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 IITs are overcommitted, in crisis |

 IITs are overcommitted, in crisis

IITs are overcommitted, in crisis

Syllabus: GS2/Issues relating to Education

Prelims + Mains

Context:

∙ IITs are only Indian higher education institutions that do reasonably well in the global rankings but in recent times the IIT “system” has expanded beyond its capacity and is in danger of sinking into quality issues. 

About:

∙ The recent decision of the University Grants Commission to permit select IITs under the ‘Institutions of Eminence’ category to set up campuses abroad could further weaken these already stretched institutions. 

Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs)

∙ IITs are a network of public engineering and technology institutions in India, renowned for their academic excellence and research contributions. 

∙ Established in 1951, they are considered institutions of national importance and offer a coveted pathway to engineering and technology careers.

∙ The original five IITs were established in the 1950s and early 1960s . Four had a foreign collaborator: IIT Bombay (the Soviet Union), IIT Madras (Germany), IIT Kanpur (the United States), and IIT Delhi (the United Kingdom). 

∙ Currently, there are 23 IITs. After setting up IIT Delhi in 1961, it took another 34 years to establish the sixth IIT in Guwahati (1994). 

∙ Since then, 17 more IITs have been established, including several that resulted from upgrading existing institutions.

∙ Focus Areas: The IITs focused exclusively on technology and engineering earlier but  later added the humanities and social sciences.

Issues/Challenges

∙ Limited seats: High demand and limited seats result in fierce competition for admission.

∙ Shortage of human resource: Most of the IITs suffer from a severe shortage of professors.

∙ For example, IIT Dhanbad is approved to hire 781 instructors but only 301 positions were filled as of January 2021.

∙ Quality gap: While IITs have traditionally attracted high quality faculty, in recent years, they could not attract a sufficient number of young faculty to fill vacancies resulting from retirements.

∙ The emerging IT and related industries in India offered much more attractive salaries and exciting work opportunities, and many were lured to universities and industry in other countries.

∙ Mofussil locations: The government has expanded the number of IITs in smaller towns such as Mandi (Himachal Pradesh), Palakkad (Kerala), Dharwad (Karnataka), and others.

∙ Facilities and infrastructure are unlikely to be “world class”in these locations and the quality may decline, diluting the “IIT brand”.

∙ Lack of correlation: There is a lack of correlation between the local needs and IITs. Most of the IITs are ‘academic enclaves’ with little connection with their regions. 

∙ Only a few State governments are effectively utilising the presence of IITs in the local milieu through knowledge sharing networks involving universities, colleges and schools, and local industries and firms. 

∙ Missing community outreach: There are few community outreach programmes, which could prevent disruption, such as that occurring in Goa, where local groups are resisting locating a new IIT in their region.

Measures/Suggestions

∙ Not too many IITs: While excellent engineering/STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) institutions are needed, they all do not have to be IITs.

∙ 10 to 12 “real” IITs located near major cities are practical for India. 

∙ Quality graduation courses and research: Some of the newly established institutes can be renamed and provided with sufficient resources to produce high quality graduates and good research. 

∙ Maintaining world class status: A more limited “IIT system” needs to be funded at “world class” levels and staffed by “world class” faculty, perhaps with some recruited from top universities internationally.

∙ Recent decision to liberalise the recruitment rules to attract more foreign faculty is a good step in the right direction.

∙ Internationalisation: IITs need to pay attention to internationalisation beyond sending their brightest graduates abroad, recruiting Indians with foreign PhDs and starting overseas branches.

∙ In-depth collaboration with the best global universities, and hiring foreign faculty as visiting scholars would further build the IITs international brand.

∙ IIT Bombay-Monash Research Academy, and University of Queensland-IIT Delhi Academy of Research (UQIDAR), are promising examples. 

∙ Adequate and sustained funding: Funding from the government and the philanthropy of successful IIT graduates at home and abroad is needed to maintain the quality. 

Way Ahead:

∙ IITs play a vital role in shaping India’s technological landscape and fostering innovation. Continued improvements in accessibility, faculty strength, and research infrastructure are crucial for their sustained success.∙ It is time to rethink the changing role of IITs in order to ensure that quality and focus are maintained, by prioritising the needs of India, but with a 21st century twist.

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