Sunday, June 22, 2008

The myth of scarcity

Once upon a time there were these IITs…

While speaking to a client the other day, he expressed his concern over the admission of his son in one of the IITs. His concern was on account of the fact that the amount of effort that his son has put over the last two years and what if he does not make it through the entrance test. He did acknowledge that his son, like other applicants had almost led an abnormal life for the last two years, just to crack the entrance. While speaking to him I could make out the humongous pressure that this gentleman and his son has been facing from their peers, family, neighbours and how an innocuous admission process has become a matter of life and death for them!

Just like him, there are almost three lakh families that face this wrath of entrance almost every year. It is no secret that over the years the brand IIT has made an indubitable mark globally. But then looking at the way that this brand has progressed in India, it can be clearly stated that other than our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, none other had taken any interest in extending beyond what was built by him. As of the seven IITs, five were initiated during his tenure (IIT Kharagpur came up in 1951, followed by Bombay in '58, IIT Chennai and Kanpur in '59 and IIT Delhi in '61). It is in fact incredible that after IIT Delhi, it took a whopping 33 years for the next IIT to be built in Guwahati in 1994. After that without any effort Roorkee Engineering College was included in the IIT system in 2001, which means that effectively in 47 years only one IIT was added!! And within these 47 years, population has swollen and along with it the population of IIT aspirants has also exploded. It is evident from the fact that the number of coaching centres tutoring for IIT-JEE has multiplied over the years. In fact, for places like Kota, the entire economy runs on these coaching centres. But then it seems that our policy makers and educationists do not see this gaping disconnect between the demand and supply. And even if some of them understand this disconnect, they don’t want to do anything about it as they believe that coming up with more IITs or by increasing number of seats, it is going to dilute the brand IIT. This logic actually holds no grounds as the best of engineering schools like Technion in Israel admits around 13,000 to 14,000 students every year and yet they rank at the very top, globally, whereas all seven IITs put together the intake is a petty 4,000 every year!! The intake gap magnifies if one were to compare population of engineering aspirants in India viz a viz Israel!

It is on account of this that India has by far the most skewed applicant to selection ratio in the world. For every reason there is no rationality for such skewed ratio when compared to the large base of applicants there is hardly any intellectual difference between the top 4,000 who make it to these institutions and the next 4,000 or even the next 10,000 who do not make it. No wonder the archaic legacy of maintaining scarcity has led to a havoc, both in terms of applicants' psyche and also in terms of creating a deficit in the requisite talent pool much needed by the industry. Now there are plans to build eight more IITs but then one has to really wait to see when do they become operational. Needless to state that the damage is already done!


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