Friday, April 11, 2008

A couple of articles

I was referred by a friend to read the following articles.

Does India need more IITs?

The author of this article is Prof. P V Indiresan, Former Director of IIT Madras. This article cited above happens to have a sequel in the following article by the same author.

IITs: Quality only because of exclusivity

I would urge you to read these articles and then read this blog post.

In both these articles, Prof Indiresan has made it evident about his feelings against the reservations and increase of the number of seats at elite institutions citing examples and drawing conclusions. It is indeed very beautifully written, and the fact that this man does belong to the system is very apparent from his writing. While, I am against the reservations and increase in the number of seats mindlessly myself, I do think there are some points on which Prof Indiresan could be countered.

Does Prof. Indiersan say that IITs can be centers of excellence only when surrounded by a sea of mediocracy? Why does he not take into account the increase in intake in Oxford or Harvard or the expansions that have happened in those campuses since their inception? Does he say that the students of IITs dont have a standing to make an assessment of the people who teach them?

Isn't there a measured silence in these articles on issues he might think be even a trifle counter to his stand and arguement?

Well, thats journalism. You only write what will sell your story. A critical outlook is usually lost.

And with the recent Judgement from the Supreme Court on the quota and reservations, the issue is going to be all the more in news.

Bhaand, I feel that your counter arguments are rather baseless.

Q1: What Indiresan says is that IITs are what they are due to the kind of people who are teaching and learning are among the best in the country. That does not mean that *all* of the best people in the country are in IITs. They can be in any other institution outside IITs. Think BITS. Think NID. Think NITs. What he wants us to do is maintain exclusivity to maintain the value.

Q2: He does not mention them for the same reason that he does not mention that IITs have also increased intake since their inception. I remember reading somewhere that the first batch had only about 150 students. Compare that to about 800-900 students who graduate every year now.

Q3: Yes. He says that. And I agree. Most of the IITians havent seen the kind of teaching that happens in local Indian Engineering colleges. They would have seen IITs and then either gone on to study outside India or else work. They would have not studied in the local engineering colleges. I happen to know quite a few professors at my fathers' college and I know what the teaching quality is .. at that college. And I believe that we certainly have better profs. However, since most IITians would not have any exposure about other colleges, they have no basis for comparison.
couple of points:

i think india has enough studetn who would make quality engineers. all of them deserve good colleges. but there are only, say 20(?), of them right now. we may not need to increase the number of IITs, but we do need to improve the quality in other engineering colleges.

a prof is with either good or bad based on how _you_ judge him. just because local engineering colleges have worse profs doesn't mean your prof is good. he is still bad. i feel most of the profs in iits are good. they just dont not know how to teach well.
@ Shankin,

Agree. I dint say that they are good or bad. They are just better than the outside profs.
And true - its about how every individual judges,.. however, what I am saying is most of dont have any locus standi to judge the profs.

How many profs have each of us done a course with? around 40? Just to show that 40 is way too less a number for us to judge - The profs see more than that many students in most classes!
The reservation issue apart, the first article does make some perceptive comments about the "real" value of a university degree - the social distinction ... - and the point that we perhaps do NOT need 3000 brilliant engineers every year. And yes, more and more people seem to be off selling soap than building bridges.
Horrible horrible article. The comparisons he makes with science are totally meaningless, and he gives no reason why the analogy should hold.

When we are talking about institutions, groups of human beings, Nyquist's theorem and thermodynamics DO NOT hold.

It is common among professions to make entry exclusive. Lawyers, Chartered Accountants, doctors, they all try to limit the number of people joining their peer group, so as to reduce competition and increase income. Of course, engineers want to do it too.

I myself profess no one position on this question. But if we have to dispassionately come to the answer, we need to find out what were the purposes for instituting IITs.

If we must translate into scientific parlance, we need to find out whose objectives are to be served, what those objectives are, and which option serves those objectives best.

Of course IIT's value lies in its exclusivity. The value of an air ticket in the 1980's was very high, but we welcomed the competition that brought down the value of a flight. It made Air India redundant, but who's mourning?

It is all very well for Indiresan to condescendingly declare that we don't need so many engineers or so many graduates or whatever. But that is not for Indiresan to decide.

Not only does knowledge = money, knowledge also = freedom. This must be a little difficult for someone who can say things like "the scholarship that university education imparts is important for research, design .... but not in fine arts or sports or politics"

Basically, the point is not to protect the IITs. Nor is it the only point to supply graduates to the industry. What the point is is not clear to me, but I can say with confidence that the rationale might just go a little deeper than Indiresan cared to dig.
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