The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are ranked fourth, as per an analysis by UK software firm Sage, among global universities that produced the most number of founders of billion-dollar start-ups, or unicorns—12 in all. Ahead of the IITs are three premier American universities, Stanford (51), Harvard (37) and University of California (18). Yet, strangely, the IITs, maybe except for the ones at Delhi, Mumbai and Madras, don’t get top billing from the better-known rankings of global varsities. Experts have flagged how the parameters of evaluation may not capture many aspects where Indian universities score over peers across the globe.
Nevertheless, IIT alumni have gone on to lead many tech giants—Sundar Pichai is one of the more well-known ones. While their success may or may not reflect an overall improvement in the Indian higher education system—the problems that beset it are many, from poor overall student-teacher ratios to even fake universities—it certainly establishes how crucial even partial autonomy is to a government-funded educational institution.
Therefore, it is only commendable that the prime minister prevailed upon the HRD ministry to give IIMs necessary administrative and academic freedom. In 2016, India beat 20 other countries to the top of a list of countries that produced the most number of immigrant founders of unicorns in the US. If the country needs to keep repeating this success—and even perhaps become the hotspot of start-up germination and innovation—it must let its universities chart their own course while stepping up funding.