The official Mission & Vision (M&V) statement of IIT Bombay states: “The Vision of IIT Bombay is to be the fountainhead of new ideas and of innovators in technology and science. Its Mission is to create an ambience in which new ideas and creativity flourish and from which research and scholarship and leaders and innovators of tomorrow emerge.” The problems that face IIT Bombay in the realization of this M&V, such as infrastructure hassles and slow policy making, are being tackled in a number of articles in the current print issue and will be the subject matter of some future InsIghT articles. In this commentary, we shall discuss how the institute has sought to fulfill its M&V over the course of its long and turbulent history, despite the changing trajectory of the institute right from its inception, not taking into account the various challenges that have and continue to face our institute.
How was IIT Bombay set up?
Even before India attained independence, a high-power committee of the Govt. of India instituted in 1946 recommended the establishment of four higher institutes of technology, to be named the “Indian Institutes Of Technology” or IITs, of the level of their counterparts in Europe and United States in order to set the direction for the development of technical education in the country. These institutes were designed to provide the necessary dynamism and flexibility of organization in the light of expanding knowledge and changing socio-economic requirements of modern society. It was envisioned that graduates from the IITs shall help to inculcate scientific temper and inquisitiveness in the minds of the then, largely illiterate masses. It was felt that an urgent requirement of quality engineers and technologists was to take up activities of nation building. Planning for the Institute at Bombay began in 1957 and the first batch of 100 students was admitted in 1958. In 1961, by an act of Parliament, the Institute was declared an “institute of national importance” and was accorded the status of a university with the power to award its own degrees and diplomas. IIT Bombay was established with the cooperation and participation of the UNESCO, utilizing the contribution of the Govt. of USSR.
Providing world-class education to Indian students can itself be looked upon as national service and is something that makes IITs institutes of national importance.
Brand IIT and The middle class Indian dream
IIT Alumni get great respect from their peers, academia and industry. The “IIT brand” was reaffirmed when the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution honouring Indian Americans and especially graduates of IIT for their contributions to American society. The post 1990s era has seen the trend of brain drain get reversed with hundreds of IIT graduates, who have pursued further studies in the USA, returning to India. With the formation of 8 new IITs, increase in number of UG seats and change in pattern of the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) from subjective to purely objective (keeping in mind the increased number of applicants), there has been din about dilution of the brand created by its illustrious alumni which has really taken IITs global. We feel it would be premature to say that and we should wait for the coming 20-30 years to see what the current batch of alumni does. Times have changed today and so have the needs of the country. There are a number of engineering colleges in the country today and very few IIT undergraduates (UGs) devote themselves to “nation building” in the way that was envisaged at the time of establishment of IITs. So, how do we interpret “institute of national importance” in the modern context? An Institute of National Importance is defined as one which serves as a pivotal player in developing highly skilled personnel within the specified region of the country/state. Going by the definition of the term, providing world-class education to Indian students can itself be looked upon as national service and is something that makes IITs institutes of national importance. With the number and variety of opportunities in the institute, IIT Bombay continues to provide its students exposure to hone their skills in many fields, preparing them for diverse career opportunities. The Director, IIT Bombay feels that students should take up careers in areas that challenge and interest them. They should use their Education to take on bigger problems and contribute to the society in a meaningful way.
It is clear that IITs are moving towards the more holistic US university model. While that would be a natural extension and the most appropriate next step in India’s journey of Higher Education, we feel that we need to do more as a nation.
Off late, there have been increasing efforts from the IIT Council to move IITs towards the US University model.
Diversity of Education
Today, older IITs have a number of departments, schools and centers which offer degrees in disciplines other than pure sciences and engineering. For IIT Bombay, those include Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), Industrial Design Center (IDC) and Shailesh J Mehta School of Management (SJM SOM). We have been informed by the Director, IIT Bombay that work on introducing undergraduate programs by IDC and Dept. of HSS is at an advanced stage. When asked about slow growth in work on this front, the Director described our model of growth as an organic one, starting from existing faculty strengths. This is in contrast to other institutions where a new school may be started by attracting a number of senior established persons, usually by offering generous terms.
Focus on research
There has been a marked increase in the intake of postgraduate (PG) students over these years. Starting off as a solely UG institute, today we have an equal number of UG and PG students. With number of citations per Professor being an important parameter in determining world rankings of universities, there has been greater focus on research and development activities in the institute. That is reflective of and also sets the trend in the country as a whole.
The council of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) has decided to focus on branding and marketing IITs in India and abroad, and engage with global ranking agencies to improve the standing of the schools. IITs have agreed to be accredited by the National Accreditation Board (NAB), albeit in their own different way. NAB accreditation is essential for India to be part of the Washington Accord that allows smooth student mobility from Indian engineering institutes to foreign institutes and vice-versa. It also makes Indian engineering degrees equivalent to foreign ones, helps institutes foster better ties in research, curricula and sharing of resources, and also improves a country’s image in the higher education league table.
It is clear that IITs are moving towards the more holistic US university model. While that would be a natural extension and the most appropriate next step in India’s journey of Higher Education, we feel that we need to do more as a nation. A national dialogue to assess the needs of the country as a whole is the need of the hour, so that we can tweak our programs accordingly and don’t end up imitating the West blindly.
Authors: Alankar Jain, Anudeep S, Chirag Chadha, MS Krishna Deepak, Ramya Polineni, Vishal Singh