Thinking beyond IIT and IIM

A clarification before I get into the subject: I am not against IITs and IIMs. They are wonderful institutions and I respect the handful who get into these institutions. The IITs and IIMs have not failed the nation. It’s the nation that has failed the core idea behind these institutions.

A few months back I wrote a popular and somewhat controversial piece titled ” IT Survivors – Staying Alive In A Software Job “. I got lots of feedback to this article and one of the common lines was that “It’s true that there’s no innovation happening in India but how can it happen when all the smart people from IITs and IIMs either ditch the nation or sit on fat salaries and do clerical jobs.”

I was surprised to hear one of my post graduate students say the same thing. So I asked him whether he felt that it was only the IIT and IIM guys who can make a change? Can’t he try out an idea that he is passionate about? He said that the IIT IIM students get funding easily and it’s just so much easier for them to innovate.

Although there’ some truth in this, it is very distressing to see that the nation has left it to the IIMs and IITs to make a difference. In my “survivors” article I wrote about how our servile attitude is hurting us and that’s the case here as well. Rest of India has a major inferiority complex when is comes to the IITs and IIMs.

It was ok if the reason behind this was that they did not wish to miss out on the super quality of education they would get at the IIM. The real reason is the pay cheques given out at the IIM, the hype around IIMs and the wish to be one of the handful to beat the hordes appearing for CAT. There’s nothing wrong in this as it’s normal human behaviour. The problem is that nothing’s being done to get people out of this IIT IIM obsession.

Recently the cover page of “Indian Express” carried a big news item “IIM Ahmedabad fees hiked by 12%”. This was accompanied by a photo of Narayan Murthy and the the former Hindustan Lever (India) head (i forget his name)

How in the world can this be an item worthy of the cover page of India’s biggest daily? Not only was the item irrelevant to 99.9999% of readers but it also showed how these institutions have become too big for their boots.

Also because of the stature of the IIT s and IIMs enjoy, those who get in feel like they have conquered the world and those who don’t, think that they are meant for ordinary things. “Jo jeeta woh sikandar jo hara woh bandar

That’s unfortunate as then neither the sikandar nor the bandar goes on to do anything special.

Ok fine, so I fell that IITs and IIMs are over hyped. So is there a solution?

The solution I feel is to have institutions of the level of the IITs and IIMs in every major city. Like in the old days when sugar, foodgrains, kerosene…everything was rationed, today education is being rationed out. The demand for top quality educational institutes is huge while the supply is hardly there.

Setting up IITs and IIMs is a very expensive affair, with millions of tax payer money being pumped into them. So the easy way out is to pick the top engineering / management institute in every city based on the kind of gradation system that’s already in place in states like Maharashtra. Then rename it to an IIT / IIM and gradually get it to be at par with the IITs and IIMs in all respects. Ensure that new institutions are being added every year.

Currently starting a new institute is a very murky affair, as a result many institutions are led by politicians with dubious track records. Honest, well educated people should be starting institutions and not tobacco spitting politicians and goons. If education becomes a clean industry we will soon see hundreds of top notch institutes spring up.

I am aware that my suggestions might be naive considering that I don’t have much academic experience. But if not this, something still needs to be done. Although we would end up diluting the IIT and IIM brand to a certain extent, we will see more students believing that they are the ones who can change India and they can innovate and they can take on the world. Also the media will give up its obsession of the IITs and IIMs and let them function in peace.

Changing India can’t be left to the few hundred studying in the IITs and IIMs. The system needs to show more faith in the 1000s of smart young Indians out there.