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Jun 12, 2012 at 03:20pm IST

Should IITs be totally independent from the govt?

Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal on Monday virtually ruled out a rollback on his new one-nation-one-test proposal for engineering colleges. But defending the format, he did say that the government had no intention of infringing on the autonomy of the IITs.

The IIT Faculty federation has want the Prime Minister to intervene and are pushing for an appointment with him. The question is whether IITs should be independent of the government.

CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose raised the question on her show Face the Nation on Monday with a distinguished penal. Following is the transcript of the discussion on Face the Nation:

Sagarika Ghose: Hi there, and a very warm welcome. One-nation-one Test, so says HRD minister Kapil Sibal. This means all those aspirants who want to join the Indian Institute of Technology will have to take a new common entrance test, common to all engineering institutions which will include the marks of the 12th standard board exam. The joint entrance exam which at the moment is meant only for the IITs is to be discontinued. The IITs have protested strongly against this proposal but some IITs are in favour of it. Uncertainty, therefore, on how engineering entrance exams will be conducted next year. IIT Chennai and IIT Guwahati have backed Kapil Sibal's proposal for a joint common engineering test while IIT Kanpur, IIT Delhi remain opposed to the proposal for a common entrance test, common to all IITs, IIITs and NITs. The faculty federation is likely to meet the Prime Minister. Sources within the ministry of HRD though are waving the rule book - they say that the IITs were set up by an act of Parliament - and that it's the council headed by the HRD minister who decides on the admission procedures not the IIT senates. So the HRD Ministry says it has the prerogative to decide on the admission policy into the IIT. So should the IITs, we are asking, be independent of the government? Joining us Somnath Bharti, President, IIT Alumni Association, Sanjeev Sanghi, President, Faculty Forum-IIT Delhi, Shobhit Mahajan, Professor, Physics, Delhi University, and I also spoke to a very famous alumnus of the IIT, author Chetan Bhagat. I began by asking why he along with so many other alumni is opposing Sibal's proposal?

Chetan Bhagat: We are really worried about the reputation and the excellence the institute has built over the past few decades. The word common entrance exam is something I am pretty ambivalent about, I think the inclusion of class 12th marks and that too a high percentage of class 12th marks are just interference with the good exam system. It's tough to get in but it's not the exam's fault it's the selection ratio's fault. But it's a good exam system which the politicians are trying to interfere with for no perpetrate reason which can lead to the long term damage to the IIT brand and I am very worried about the college that gave me so much.

Sagarika Ghose: There will be long term damage to the IIT brand, but some directors notable the Director of IIT Kharagpur has supported this proposal.

Chetan Bhagat: Sagarika, there is a lot of political interference in the appointment of a director. No director can take on a politician because their careers depend on it and so therefore there is a huge conflict of interest. And that's exactly the political muscle power being shown and therefore you can, you know ultimately it is a government body so the appointment of the director can be affected. So I think if certain director may feel pressured and while at the same time it is very bold of some directors who cared about more about the institute than their careers and you know there are no benefits, there are a lot of disadvantages, there are state boards which marking system which pretty arbitrary and given the country like India we all know what is going to happen, people are going to say – hey make sure kids from our state get in so our state board should get extra lenient. Let's give them more marks. It will be mockery of a system which is working really well. I don't think the directors of the IITs might be very bright, I respect them a lot but they are not acting in a completely independent manner, they cannot because their appointment is determined to a certain extent by the HRD Ministry. So can we take their view seriously, they are obviously have to tow the line.

Sagarika Ghose: So do you believe, the question we are raising tonight, should the IIT be autonomous of all forms of government control?

Chetan Bhagat: The bigger issue your viewers need to understand is this – excellence is by definition exclusive, sadly if it has to reject a lot of people to take in the best that's anywhere excellent. But a politician is inclusive, if I am a politician I would want to include everybody. So the moment you give a politician charge of a place where excellence is to cultivate, you know all sorts of weird things will happen. It's not just about the IIT, it is not about how much weightage, it is; a politician should not try to control talent, try to control excellence, it will lead to disastrous results for the nation. It is just another unchecked power of the politicians on display here.

Sagarika Ghose: So the centre of excellence and politicians are on a collision course here. What then should be the government policy towards the IIT, what should be the government interface between the government and the IITs?

Chetan Bhagat: You know Sagarika, it is like a platform full of 10,000 people and there is only one train that can take only 500 people, so if you make the train's doors bigger and bigger, if you make the train's windows bigger, that's what the government is doing, it cannot accommodate 10,000 people, it is as simple as that. So there need to be more train. I think IITs have some wonderful faculty, if they are empowered enough they can open other institutes, the IIT can itself open IIT light institutes which may be easier to replicate because the IITs have grown and maybe they need to grow faster but IIT can open more institutes and keep them under their umbrella because there is a good system in place. So maybe some other institutes can come under their fold, some institutes may make the cut to the brand IIT, some may make the cut to a second brand which is a A+ brand, A- brand, A, they are all good brands and the professors of IITs can be used to run those institutes. I agree it is not as simple but it's not undoable, it's very very doable, we acknowledge there is a problem of too much students stress but that's the only solution, not by rejigging even if you do a lottery to get into IIT it will not reduce student stress. It will make it random and it will destroy the institute, that's all.

Sagarika Ghose: That was Chetan Bhagat saying the solution is not with simple tinkering with the admission procedure but simply setting up more IITs. If you want more students to come into the IITs set up many many more such quality institutions. The point that is raised by the time and time again by the panellists who speak about the educational institutions, they are simple short in supply. But let me put it Somnath Bharti, who has written an article strongly criticising Kapil Sibal, strongly criticising this proposal, now let me quote to you the view of Damodar Acharaya Director IIT Kharagpur, you know Chetan Bhagat said IIT directors are not autonomous, they are bound to tow the government, now let me quote to you his view, IIT Kharagpur is the gold standard, it is the oldest IIT and his view surely count, he says the new joint entrance exam system will help students from rural areas and girls as their effort and performance in school, through this they will get a chance to enter professional education. Also he says the performance of the coaching centre, the scams of the coaching centre, the factories like quota will reduce.

Somnath Bharti: See, hounourable Director IIT Kharagpur, whatever he has said it is to be seen from the point of view, is he seeing it in his personal capacity as Director of IIT Kharagpur? Or is he seeing it as the chairman of the respective senate? Because his views are not more important from my views as simple alumnus. This moment I am speaking as the President of the IIT Delhi Alumni Association, so I am carrying the weight of the 30,000 alumni, majority of the alumni, they are in majority of the complete autonomy of the IIT. So, as a director there may be different point of views but that is not to be given importance as much as the way of the respective senate. IIT Kharagpur senate in good majority have come out and said, look we are not towing the line of the IIT Kharagpur Director.

Sagarika Ghose: Right, so he is in a minority. But let me ask you to address the subsequent points of what he say, Sanjeev Sanghi, why do you believe that simply a joint entrance exam, common to the IIT, common to the IIIT, common to the NIT, will so frantically reduce the standards of the IITs, also what are the 12th standards board exam marks count, why it is such a disastrous thing?

Sanjeev Sanghi: I think our biggest objection is to the addition of the class 12th marks. There are 42 boards in the country, each boards has its own grading pattern, so what we have to first ensure is that there is the normalisation of the board marks. Now this we have to check by data, we can't say somebody has marks everything gets normalised. It doesn't work.

Sagarika Ghose: So the students may not be getting the best marks.

Sanjeev Sanghi: Exactly, they may not be getting and also when you use the percentile scored then it is the rank which counts. Knowing the new proposal the rank has been added with actual marks, this is very unscientific. See, you add ranks to ranks or marks to marks.

Sagarika Ghose: So you are actually burdening the students twice over?

Sanjeev Sanghi: You are burdening twice and thrice over. Se earlier the student who wrote the 12th standard exam…

Sagarika Ghose: That's the 12th standard board issue, why are you opposing the common test?

Sanjeev Sanghi: No, we are not opposing the common test. If the AIEEE colleges want to take our marks we can accommodate them there is no issue about that. But now if you look at it the current AIEEE students they write only one three hour exam and also if you look at it the current scheme allows for a filtering. Five lakh students write IIT exams and about 11 lakh write the AIEEE exam.

Sagarika Ghose: So you are saying the truly excellent are filtered to the IIT through the JEE and if you get in the 12th standards marks in it the standard of the students will fall. Let me just get in a word from Shobhit Mahajan, Professor of Physics, Delhi University, do you feel these objection to the government's proposals are justified?

Shobhit Mahajan: Well I am not sure Sagarika, let me just say that I am very intrigued by this whole debate because to me it seems 40,000 IIT students compared to 30 lakh engineering students in this country compared to 1.6 crore undergraduate students in this country, it seem as if in this last week the problem facing the higher education in this country is this business about getting into the IITs. Be that as it may, I personally don't think that adding another dimension to accessing a student or an entrant capabilities, like a board exam, board recommendation or anything for that matter. Properly, scientifically, normalised properly graded, I don't think that is such a bad idea at all. It is used all over the world, why it can't be used in India. I certainly disagree with Mr Chetan Bhagat saying this is India and we know what is going to happen.

Sanjeev Sanghi: No, I do agree that there can be multiple filters but adding these filters in a linear way in an ill thought of preposition and forcing it in 2013, that is what we are opposing.

Shobhit Mahajan: I am certainly not saying that it should be done this year or it should be done in a way Mr Kapil Sibal is saying it should be done, I am just talking about the principle of the point to think that one exam like JEE, whatever its merit may be, is genuinely, as Mr Bhagat seems to imply and as Mr Bharti seems to imply, is genuinely picking out the best, but I am not saying that it is the only way.

Sagarika Ghose: Let me quickly get you to response to that, is the JEE completely perfect system, is it a flawless system?

Somnath Bharti: No, no, we are not at all saying that, you know our objection primarily has been that how come HRD has gone ahead with this announcement inspite of the fact that five out the seven senates have given in writing that they sent. So they basically have been sidelines out rightly.

Sagarika Ghose: No, you are objecting the unilateral decision of the government, but also respond to the substance that what's wrong if the 12th standard board is brought in, what's wrong if another dimension of assessment is brought in, as Shobhit is saying, why should you assume that JEE is cast in stone and cannot be changed?

Somnath Bharti: No, no I am not saying that, we are not at all saying that. What we are saying is that there might be problems in the JEE which have cropped over the years but these problems got to be decided, debated and discussed at the level of the senate. We don't want to be evaluated by someone or some agency outside the eco-system. The eco-system has a beautiful mechanism in place to solve the problem that JEE might have developed over the years.

Sagarika Ghose: Okay, the issue Shobhit is, whatever the issue is with JEE be, whatever the issue with the admission procedure, these should be decided by the IITs, why should the HRD minister on his own, unilaterally decide that this is the way the admission should be conducted from 2013?

Shobhit Mahajan: Well Sagarika the short answer to that is I completely agree that in academic matter there should be perfect autonomy for all institutions. Now that's as far as it goes, the simple fact to the matter is that the government is pumping in something Rs 1700 to Rs 1800 crores a year into the IITs, now to expect that the politicians or other bureaucrats won't be responsive to various pressures from their constituencies, such as they are, to tinker with the system is I think naïve.

Sagarika Ghose: Let me get Mr Sanghi to respond to that are you being naïve with this kind of crores of money that the government is pumping in, the government should have some say.

Sanjeev Sanghi: Well I think if the money is being poured into the it's the results themselves show how we have performed. If you talk of institutes in the independent India which have left their mark, it is the IITs. So if the money is being poured in and we are performing but to tinker our admission processes, our autonomy, is something which we cannot tolerate. Tomorrow if they bring in a procedure ok, you add this… see when the government came with the inclusion policy IIT did take it into affect, new IITs were opened, the old IITs nurtured them. So whatever decision the government has taken we are supporting the government, it's not that we are outside the government. And these issues of school marks and coaching at a different place bother us and we have been thinking of how to find a solution.

Sagarika Ghose: But coaching has become a gigantic problem, hasn't it? Chetan Bhagat has even written a book about the coaching centres and quota. The fact is with these kind of coaching centres the admission to the IITs has become linked to income. Those who can afford those coaching centres can take IIT entrance exams and those who cannot afford cannot take the IIT exam. So therefore there is an inequality built into the exam.

Sanjeev Sanghi: Well that's so no to in the sense that in my class when I teach, there are student who had not had any coaching, that number is less. But also another thing is as long as you have this gap between the demand and supply this will stay. You have 5,000 seats in IITs and you have five lakh students appearing.

Sagarika Ghose: So basically you need more IITs. Shobhit do you think the kind of student getting into the IIT is representative of the Indian talent, is representative of the talent of the young people, or is it only the elite who can afford the kind of training required to take that exam, they are the only ones getting in?

Shobhit Mahajan: I don't have the statistics, I don't know if Mr Shanghi have the statistics or anybody else, but my own hunch would say that the majority of the people getting in IIT are getting in through some form of coaching or the other. I want to come back to this business about demand and supply, which is raised both by Mr Bhagat and by Professor Sanghi, I think this is very true, I think there is real mismatch between the supply of quality education and the demand for it. I think Mr Bhagat needs to see the state of the existing IITS or any higher education institute for that matter in this country, there is a huge gap in the human resource side. IITS have large number of positions which are unfilled, similarly with Delhi University and most other universities. Now, by opening new IITs who is going to staffing, who is going to be teaching?

Sagarika Ghose: That's not the solution either. So we don't have the resources to open new IITs which Cheatan Bhagat suggested. Two acquisitions are that because of the IIT exams, bright students are not focusing on schools, they don't care about the board exam, they are basically just focusing on the IIT exam. The second acquisition is that students from rural areas don't get into IIT because they simply don't have the access to the kind of teaching required. Therefore the 12th standard board exam has to fill that useful role.

Somnath Bharti: See the first thing is, five lakh students take IIT-JEE exam, now the figure in this nation is that there are 40-45 lakh students who take up their board exam, so by that preposition the honourable minister is trying to bring the interest of these five lakh into school boards but how will he bring the interest of those 40 lakhs other student into school board?

Sagarika Ghose: But they have no other option, they have to take the school board, they are not going to sit for the IIT.

Somnath Bharti: But they are also disinterested. This is a bigger problem, the problem of school student disinterested in school board.

Sagarika Ghose: So don't blame the IIT aspirants for the disinterest in the schools. What about the rural area?

Somnath Bharti: The rural areas, if you look at this preposition now the coaching will be required at three levels, schools, JEE main and JEE advance. 80 per cent entrants to the IITs are repeaters.

Sagarika Ghose: Repeater, they take the exam repeatedly.

Somnath Bharti: That's right. So the students from the rural areas do not have the access to supplementary modes of education to improve their school board, now they are put at bigger disadvantage. Our rural student after doing their class 12th come to cities like Kota or Patna or different places to do their engineering preparations but what about they are not having any chance to improve their school board.

Sagarika Ghose: Because their school board results are going to count in the IIT. You know the minister has just made a point, just this evening that there is no going back. He doesn't want to impeach on the autonomy of the IIT but there is no rollback, there is going to be no rethink. So what are you going to do about this?

Sanjeev Sanghi: He has already impeached on the autonomy of the IIT, when the senate collectively say something and it is not…

Sagarika Ghose: So are you going to take the minister to the court? Are you going to have a court battle? And where will be the students in this?

Sanjeev Sanghi: The senates will take their own decision and after that we will see what to do. IIT Kanpur senate has already taken a decision. Our senate we have requisitioned a meeting at IIT Delhi, let us see what our senate has to say and if go the same way then maybe some other… in fact the minister himself told us that if you don't like the proposal you can have your own entrance exam.

Sagarika Ghose: But he has just made a statement that there is no going back.

Sanjeev Sanghi: He may have said that but when met us on April 11 and May 25 he said that.

Sagarika Ghose: So what about the student though? The uncertainty the student is living with?

Sanjeev Sanghi: Through your channel I would like to appeal to all the student appearing in class 12th exam, please don't be bogged down by these controversies, whatever be the format be your basic skill will be tested. Whether it is JEE classic or whether it is the new JEE-S which may come up but the fundamentals will be tested.

Sagarika Ghose: Shobhit Mahajan are you seeing here a conflict between the centre of excellence and the political motivations of the minister, the ministers are trying to tinker with the centres of excellence and call them elitist, in fact they are therefore ruining their standards or do you see this as a welcome move to see the institutes as less elitist?

Shobhit Mahajan: Well I think let us not shy away from the fact that these institutes are by and large elitist. I also don't think this is something new which is happening in is country, politicians and bureaucrats are trying to impose what they think is right on institutions of excellence, whether it is AIIMS, whether it is IITs, whether it is IMC, you name it it's happening there. I don't see this going away, as I said this is wrong academic autonomy of the institutions need to be preserved.

Sagarika Ghose: But you are saying that let's not pretend that everything is a hunky-dowry with this entrance exam.

Shobhit Mahajan: Absolutely not.

Sagarika Ghose: And let's not pretend that everything is a hunky-dowry with IIT entrance system.

Shobhit Mahajan: I completely agree with you. I don't think everything is hunky-dowry with the system, that's not to say that the system Kapil Sibal is proposing is necessarily better. That's not what I am saying at all.

Sagarika Ghose: Right, but we do need to rethink the formula and whether it is hostage to expensive coaching centres

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