President's address Leadership Conclave Session A & B
SESSION - A
It is a great privilege for me to speak before this august gathering of achievers. You belong to a section of the population which has had the privilege of having studied and/or taught
at the IITs, a good fortune which less than 0.1% of our population has secured.
The five Indian Institutes of Technology set up in the 50s and 60s at Kharagpur, Mumbai, Chennai, Kanpur and Delhi created a brand which has been recognized worldwide. These Institutes initially focused on their under graduate programme. The selection process for the students gradually became tougher and tougher, thereby increasing the quality of the graduates who were able to compete and excel with the brightest in the world. During the last 7 years this process has to some extent been diluted, which appears to have affected the quality of the intake. We will discuss more of this in the 2nd session, which is specially focused on JEE.
The Leadership Conclave started 3 years ago under the leadership of our Past President Ravi Kapoor has become an important event where the jewels of the IIT system are present. For us it has been a learning experience and the format of the programme is still evolving. I am thankful to our Past President Shashi Munjal for having taken up the onerous task of organising the event this year.
The purpose of this programme is that the achievers of IIT Delhi come together to deliberate on important issues. We are fortunate that some of the achievers, the movers and shakers from other IITs, like Hari Padmanabhan, Chairman PanIIT have been with us in these Conclaves. Today we are happy that a number of faculty members of IIT Delhi are also with us. Although our new Director, Prof. R.S. Shevgaonkar who is also the Chairman of our Association is keenly interested in the topics before us, he could not join us owing to bereavement in his family, for which he has to be in Mumbai today.
One of the great things done by Mahatma Gandhi was to emphasize self reliance and swadeshi. Perhaps it was his philosophy which influenced Sarkar and Nehru to set up institutions which will make India self reliant; IITs are one such institution. However, I am quite sure that at that time Nehru may not have perceived that the graduates of these institutions will make far reaching contributions in all walks of life not only in India but around the world.
The widespread and worldwide acclaim received by the graduates from IIT encouraged the Govt. of India to open IIT Guwahati and later on even the very old Thomson Engineering College, Roorkee was added to the IIT family. In fact my father is a Civil Engineer from Roorkee. When I joined IIT Delhi, the then Vice Chancellor, who was well known to us, complained to my father for not sending me there. While there has been a hue and cry about brain drain, the fact is that over 80% of the alumni from the IITs are in India. It is a matter of serious concern that while the Indian economic order could not take full advantage of these alumni, Europe, USA and other countries dramatically strengthened their economies by utilizing less than 20% of us who went abroad. This is one of the things which the Government needs to address urgently.
However, now 8 more IITs have been opened in quick succession to ride piggy back on the name and fame the IITs have earned. This phenomenon of adding new colleges to an established brand has not been done in the case of other leading institutes like Harward and Stanford and is a matter of concern to all of us. We should not allow this to repeat.
The First Conclave focused on “Enhancing Relevance of IIT Delhi Alumni Community for our Society”. The Second Conclave was on “Governing India – The Right Way”. Based on the very valuable learnings received from these Conclaves, the format of this Conclave has been radically changed to make it more productive. In this Conclave, the focus is on your thinking; we need to understand which topic, about IIT is close to your heart. We can also take up 1 or 2 topics beyond what has been contemplated if you consider it really important. We need your views from the bottom of your heart. Each table where you are seated constitutes a group. From your valuable deliberations, at the end of this Conclave, we hope to have white papers prepared by your group on each of the topics discussed. These we intend to present to the Senates of IITs and to the Central Government. With the participation of the faculty, we hope to have in place a mechanism, where the alumni and faculty who are committed to the cause can pursue the decisions taken today to their logical conclusion.
The IIT system which is so dear to all of us is facing many challenges. This year the discussion is focused on what needs to be done to take IITs to new heights. We need to set out what is it that needs to be done to maintain the brand.
I am happy to inform you that the PanIIT(India) has acquired a federal structure and today the alumni associations of the 7 older IITs are its members. The first executive of PanIIT(India) based on the new constitution has been constituted from 1st April this year. This federal body has taken upon itself the responsibility to not only take care of promoting the IIT fraternity and brand but also to take initiatives which will affect the weaker sections of society and make the impact of IITs relevant at the grass root level.
The Alumni Associations of various IITs have an important role not only to create a platform where alumni can interact, share their memories, upgrade their skills and learn from the very many benefits of networking, but also to ensure that their alma mater continues to be ranked amongst the top few in the world. It is for this that the Association and PanIIT needs all your support to continuously strengthen them and also ensure that their voice is heard where it matters. For successful people like you, arranging sponsorships/ donations of a few lacs/year should be no big deal but the resources would go a long way to empower the Association and enable it to work to keep your flag flying high.
Seeing through the eye of Nehru, the level of these Institutes was not to be stagnant but they had to continue to represent India’s future in the making. The implication is that the level of these Institutes needs to be continuously upgraded so that they reach a position of eminence not only in producing Nobel Laureates but having a sizable number of Nobel Prize winners as their faculty. For this the Government may have to fund each IIT to the tune of 5000 Cr per annum for a few years. They can start with the first 5 IITs and at an appropriate time extend it to others.
The British taught our leaders to divide and rule. I hope that we will reach a consensus on all the issues and take them forward, remaining united till we succeed.
Before I close, I request you to kindly give your full and undivided attention to the success of this Conclave, in the spirit of giving back to an institution which has moulded us and helped us all to be successful.
SESSION - B (JEE)
During the last few months you would have read and heard about the changes being proposed by the Government in the selection of students to the under-graduate programme. This became a matter of serious concern as the whole process was being changed without consulting the stake holders who have worked hard to build the IIT brand. The faculty of the IITs who had toiled since inception over the last 40 years and the students, who are the present alumni, had been completely ignored and the policies were being dictated by those who had not traveled the path. Fortunately, because of efforts by the stakeholders this is being reviewed.
Instead of increasing the standard of the first five IITs which faced major challenges to reach their premier position, it appears that changes are being made which will actually drastically reduce the standards which these institutes should be attempting to reach after 50 years of existence. How much do those who are making the changes understand about the system?
In the IIT system, there is the IIT council, consisting of members of BOG and Directors along with other persons from other departments and the Ministry. Under the council is the BOG of each IIT to which the senate reports. I take this opportunity to bring to your attention the IIT Act, 1961. In defining the role of the Senate it says and I quote:
“Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Statutes and the Ordinances, the Senate of an Institute shall have the control and general regulation, and be responsible for the maintenance, of standards of instruction, education and examination in the Institute and shall exercise such other powers and perform such other duties as may be conferred or imposed upon it by the Statutes.”
If Senates have to maintain standards but not the quality of input, it is like asking them to win the war with their hands tied behind their backs.
Regarding the Board of Governors, it says:
“Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Board of any Institute shall be responsible for the general superintendence, direction and control of the affairs of the Institute and shall exercise all the powers of the Institute not otherwise provided for by this Act, the Statutes and the Ordinances, and shall have the power to review the acts of the Senate.”
Like the President of India has to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers, the BOG are bound by the advice of the Senate unless there is any major infirmity in it. This clearly means the Senates of various IITs, esp. the older ones, have to take a call on this issue and if the various senates reach unanimity there is little the BOG or the Council will be able to do. The PanIIT has therefore an important role to play towards getting the Senates to develop a unanimous recommendation. If divided, we will certainly fail.
The latest news item suggests that out of the 15 IITs, only the faculty of Delhi, Kanpur and Mumbai are against the proposed changes. I would like to say that, if this is true then I submit that out of the 15 IITs only the first 5 and Guwahati have an in-depth experience and exposure to the benefits of the tough selection process. The views of the new IITs would then have to be disregarded or they can do what they like after they delink the name IIT from their Institute. I fail to understand how anyone can question the logic garbage in garbage out. Can the quality of a output from a process be independent of the quality of input?
Till now the brand IIT has been built mainly on the success of the undergrad programme, which largely owes its success to the tough selection mechanism. Once we start producing Nobel Laureates, the IITs will be able to claim their eminence based on the post grad programmes. Since 2005, when the JEE system was abruptly changed to objective type testing, faculty members agree that there has been a qualitative degradation in quality of intake. We need to analyze why the system was changed and what needs to be done to undo the damage.
It is in this backdrop that we have to put our minds together to help the IIT system to improve and not deteriorate as has happened with political tinkering to once famous Universities, who have gone into oblivion.
Today any institute of national importance should test the all round capability of a student and also be sure that the testing is genuine and there are no malpractices. As far as possible, the testing must be a part of the routine school examination. However, the diversity of Boards, their examination/grading processes, competence of teachers and quality of invigilation has created a deep distrust of the reliability of their testing process and the competence of their produce. Rather than trying to fix the JEE, this is the area where the Govt. should focus; let there be a common board to test all students in Class XII.
The proposal to normalize the Board exams using statistical methods is dangerous unless the correlation with other independent objective and essay type tests is established and the hypothesis properly validated and bench-marked. Even then the question of year-to-year changes in marking patterns and complexities of testing will tend to disturb the actual situation.
The failure to have a uniform test at school level has necessitated independent testing mechanisms. However, today competence in solving objective type papers in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics should not be enough for an engineering aspirant to enter into an institute of national importance. Some weight age should be given to performance in science talent, sports, music, dramatics, painting, etc. to test the right brain of the student which is so necessary for designing and aesthetics. There is also a need to test other capabilities like general knowledge.
The real challenge is that presently the IIT faculty is unable to administer the proper test to more than 80,000 students to select about 10,000 students. We have to devise a proper testing system whereby we are able to get the top 80,000 students in the country. It has been established that objective type testing is not the best method. Other suitable inputs should be coupled with it to test the all round capabilities. I request you to put your minds together to address this issue and come up with a solution in the best interest of the IITs.
In my opinion, a practical approach is to have an objective type test conducted by an organization like CBSE in the months of May and October for Science students, eligibility for which should be a decent performance in Class X. If practical, the result of this test should incorporate a weightage of about 10% for outstanding performance in science, performing arts, sports, etc.
Based on the result of the objective type test, the first 80,000 students should be eligible to appear for JEE to be conducted by IITs in early May. This would be essay type questions as in the past. In addition to Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, the General Knowledge on subjects considered necessary by IIT should also be tested. There is widespread acceptability of this type of JEE amongst the faculty.
Normally results of Board exams for class XII are available by early June. Students, amongst the top 15% of the Board, be eligible for entrance to IITs. This will ensure that out of the top 80,000 students, only those who have performed well in the Boards and the objective test will get selected through the JEE. The test timings suggested will allow students to prepare and not be overloaded. Moreover, from the merit list of 80,000 students who appear for JEE, other premier engineering colleges in India will be able to select good students.
For institutes of national importance there should be no quota. Quota students find it extremely tough to compete in such institutions and get de-motivated. They should be helped to perform well at the school level and objective tests and should be placed as equals in institutes where they can perform well and remain motivated.
I request you to put your minds together to address these issues and come up with a solution in the best interest of the IITs.