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More is not merrier

More is not merrier
Highlights

More is not merrier. It is rather distressing that the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), a brand name and symbol of a young and resurgent India, home to the world’s largest trained manpower, has fallen into a rut.

A report quoting Union HRD Ministry indicates that the eventual plan is to have 29 IITs, one in each state. This may sound democratic and egalitarian. But is higher education to be placed on the altar of populism and sacrificed?

It is rather distressing that the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), a brand name and symbol of a young and resurgent India, home to the world’s largest trained manpower, has fallen into a rut. The move to set up many more without improving the existing ones places it at the risk of its losing its well-earned reputation at home and globally.

What began as just five IITs between 1951 and 61, which successfully assimilated the best and the latest in the technologies from developed economies, rising to seven in the next three decades, 11 more opened since 2008 and now proposed to be stepped up by 23 more this year itself. It is too large a number, and too ambitious. Tirupati and Palakkad are to take in their first batches this year, when it is far from clear if they are ready for it.

Each of these IITs would need trained teachers. There cannot be an institution, at any level, without them. Even if funds are poured in and infrastructure is created, it would not be adequate. They may produce engineers and technologists, but these are not, and cannot be, assembly lines.

The first batch of IITs evolved over half a century and created a brand name. The graduates did very well at home and abroad. Too many of them are bound to dilute the reputation. Questions have already begun to be asked of the candidates: which year did you graduate? Or, which IIT have you passed from?

A report quoting Union HRD Ministry indicates that the eventual plan is to have 29 IITs, one in each state. This may sound democratic and egalitarian. But is higher education to be placed on the altar of populism and sacrificed?

Expanding the number of IITs without ensuring adequate faculty and research infrastructure in the new institutions presents a significant risk to both the quality of the graduating students and the global brand of IITs.

Sadly, there is no dearth of demands from the political class, a bulk of it uneducated or ill-educated when it comes to higher education. It is meant to be an “I-brought-to-you” claim to win votes and applause. The privatization of education, desirably that it is, cannot be at the cost of quality.

This has been the case in business management and other higher education disciplines. When they are closed down or are de-recognised, students and teachers suffer. Similar demand comes forth for setting up medical colleges and of the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), citing the need for spread healthcare across the country.

While this raises humanitarian considerations, especially in a democracy, you cannot have AIIMS minus the doctors, the nurses, the medicines, the operation theatres, the labs and so much more.

The penchant for marquee names and institutions does not look at, not adequately at least, at the school level education on one hand and primary health care on the other. Do we not have enough of schools without toilets, blackboards and teachers and hospitals and clinics where orderlies and ward boys help in conducting surgeries?

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