Engineering an IIT success

It is a happy development that the deadlock between the IITs and the government over the entrance examination has been resolved through a compromise formula. The IITs will be pleased that they have retained their separate admission test and will not be clubbed together with engineering institutes with regard to the selection of their students. They will, however, now also be required to give weightage to the marks secured in the class XII examination, which was being insisted upon by the Human Resources Development (HRD) Ministry.

The HRD ministry has been keen to upscale the importance of the board examinations in the selection process. It remains to be seen whether this move has the effect of reducing the burden on the students or of aggravating it, for, while preparing for the IIT entrance, they will now also have to ensure their performance in the board examinations which will affect their chances of getting into an IIT. At heart is the issue of the autonomy of the IITs, which the leadership of these institutions felt enabled them to make the best decisions regarding the academic cause they serve. It is true that the IITs benefit enormously from government subsidies but their freedom to take decisions regarding admissions should not be easily interfered with, particularly for extraneous reasons. This is because autonomy is among the handful of factors that have enabled the IITs to remain free of corruption and to maintain standards in a sea of mediocrity, allowing them to be known as institutions of excellence, with outstanding alumni famous the world over. The IITs have done so well and so consistently over the years that tampering with the prevalent system requires careful thought. Not that the IITs are a sacred  cow but only that unwarranted interference should not have the effect of dilution of standards and lead to institutional decay.

This is not to suggest that there are no problems with the IITs. Surveys of educational institutions have regularly found that those from India, including the prestigious IITs, had an exceedingly low output when it came to original research. This suggests that the quality of education at the post-graduate levels and beyond at the IITs falls below what may be required and that even at the undergraduate level, perhaps the curriculum does not develop originality. It also suggests that the students attracted to the IITs, and taken in through the entrance examination, while bright and hardworking,  may lack creativity. Therefore, any tinkering in the entrance examination must be to lessen the role of rote learning, on which incidentally the coaching institutes thrive, and be more oriented towards testing aptitude, including towards innovation. The aim must be to bring the level of other science and technology institutions to that of the IITs and not vice-versa. 
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