Off late there has been a lot of debate on the opening up of new IITs. It has been suggested by some that they would dilute the ‘brand value’ of the IITs and that the quality of the new IITs is nowhere near to what IITs should be.
Others point out that the newly set up IITs do not have the required infrastructure, with some of them not even operating in their own campuses, and thus are not qualified enough institutions to be ‘tagged’ as IITs.
Although all the above arguments hold some water, I think it is essential to address the question of what we expect the IITs to be, before we can judge these new institutions and decide if the deserve the ‘IIT tag’ or not.
When I was a student, the IITs for my friends and family were something ‘elite’. Something to aspire for. They were like a passport to a better life and assured success. While that is true to some extent, what I realised after spending time here is that although being in an IIT gives you a good launchpad into the world, it is just you who has to make the flight. Once you take your first job, all the privilege and admiration that came with being in an IIT is shed off.
So what else, apart from being a beacon of aspiration for young students can we expect from the IITs. One would expect that much like their western counterparts, the IITs should contribute to research and innovation that drives technological change in the country. But in my view, we are not there yet. Most of the students interested in this type of work leave for greener pastures in the US or elsewhere, simply because India cannot provide them the opportunities or compensations that they are looking for. Not yet.
Where the IITs have succeeded in doing though, is to provide institutions with world class infrastructure and exposure to their students. But they did not start here. Although IIT Bombay was set up in 1958, the first academic session started in the Synthetic and Art Silk Mills Research Association (SASMIRA) building in Worli, Mumbai, with 100 students. Much like what is happening with the new IITs now.
But the new IITs have the advantage of having a ‘tag’ which has already established its credentials in the world. This might expedite the process of their growth and help them get the required support. But if they were to wait till they had their own campus and infrastructure fully set up, I believe it might have been too late.
Not leveraging the perceived ‘brand value’ of the IITs to erect more such institutions of world-class quality would mean refusing to use the rewards of the one accomplishment that the older IITs have undoubtedly achieved, which is to continually attract good students and giving them an amazing place to grow in.
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