On August 23 2016, 45 people met at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi campus as part of the 50th meeting of the IIT
council chaired by Human Resources Development (HRD) Minister Prakash Javdekar. Among the attendees included the who’s who of the corporate world like Pawan Goenka, Lila Poonawala, RC Bhargava, among others, in their respective capacities as the chairpersons of the board of governors of various IITs. Also in attendance were the directors of all IITs and some faculty members.
Two inter-related issues came for discussion in succession. One was what the IITs dub Project 100K. This project that envisages increasing the strength of students
to 1 lakh in all 23 IITs by 2020 received in-principle approval from the council. The next topic for discussion harped on the deepest fears of IIT
faculty members in achieving the objectives under Project 100K. The council expressed concerns on the severe shortage of faculty in IITs. In effect it was tantamount to admitting that Project 100K could not be achieved.
Those fears have now come true. Seven of the 23 IITs, the oldest of the lot, have communicated to the HRD ministry that they cannot increase the intake of students
to 1 lakh by 2020. This has come as a disappointment to thousands of students
who appear for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) each year hoping to make it to India’s most venerated educational institutions.
The reasons for the IITs reluctance to admit more students
are not hard to see. The primary reason is that there are not enough teachers for students
in IITs. The institutes believe that any increase in student intake without a corresponding hike in faculty numbers could severely impact the quality of students
passing out. This would militate against yet another project of IITs called Project Vishwajeet. This project involves strengthening older IITs so that they can atleast rank in the top 100 educational institutes in the world. At present none of the IITs are good enough to make that cut.
Reports suggest that more than one third of the faculty posts in the IITs are lying vacant. Many of the IITs have not publically revealed the faculty shortfalls faced by them. Among those that have, the statistics are jarring.
Guwahati has 408 faculty members against the sanctioned strength of 535. This means that there is only one faculty member for every 17 students
The newer ones like IIT
Gandhinagar fare even worse. The institute in Gujarat’s capital city established in 2008 is operating at almost half its teaching strength. Reports suggest that the ratios for the older IITs at Kharagpur, Delhi and Mumbai could be even worse. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), considered the best in the world, has a faculty-student ratio of 1:8. This explains why the IIT
faculty are apprehensive about increasing the intake of students
to 1 lakh, even though they have four more years to achieve that objective.
These ratios might be far worse in reality. IITs have a unique method of calculating their faculty-student ratios. For the purpose of calculation, five PHD students
are counted as one faculty member. Given that an IIT
faculty member is far more experienced, accomplished and more widely published than a PhD student, the quality of education
might already be on the decline in IITs. This statistical play to improve ratios also highlights the difficulties faced by these institutes to hire teachers. The institutes have solicited the help of IIT
alumni networks worldwide to identify foreign nationals who can be recruited to teach at IITs. That’s because there just aren’t enough qualified Indians to be recruited as faculty in the IITs.
The 23 IITs among themselves offer 10,575 seats. With close to 1.5 lakh students
appearing for the entrance exam, only 7 out of 100 students
make it to the IITs. The government wants to improve this ratio in a bid to make quality education
accessible to even more deserving students.
The other area of concern for IITs is the problem of space. As residential institutes, students
are expected to stay on campus during their course durations. If the IITs were to teach 1 lakh students, where will these additional students
be housed? New students
are already herded like cattle in their respective hostels.
An account by Dr Dheeraj Sanghi, a faculty member of IIT
Kanpur vividly captured the struggles of young students
entering IIT. Sanghi describing the first day at the campus for under-graduate students
in 2011 said, “Three girls had to stay in the room designed for 2 students. One of the Student Guides took us to the room. It cannot have 3 beds, 3 desks, 3 chairs, and one cupboard. So, of course, there will be no cupboard and somehow the 3 girls will have to share 2 cupboards. There won't be 3 tables and chairs. One could keep one table in the room, and have a bit of space, or keep two tables and have no space to move about. How are students
supposed to study?”
Sanghi further described the IIT
Kanpur hostels, “The walls of the hostels were dirty, the corridors were dirty. I am told that what I have seen today is much better than what is available at other IITs.”
Sanghi’s words hold true for other IITs as well. This reporter who has spent considerable time in IIT-Delhi, that has 11 hostels for boys and three for girls, found the infrastructure to be no better.
In such circumstances, it is understandable that the IITs have informed the government that they cannot admit more students. For thousands of students
who work hard to realise their dream of making it to IITs every year, that means their dreams would remain just that – a dream.