We actually need more IITs

Written by SS Murthy | Updated: Jul 8 2014, 02:22am hrs
The recent announcement by HRD minister Smriti Irani to set up IITs in each state is welcome as it gives a big boost to higher technical education in the country.

Apprehensions expressed in some quarters (and even by some IITians) are ill-founded and biased, reflecting a third-class compartment mentality, wherein the crowd after struggling to enter prevents others to get in. Lakhs of motivated candidates write JEE seeking admission to less than 10,000 IIT seats, while top 1 lakh of them would be equally intelligent deserving tier-1 institutions comprising IITs, NITs, etc, and qualify for world-class education. Thus, it is imperative to increase their numbers and start more IITs.

The above proposal is easily doable since only two major states, Karnataka and Kerala, are deprived of IITs and establishing only two more IITs in these states (as an immediate step) in addition to the existing 16 should not be a big challenge. When we can have 25 NITs and about 50 central universities, the opposition to new IITs that add to the quality of higher technical education is unreasonable. Both the above states are educationally conscious and getting quality faculty to IITs established here will not be all that difficult compared to many of the new IITs that suffer from problems of connectivity and ambience. The location of IITs in these states must be within a two-hour drive from a major airport to attract best faculty and visiting experts. Any other remote place decided due to political pull will be disastrous and investment will go to the drain.

Location of present IITs is geographically skewed as bulk of them are in the northern belt (almost in all states, with UP having two and the restRajasthan, Punjab, Himachal, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Assamone each). Other major statesMaharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarathave IITs. Thus, setting up IITs in Karnataka and Kerala will rectify this imbalance. Converting ISM Dhanbad into an IIT will cater to Jharkhand. Next in line could be Seemandhra, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, J&K and the North-East. We must ensure that no two IITs are spaced within 300 km to ensure proper geographic spread.

Resource crunch is not a critical issue as there are enough funds. Ashok Thakur, education secretary, in a recent article mentions that R1.25 lakh crore is the annual turnover of private coaching centres, which is more than the annual budget of the government for higher education. Indian parents spend over $4 billion each year to send their children for higher studies abroad; setting up quality institutions in India will reverse this drain. The promise of the new government to raise spending on education to 6% of GDP can easily support the expansion of the IIT system.

Of course, we must create competition for the IITs as well; thus, we must encourage private players and allow reputed foreign universities to set up campuses here. The goal is to have a basket of about 100 tier-1 institutionscomprising IITs, NITs, select central universities, deemed and private universities (such as BITS, VIT, etc) and foreign universitiesto educate the above-mentioned top 1 lakh school leavers to become world-class engineers to drive the nations development. A mechanism must be evolved to create synergy among centrally-funded institutions to share resources, facilities and personnel. The concept of a meta-university in a region can also be promoted.

IIT as brand must be preserved and nurtured. And we should take all possible steps to ensure that the new IITs we set up become the greatest assets of our country. There is no doubt that increasing the number of IITs and other tier-1 institutions is a national necessity.

The author, formerly V-C, Central University of Karnataka, and director, NITK Surathkal, is senior fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. He is also member of the IET India Scholarship Advisory Committee