Nature India | Indigenus

The IIT debate

India’s controversy-courting environment minister Jairam Ramesh rubbed many the wrong way when he trashed the faculty of the country’s leading technology schools — the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) — for being sub-standard. His remark of last week has since been amended several times over, as is wont in a political circus, but the issue has led to some serious thinking on where the IITs are going — both quality wise and quantity wise.

A recent feature in Nature addressed similar issues facing science and technology education in India. According to statistics it quotes, India has around 90 million college-going youngsters. This number is expected to rise to an estimated 150 million by 2025. The country has 500 universities and 26,000 colleges, which can take in around two per cent of its eligible youth. The population is growing by 1.34% a year, more than twice the rate of growth in China — stark statistics.

Most of India’s science and technology graduates look for high-paying jobs in industry. Those who seek a PhD form a minority — about one per cent.

These are just a few grim realities of science education in India that the feature addresses.

It was followed by a correspondence from a couple of Indian researchers at Boston University, USA, who pointed out the state of education inequality among socially disadvantaged groups. They analysed data from the country’s top medical school, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and found that performance was poor among students admitted under a government scheme for socially disadvantaged groups.

I find it interesting that British science writer Angela Saini’s book Geek Nation, which attempts some serious analysis of the IIT system and India’s scientific temper, preceded this debate.

The problem of science education in India has been written widely, analysed vastly and solutions recommended generously. The implementation, sadly, is not as promising or visible.

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Rohit Suratekar said:

    This represents the true situation in India. As a student I think the reason behind this is government policy. The most obvious reason, as discussed in the article, is high paying jobs. Besides, I think it is the lack of opportunities. There are very few seats and meagre funding for PhD programs (and universities can not increase seats because lack of lab set-ups and funds). One more thing is the media. It talks only of the high paying jobs and totally neglects research laurels. Also, the lack of awareness among students. But overall, research is about dedication and passion. If we can encourage passionate students, we can change thescenario.

  2. Report this comment

    V R Suresh said:

    Pressure levels are generally higher among western researchers to use publications as the means to secure and continue funding for their projects and to ensure some visibility in their area of research, and hence, progress along their career paths.

    In India, the scenario remains far more politically charged than in the West. Doing well in the Indian research scenario (with regards to position and influence) does not correlate well (positively) with research output. Getting into a position may well be dependent on past research output, but in general, Indian scientists (like Indians in all spheres) need to focus on criteria other than research output to climb up the career ladder (such as keeping the powers-that-be happy). Of course, a look at the “eminent scientists” who have won all kinds of awards in this country will give you hundreds (maybe even thousands) of publications (journal articles plus conference papers) in their curriculum vitae.

    But more often than not, this is because they are well connected and their students continue to give them authorship regardless of the lack of any actual scientific contribution to the project. This also helps their students’ careers and builds a network of yes-people around these people at the top. So the same kind of crony network that plagues everything in this country is blatantly at work in research as well. They bestow honours and awards on each other and garnish each other’s reputations and curriculum vitae.

    But why is it that with these eminent scientists and thinkers, research in India remains so mired in difficulties and frustration and in spite of the media hype about reverse brain drain, students and scientists still seek to go abroad for a decent career and the only thing that is left for these fellows is to claim they knew a Nobel laureate when he was in school? All these people at the top who are supposed to help train the younger scientists and promote research are old, tired, desirous to enjoy the laurels it took them so long to get (and that too probably because they stuck around till now) and more interested in playing dirty politics and ensuring that they cut their rivals by getting to funds before them and in ensuring that nobody really surpasses them to achieve anything of consequence.

    Scientific misconduct is rampant and there is absolutely no ethics or regulation. Defunct and useless bodies exist who claim to espouse scientific values but they really don’t make a dent on the fraud that goes on to steal ideas and take advantage of junior scientists in this country. How can research and scholarship thrive in such a foul environment?

  3. Report this comment

    Vivek Sagar said:

    I have myself been a candidate for IIT-JEE this year. Even after qualifying it, I am not very optimistic of getting an admission into a course offering a degree in the field of my choice. However, I know many of my friends who will be going for Computer science, communication and mechanical only to do an MBA in PG. The real problem I think is the lack of a focused course of study in the students of our country. When we are taught Physics in the high-school (or sadly, I should say, tuitions), despite the best of the efforts by boards like CBSE, practical skills are seldom given much importance. The teaching methodology is morbid and dull.

    Even students, whose career options are by default set as non-medical/medical console themselves by being joyous on solving an integration problem. Our top IITs lag far behind the foreign universities when it comes to research.

    However, I realize that times are changing. During this academic year itself, many reputed colleges have commenced research degrees. Let’s see where time takes our country to.

  4. Report this comment

    Jay said:

    Higher education is now losing sheen. Research was never an attractive option for bright Indian youths. Rather it was a compulsion after failing to secure any decent job (starting from UPSC to bank executive to BPO/IT professional), or waiting to get married (for many women).

    It was quite unbelievable that even the elite technical institutes like IITs are now having vacant seats, enrollment to medical courses is also falling (mainly due to costly and longer time of education). We all know that general Indian students lost interest for basic subjects (including basic science) long ago. That trend has increased in the recent past.

    In general, Indian students are not that keen on higher education any more. One of the reasons is “quality” of education and the next one is probability to get a suitable job after such education.

    The number of jobs is too few for these “highly educated” youths. Percentage of population does not matter in this case. I think it will be better for Indian govt. to emphasize on quality and universal primary education than promoting sub-standard higher education and research.

  5. Report this comment

    Jay said:

    Check this news.

    Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are no longer the quality institutions they were in the 60s and 70s, said chief mentor of Infosys N R Narayana Murthy while speaking at IIT-Gandhinagar.

    The news is not very surprising at all. What is surprising is, even people like Narayana Murthy took so long to figure it out or admit it in public!

  6. Report this comment

    Sazky said:

    Getting into a position may well be dependent on past research output, but in general, Indian scientists (like Indians in all spheres) need to focus on criteria other than research output to climb up the career ladder (such as keeping the powers-that-be happy). Of course, a look at the “eminent scientists” who have won all kinds of awards in this country will give you hundreds (maybe even thousands) of publications (journal articles plus conference papers) in their curriculum vitae.