It is well-known that the following seven engineering colleges were chosen for possible conversion to Indian Institutes of Technology / Institutes of National Importance:
These educational institutes were shortlisted on the basis of the recommendation of the S K Joshi Committee. To narrow down the selection and to formulate a long-term policy for the establishment of national institutes, a three-member expert committee headed by Dr M Anandakrishnan was sent to the campuses of those seven colleges towards the end of last year.
Other members of the committee were Dr D V Singh and Dr Amitabha Ghosh.
The committee held wide-ranging discussions with college heads, vice chancellors of the respective universities, and officials from the concerned state governments. The committee submitted a final report and recommendations to the Union ministry of human resources development on February 13, 2006. But meetings and discussions with concerned parties continued even after that.
The MHRD meeting
The office of the Union ministry of human resources development (MHRD) invited representatives of the seven colleges and associated universities and state government officials to New Delhi to discuss IIT/INI status on September 1, 2006. During the meeting, copies of the report prepared by the three-member panel (called the Anandakrishnan Report) were distributed and the contents were discussed.
During the meeting, the MHRD representative informed all parties that the colleges would not be called 'IITs' after conversion due to the political sensitivity of the issue.
He also said that two colleges -- namely the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and the Jadavpur University (JU) -- shall not be converted because of difficulty of separating them from the parent universities and also because of the lack of availability of adjoining space for future expansion.
For the remaining five colleges, the MHRD representative stated that all of them would be given INI status.
He further clarified that the government would like to convert them to a new system of national institutes to be called IIEST (Indian Institutes of Engineering Science and Technology), provided they meet some requirements.
The requirements to be met for conversion to IIEST are: the institutes should be fully under central government control, admission to these institutes should be through national examinations, et cetera.
The Anandakrishnan Report
The 114-page Anandakrishnan Report discusses the potential of each college to acquire IIT-like/INI status. The report analyses available infrastructure, faculty strength, admission process, type of governance, research output, etc. for each one of them.
The report states that India needs different types of engineers and different types of colleges that can advance the frontiers of science and engineering. It also feels the need for setting up institutes, which are a blend of the IITs and the IISc (Indian Institute of Science.
The Anandakrishnan Report notes that 90 per cent of the over 1,300 engineering colleges in India offer only basic engineering degrees and that the nation needs more colleges providing masters and doctorate level degrees. The report states that such colleges should be provided adequate funding for the next five-years to lift them up to the level of IITs.
It recommends that such colleges should be fully funded by the central government, which will also control them. The colleges will admit students through national level exams. The colleges will not have any 4-year B. Tech level programmes.
The expert committee identified five colleges (out of seven) having the potential to become IIESTs, subject to meeting certain criteria.
The IIESTs will be established through an Act of Parliament. They will be accorded the status of the Institutes of National Importance (INI).
A college must be fully separated from the parent university and the respective state government, before it can become an IIEST. It will have a governance system (dean, students' council, faculty council, etc.) similar to that of the IITs. There will also be an apex body, called the IIEST Council, to coordinate activities among all IIESTs.
The college admission will be through a national level entrance examination, the exact type of examination is to be decided. It may be through IIT-JEE, AIEEE or through another common entrance examination for all colleges. The admission for post-graduate courses will be through GATE only.
This is a unique concept being introduced in India. The highlights of which are:
It is expected that by 2011, IIESTs as a group will produce 5,000 post-graduates, including 1,000 PhDs, each year.
This is the most important aspect for any educational institution to succeed. The features of MHRD's plan for financing these institutes are (approximately):
In comparison, each IIT receives an average of Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) as annual grant. It also receives Rs 20 to 40 crore (Rs 200-400 million) per year as research grant.
Three more IITs proposed
The ride to IIEST is not a smooth one for the central government or for the colleges. Before converting an institute into an IIEST, the central government has to satisfy all the concerned parties. Since colleges are just small players in the overall power equation, they do not have any say in government decision.
Similarly, universities, which depend upon state and central governments for funding and support, have a very limited say in the outcome.
In case the MHRD succeeds in convincing the respective state governments to accept this proposal, other state governments can create problems in implementing it. The central government has taken this factor into account and plans to introduce more IITs.
The Moily Committee is seriously discussing a proposal for the establishment of three brand-new IITs. The locations are not disclosed yet, but Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar are in the race. Similarly, some of the IITs are planning extension centres/satellite campuses in other states, at a cost of Rs 700-800 crore (Rs 7-8 billion).
Separating a college from the control of state government appears to be a political problem. Although a state government, which has nurtured and controlled the excellent colleges for decades, may be reluctant to relinquish control at first, they understand that central government funding is essential to improve the standards of these institutes and central government is not going to fund unless a centrally administered council manages these institutes.
However, the MHRD is trying to provide incentives to the state governments so that they relinquish control of these institutes, by proposing either to set-up brand new IITs or extension centres of an existing IIT in that state. These extension centres will become full-fledged IITs later on.
For the state of Andhra Pradesh, it means that they will have an IIT if the two identified schools are converted to IIEST. For the state of West Bengal, an extension centre of IIT-Kharagpur is being planned near Kolkata, and the state of Kerala will benefit by an extension centre of IIT-Madras that is coming up at Trivandrum.
Another issue concerns admission tests for IIESTs. As per the proposal, an IIEST must take students through IIT-JEE, AIEEE or some common entrance examination. IT-BHU is already admitting students through IIT-JEE.
The Joint Admission Board of IITs (which conducts IIT-JEE) may not allow all the four remaining colleges to its admission test. In fact, with more brand-new IITs and extension centres coming up in near future, chances are slim for other colleges to join JEE. Such colleges can opt for another reputed national level exam, called AIEEE (All India Engineering Entrance Exam).
About 525,000 candidates appeared for this exam this year, for 20 NITs (National Institutes of Technology) and an equal number of other colleges.
However, this will create another problem: For common admission, how to compare the ranks from both the exams? How will a group of colleges (IIEST) exist with different admission criteria?
Creating an altogether new national level examination like SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) taken by college-bound students in the United States, through which all students will be selected, can solve this problem. This way, an average student will not have to appear for three separate national examinations (IIT-JEE, AIEEE and IIESTs).
The IIESTs will offer only five-year dual degree programmes. Thus, this concept will be good for our country that is destined to become an industrial and technology leader in near future. This will provide us with a steady stream of qualified scientists and technologists.
It is also good for a student seriously interested in pursuing study in technical subjects. However, if any student wants to get a simple engineering degree just to get a job, pursue management studies, become an entrepreneur, or get a higher degree abroad, he will have to pursue his education in another institute or study for an additional year.
The annual funding for each IIEST will be less than half of that received by an average IIT, and at the same time it is expected to produce more than twice the number of postgraduates and doctorates.
A case for converting existing colleges into IITs
The S K Joshi Committee which was formed to identify institutes most ready for conversion to IITs, short-listed seven colleges for converting to IIT status after careful consideration. It is really sad to note that they were subsequently found to be not suitable.
It is possible to convert five colleges into IITs with the total cost similar to setting up a brand-new (grassroots) IIT. Also, the existing experienced faculty can be utilized to provide quality education.
Take for example: the case of Bengal Engineering College. The second oldest engineering college (after University of Roorkee, now IIT Roorkee) in the country, should have been declared an IIT a long time ago, without any need to form a committee. This college provided substantial percentage of faculty to the IITs since their inceptions.
Similarly, IT-BHU is faithfully taking students for the last 35 years exclusively through IIT-JEE; and its academic programmes, curriculum and examination methodology are mirror images of those of IITs. It has 85% faculty with doctorate degree and was placed 2nd (next to IISc) in terms of research output in 2003 in a World Bank study, commissioned by the central government. Still it has been denied the entry to join the IIT system.
In the same way, other colleges also have potential to become an IIT.
Establishing new institutions solely for postgraduate studies in engineering, science and technology is a bold approach by the government. It will take at least a decade to build-up the brand image. If the experiment succeeds, it will take the industrial growth of our country in a new direction.
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.