Be it fee structure or the matter of college’s autonomy, the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) has always been in news. But this time the premier engineering institution, which has a scintillating record of producing efficient and talented engineers, has become an issue of debate when its quality was questioned by Infosys founder Narayan Murthy who phrased out that the process of entrance examination and coaching tradition have downgraded the standard.
After Union Minister Jairam Ramesh’s remark questioning the teaching quality of IITs, Narayan Murthy’s bombshell, which has rocked the academic landscape of the county, came when 26 Vice-Chancellors or Directors of Central Universities, IITs, IIMs and other top institutions have gone to prestigious Yale University in America to learn leadership qualities and other tricks to deal with current challenges. Director of IIT Kanpur, Sanjay Govind Dhande, who headed the team under the World Leadership Campaign, spoke to Danik Jagran over the phone. Even though Dhande, a member of PM’s Technology Advisory Team, evaded from making direct comments on Murthy’s remark, he strongly advocated the changing pattern of IIT entrance examination, including other higher institutions, and making students free from the grip of coaching culture.

Narayan Murthy has made statement that the quality of IITs has gone down, do you agree with it?

Be it IIT, IIM or any other prestigious higher learning institutions, enabling students to develop good academic leadership should be given a priority. In the last five years, the number of higher education universities, IITs, IIMs etc have increased. Given the challenges at the global level, it is the responsibility of the government, industrial sector and different sections of the societies to work cohesively to develop academic leadership and produce quality students.

What’s your take on Murthy’s remark?

I don’t want to get into it. For us, developing academic leadership is a prime important.

But Narayan Murthy is of the view that owing to coaching culture, good students could not make it to the IITs, which is affecting the quality of the IITs.

This is due to weak entrance system that coaching classes has got prominent. The questions asked in the entrance exams are taught in school. As seats in IITs are less and aspirants are many, there is a stiff competition amongst the candidates, so the students blindly focus on the syllabus that is coaching centers. The repercussion is students lack overall development. So, all round development is very important thing which requires top priority.

You have been associated with IIT for years. In all these while have you found any difference in the quality of students? Especially, has the standard of the IIT's got affected with the students having been groomed by coaching?

No I won’t say this. Those students coming from coaching classes are also talented. But it has been noted that a student having good school record also performs well in IIT. This is not necessary that those with good ranking in entrance test would perform well.

So is it extremely important to change the pattern of IIT entrance test?

Absolutely, this has become a need of the hour. Otherwise, if the students get tangled with their subjects, they won’t be able to justify their talent. In the recently held discussion during the World Leadership campaign in Yale University, not only IIT, rather pattern of entrance tests of other institutions too were discussed so as to ensure only good students get admission.

What kind of admission process should be implemented?

The selection is not done on the ground of only one test in all the prestigious institutions in the world, including Yale University. Student’s performance in the school is given much importance in selection process in universities or institutions. There is an overall assessment of his talent and ability. In addition to studies, activities in other fields are also given importance. We have to move towards aptitude test. However, the number of students is high in our institution; it would be a matter of concern. But in any case we will have to do this.

What kind of difficulties can be faced in this?

First, we need to increase the level of school. The moot point is what has renowned institutions and IITs done in this direction? At least they should hold dialogue in this regard and discuss on how there should be a overall development of students.

What is your suggestion?

There should be a change in the policies of the state and the Central government. There should be academic freedom to run government policies.

What do mean by changes and autonomy?

One thing is vividly clear that a professor is needed to run a university or institution. The program requires a substantial and robust structure. Good professors are engaged in administrative work due to which the quality is suffering. It also requires that institutions and universities should increase their funds and be self-sufficient.

Are you suggesting increasing the fees of IITs or different institutions?

Not at all. On the contrary, people should run program with industries and raise the fund. This cannot be done by increasing the fees only. And it would be responsibility of those companies which take students from different institutions.

After getting selected in IIT, how many students want to pursue engineering and how many of them just want to use IIT as a ladder to get into the finance – banking sector?

This is an old brain drain question. We don’t aim to produce only good engineers, rather we try to produce a skill 21-year-old boy who makes a remarkable contribution in the development of society. Yes, of course it would be a matter of great pride if institutes could produce talented figures like Biswsraya, Sarabhai and Bhabha.

What do you have to say about technical education in Indian languages?
It is true that a person would be more comfortable in reading in his own language, but if the same one falls short on English and he is not able to study despite being talented, it would not be good.