased from Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) to Rs 30 crore (Rs 300 million) per NIT, the institutions have been able to hire quality teachers -- with at least 70 per cent of them holding doctorates. Under the guidance of IITs, NITs have revamped their curricula, established research programmes and improved faculty/student ratio.
With new industry-college partnerships, introduction of new courses and near perfect campus placement, an air of confidence prevails on the campuses across NITs.
NIT-Suratkal and NIT-Trichy are among the progressive NITs that resemble mini-IITs.
Just like IITs, NITs also admit students on the basis of an all-India level exam, called the All India Engineering Entrance Exam, with 50 per cent students from an all-India list and the rest of the 50 per cent from within the state.
This year about 400,000 students are appearing for AIEEE exam for NITs, IIITs (Indian Institutes of Information Technology) and other deemed universities.
Out of these, about 7,000 to 8,000 students will seek admission to one of the 18 NITs. Thus statistically, it is as tough as the IIT-JEE examination; where about 3,500 students (out of about 200,000 candidates) get admitted into one of the seven IITs.
However, it should be noted that IIT-JEE is a quiz type of an exam, while AIEEE is a high-school board type exam.
This is not the end of the story for new IITs. A few years down the road, more IITs are being planned. At that time, NITs will certainly be given preference over other institutes. This will give a reason to Karnataka (the only state in south without an IIT by then) to smile.
With the total number of IITs going up to about ten and with the introduction of new courses, the total intake to IITs shall go up to 7,000 to 8,000, relieving some stress on students taking IIT-JEE.
We must admit that it will be difficult for new IITs to match the aura and the prestige enjoyed by original 'big five' IITs -- IIT-Kharagpur, IIT-Bombay, IIT-Delhi, IIT-Kanpur and IIT-Madras -- which were set up with foreign technical collaboration, UNDP assistance and modelled on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Manchester pattern.
The author is chemical engineering graduate from ITBHU and an MS (chemical engineering) from Rutgers University, New Jersey. He has deeply interacted with the HRD ministry, state ministers, IIT board, IIT Selection Committee. The views expressed here are personal.