PANIIT2006 - the mega IIT Alumni meet that is scheduled for next week in Mumbai has raised a lot of decibels in the media. There are a lots of articles and discussions on the IIT - the hype, the mystique and myth associated with India's best known educational instititutions.
As an IIT-ian ( genuine B.Tech product - Mechanical, Azad Hall, Kharagpur) it is my misfortune that I would not be able to attend this megaMeet ... so let me share some of my thoughts on these unique institutions.
At the risk of being politically incorrect, let me state upfront, that even though anybody who has enrolled in IIT is a dejure IITian, many of us believe that the defacto IITian is one who has qualified through the JEE Examination and has gone through the undergraduate ragging program -- does not matter if you were Mech or Chem or Agri or Electronics or Physics. The motley crew of M.Techs and Research Scholars do not qualify as genuine IITians .. despite their pretensions to the contrary. This may sound rather arrogant and I apologise in advance to those who may feel agrieved .. but unfortunately I have to call a spade a spade.
Which brings me to the next topic. IIT-ians are famous and known across the world for their B.Tech students ..
The coursework that is taught in IIT -- whether at the B.Tech or M.Tech level -- is the same that is taught at any other engineering college in India. It is the same Shames and Timoshenko and Popov and Thereja ... whereever you go. No different.
The teachers at IIT, no offence meant to anyone, are no better than anywhere else ( except is the newfangled private donation schools .. which are awful). Professors at RECs or at B E College, or Jadavpur university or as good or as bad as their counterparts in IIT. 5% are good whereever you go. The rest do not matter. My only regret is that only if IIT professors where selected through a process one-tenth as rigorous as the IIT-JEE ... it would have been a world of difference.
And the mediocre professors reflect in the pathetic nature of research that happens in these IITs. Despite all the hype about Sponsored Research, look closely and you will see that things of monumental insignifance dominate the research agenda -- I believe that IIT KGP hs come out with (a) new male contraceptive and (b) new ways of growing tea in semi-arid areas. If that is the cutting edge of technology, then I would rather stay at the blunt edges.
So the course is identical, the teachers are average and the research is pathetic ... then how does IITs dare to compare themselves with MIT and the Ivy League colleges ? They can because they have something that no one else has ... the IIT JEE entrance test.
When I sat for this in 1979 there were 40,000 of us competing and just about 2000 got in. Today I believe that this number is 4000 out of 400,000 or something equally obscene .. and believe me when you have a selection process as rigorous as this and it does not matter what you course you teach, who teaches and how they teach. The folks that can overcome this barrier can overcome any barrier anywhere in the world .. and that is exactly what they have done.
No surprises then to know that Brand IIT is so well known and respected all over the world. But is it Brand IIT that deserves this adulation or Brand IITJEE ... that is the real brand ?
I think the answer is very clear ... Brand IITJEE is the real one.
But strangely enough, like true descendents of Kalidas, who got busy in cutting off the branch that he was sitting on ... we want to kill this IITJEE brand ..
And how ? Through our Quota system.
Honourable Parliament has just passed the law that makes nearly 50% reservation mandatory in IIT .. what this means is that the sanctity of the IITJEE is undermined. It does not matter if we increase the number of seats from 4000 to 8000. What matters is that when the 8000 people pass out .. they will carry the IIT Brand on their shoulder but will they carry the IITJEE Brand as well ?
And if they carry that IITJEE Brand, is that brand still half as valuable as the IITJEE brand that I ( and countless others ) carry proudly on our chest.
Sorry, there is no point in asking you for an answer ... because the answer is NO.