Why I Like this Tarnished Jewel : IIT Bombay

Modified on : Oct 24 ( First two comments were before that)

IIT Kgp. From TheHindu Group Of Publication: Used without permission.

IIT Bombay is a good institute, It’s not a great institute.” was the words of our previous director Prof Asok Mishra while inaugurating AMAT Nano-tech lab for obvious reasons, “We are known as a teaching institute and not as a research institute“. Well, he was not entirely wrong. To be a great Institute, she has to do much more than taking pride in the achievements of her undergraduate children who somehow love to desert her when their feeding is over. Their reasons are simple, she can not give the nourishment they want. And don’t you dare ask why we have to take care of her when she wants us? You looser, you know all the pretty Universities in U.S. and Europe are crazy about me and IIT’s know no research. Well, thats OK! Ultimately one does what one likes.

Well, I do not criticize U.G.s for various reasons. First and foremost, they grow up watching television, reading Agatha Christye, Chetan Bhagat etc., listening to Times of India (basically any * Times *, etc). They live their life in illusions. Not at all surprising. Ever seen a page of their magazines, movies, and unfortunately their newspapers; sometimes I wonder whether I grew up in this country on somewhere else in Africa. Illusion takes time to fade. Under some illusion they join IIT’s, they leave them under some other. Well, not all of them behave in same ways. Most of them surely do. But generalization is what we learn at universities – popularly known as theories and we are going to do the generalization. 

Stereotyping are amazingly popular in this world since common behaviors have the potential to be spiced up, sexed up. This effective tasty mixture is then reported and consumed by ever tweeting public. Any voice of otherwise is effectively silenced in the news rooms. Even on the Internet, which brought the hope of independent publishing, is now highly commercialized, capitalized, and controlled by corporates. Its not to say that good things are not there. When you want to search truth on Internet, you’ll know what I mean! You have to be at the mercy of Google to give you what you looking for. Besides, if you consider your Internet blogs as a social capital then chances are very high that you will not be honest about what you are writing. The pressure to please your readers, possible to attract traffic so that you can capitalize monetarily or ideologically on it using Adsense or similar methods, will make you dishonest. I hardly read any individual blog which has advertisement on it. I feel tempted to assume that his/her intentions are not fair.

This is a rare study mostly about IIT
Bombay and IIT Madras. But the picture
is not different in others also. Available
on Google Books.

Anyway, nothing can be more wrong than assuming than all of her students have no concern for her well being. Since the most beloved newspaper of Indian middle class “The Times of Idiots” – the mirror of their thoughts, their undoing – only loves NRI’s and have no self-dignity to take pride in homemade valuable things. This is not surprising that they desperately grab whatever they can find Indian in remotely successful things e.g. Sunita Williams. Honestly, a civilization which was enslaved for 600 years, I don’t see any irony in that. Perhaps, they will take at least 100 years of so to love their own things and hopefully fairness creams will also be out of the business.

A crucial ingredient in building individual psychology is the education one receives. This is perhaps the second most important factor after family (and local society), since these days, young girls and boys spend much more time on campuses then they used to be. The most prominent and powerful section of this class is generally enrolls in professional courses, such as engineering, management, commerce etc. Professional courses are notorious for their lack of social awareness and people who are highly trained in these skills, find it hard to feel the other person pain and agony. My own experience was that professors of pure sciences, in general, were much more sympathetic and polite than the teachers of engineering subjects. In fact, this class seems to be very hostile towards the humanities, social sciences and Arts. HSS departments in Indian universities are the last to receive funds as well as students from merit list (whatever it means). The irony, the best university in India in research output, Indian Institute of Science, never had a department of social sciences (Now it hosts NIAS). So if you find any student of IIT/IIM having trouble understating the social order of the day, sympathize them even if they think that they can understand everything. 

If you ever get the chance to read the admission brochure of Cambridge University’s engineering dept., you will be surprised to note that they think their engineering school is new, only 125 years old. Well by that standard, IIT’s are just 50+ , just a child, and like ISRO have many achievements on their credit. Perhaps the best child on the whole planet. Consider that fact that once the great university of Bombay, Kolkata and Delhi are now reduced to regional colleges. This process was supported by middle class consumers and its intellectuals alike since it was beneficial for them. The mindless expension of these university in 60’s have made them compromise on the standard of academics. In addition university also showed remarkable appetite for filling up the posts by whatever best they could find. The selection procedure is also not very pleasant. As told by many of the selection committee, there is huge pressure on them, both from outside and inside to fill the post. In addition, since their reputation in research in not up to the mark, they are prone to succumb to the outside criticism. Well, in 2-3 hours of interview, these committee are not supposed to make wonderful decisions but the clarity of judgment must be made clear. Max Waber had said in 1920 about German Universities, then probably the best in the world, that ‘no university teachers likes to be reminded of discussions of appointments, for they seldom agreeable.”

If IIT’s are able to maintain their standards with all these externalities, this is nothing less a miracle in a nation in which most of the institutes are going trough bad changes. But this paradox hardly attract any attention. We are mostly praised about the same thing for which others criticize us. On the one hand, they (Times of India and like) praises us to produce NRI whiz kids, same time others criticize us of this only. Well, on the more personal level, we
see more obscene behavior. Some of its students criticize IIT that they wasted their time here but at the same time proudly flaunt their degrees to get jobs, to join other universities, and least but not last, as a certificate for their superior intellect and better prospects in personal life.

IITs do provide some congenial environment for the pursuit of limited scholarship and science. Since they are professional institutes so there is never ending pressure on them to produce what industries would want. This would hinder one’s scholarship. Not everything is alright on this any campus anyway. There are few problems and there are many challenges. To solve all of them, we have to rely of the people with voices on the campuses.

Psychology of professors is worth watching on the campus. It was really crass if not obscene to see some of the professors of IIT/IIM’s protesting like much hated ‘labor unions’ for higher wages even after sixth pay commission. True, others earn much more but they do not get that kind of independence and peace in life which an academic institute can provide. Salaries of professors or of scholars are really not a thing to fight about. Low salaries act like a filter. If salaries are very high then every Chintu, Pintu and Monu would like to join IITs even though he does not understand what teaching is all about. Ability of filling up the norms like good grades, publishing papers have no correlation with one’s ability to be a good teacher. Same way, good teacher mostly are not good researchers. I am assuming that due to low salaries, people who comes to join these institutes are those who really love that profession. But if one needs to expand then one feels the need to attract those who love to judge their jobs by its salary.  Lack of committed teachers and honest students is one of the biggest bottleneck in an Institute growth.

The argument that there is nothing going on these universitiees can not be right. Indian universities in general are really young and going through the changes as all of the university worldwide has gone through. There was a time in Oxford when you could buy a degree if your parent were rich enough. [See Rashdal, University of Europe in Middle Ages, p 179]. Its the people who made them what they are today. For example, take German universities. Most of them were at their peaks when Nazi fascism was at its peak. They do not leave their universities even in these days unless thrown out. Institutes, anywhere in this world, are built by sacrifices of one or two generations. Indians show this obscene behavior of not caring. Some rhetoric may justify their stands. Like I was treated badly here, and there is no fund for research. Well, the lack of human resources was never been a issue but the human resources with experience, skill, expertise have always been. It not at all bad going abroad for the sake of learning things which are not available here, but one must not invoke wrong reasons to do so – mostly the narcissistic. True, the university you are going to join is better but that should not give you the license to ridicule the place where you have get the training which have put you in this place.

Though there is lack of good professors on IITs, this should not be taken as the dearth of them. I have seen one of them leaving for greener pastures abroad but most of them stays. I can speak of my own department which was built by teacher who are widely acclaimed in their fields is now (informally) ranks best in India.

One of the major success of IIT is that they have produced a large technical pool which played its part in creating jobs in India (really?)– Awesome thing to do in India any day. But they have been on back-foot lately given the behavior of their students cutting across all the department and courses. Its UG’s, much celebrated by Times of India and its PG’s seem to have nothing to support their mental supremacy, if any, other than their fat pay packages – mostly in non-research field. They are fast becoming a consumer of jobs rather than the producers (If the pattern in the past was different, I do not know). While this is also true that in 50 years its hard to produce a Bose or Raman, but the way they are going, its hard to see if they can produce professors like they have produced. Most of the young professors joining the IIT’s are simply not up to the mark. But for last 5-6 years there have been an improvement at least in my department. But these are only particular examples. Perhaps it time we look back in history.

As we said Indian universities are very young institutes and going through changes (mostly bad) as almost all of universities had gone through. Unlike western universities, at the time of inceptions, who used to grant admission only to a certain class (baronis filius (sons of noblemen), equities filius (sons of knights), armigeri filius (sons of esquires), generosi filius (sons of gentlemen), plebe filius (sons of commoners), and clerici filius (sons of clergymen) and no daughter of anyone, Indian universities were quite open to all. The first Indian universities were stabilized in 1857 in the three presidency capitals of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras and they took the London’s university their model – teaching based rather than research based. After the revolt of 1857, British suddenly become hostile to native educational system and started these university to train their loyal upper middle class in these universities to curb the dissent more effectively with Calcutta is its center. Since teaching is largely the dissemination of the common wisdom of the present, we are seeing the same pattern these days. The concept of research seem to be very alien or narrowly explored to most of the Indian Universities. As someone has argued that the job of Universities is to support and nourish radical ideas no matter how different they are from outside world, rather than putting the established things into the brain of its habitat. Not surprising, that for few people who really come to learn, their education is stopped once they join a school. And I still have to meet someone from middle class who claims that (s)he is more intelligent or sharper after joining a university.

Poor people when gets educated seems to enjoy and cherish it the most. Indian universities did a remarkable job by keeping the price low – with state support – and hence a lot of people were able to get educated which would otherwise been impossible. This class seems to support the view of National Knowledge Commission that the fees of university should be raised. Why? When demand increases, prices should rise! Why? May be, so that no ugly (poor) looking girl or boy can even try to join them. It can not be supply-demand curve insinuating this price rise. Education is not like production of oil which can not be increased easily.

Though we have a lot of universities, India’s prominent universities can only accept 1-2% of the applications they receive (Worldwide, top notch university are able to accommodate 10-15%). Writing his ‘statement of purpose’ a batch-mate of mine joked, “What should I write on SOP? That, since I am not getting a seat in a good Indian college, I am applying here.” Resources are not limited in education as in the case of milk. Education can be produced as demands soars. True, professional education needs more money but what about primary and secondary education? And my dear educated friend, what could be the best place other than educatio
n to invest public money? Missiles and bombs?

Given the per capita income of India, Indian education is at the verge of being declared costly. Only JNU, Himachal Pradesh University are the central universities which could maintain their fees at the same level. Both of the universities have a very active student life especially in political debates. In JNU, during the elections, you can get killed by the contesters talking only, the most democratic way to conduct elections where every voice is heard. But these kinds of elections are not supported by state. Lately, Lyndoh commission banned the elections on JNU. But election commission has nothing to do when money and liquor is distributed during the general elections. And if you ask a middle class student about it, student politics is bad! Why? Well… ummm… politics is dirty (unless I do it??)!!

Most of the Indian Universities, now reduced to dust, started off really well with an all India character. But lately our middle class reduced them to regional entity. This process is still going on. Once the flow of idea is stopped, new ideas stop growing. They will destroy themselves after destroying their students. Well, market may be able to consume them, All is well?? Giving a state quota is nothing less a regional reservation. Mandal I and Mandal II touch the deepest chord among the majority of middle class (mostly from upper caste). While the regional pattern is so acute in our institutes and very much the doing of middle class, caste based reservation is not supported by the same middle class since it is not good for their own benefits (How many low-caste belongs to middle class?). The pinnacle of competitions, IIT/IIM’s knows very well in advance how many students will come from Delhi, how many from Kota, How many from Bomaby… Sanil M. N., an alumnus of university of Hyderabad, has information to share, “According to journalist S. Anand, ‘ironically enough, some of the beneficiaries of reservation in education were the Brahmins. In Madras Presidency College, the British Administration noted that the most natives (only upper caste that time) failed to clear the final examinations in second division (40% marks that time). To ensure that more candidate passed, a third division (33% marks) was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century.’ Now descendent of these incompetent upper caste who benefitted from initial reservation today celebrate the value of merit, while attempting to deprive Dalit students of such reservations.” Well that explain why we do not have third class in Indian railways even though it was also started by British. In spirit He is not wrong. In letter he could be, since reservation is not relaxation of marks. The anti-reservation stand is very selfish. A state Tamilnadu has a long history of giving reservation (69%, before Mandal II). One could have expected that in Chennai, you will see same kind opposition what we saw on AIIMS. It was the most mindless agitation I have ever seen. In Tamilnadu, the difference between GEN and ST categories marks are now is as low as 10% in 2005. This difference has vanished between GEN and OBC a long ago. It does not matter now. My advice is to upper caste dudes and dudettes, “stop cribbing and start living!”

The intellectuals who ridicule the low rating of Indian universities on the ground that they give too much credit to foreign students present on the campuses fails to acknowledge why great universities around the world put a lot of premium on cultural diversities on their campuses. In fact, the best universities around the world have the habit of having faculty and students from different nations. In India, universities are very slow to change. By themselves, they do not do anything. Whenever government try to bring about something, look them being so active discussing the ills of the change. At best, either they implement the change reluctantly or try to find ways around it. Well the rule should be, “Innovate or perish.”But the university must be given much more time than an individual to grow and improve.

Enough about professional courses lets go to humanities and art studies. Martha C. Nussbaum, a professor of gender and ethical studies at University of Chicago has this to say, “.. I fear that many democracies around the world including our own [India], are gone down this road, through a lack of emphasis on the humanities and arts and an unbalanced emphasis on profitable skills. Europe has already moved a long way down this road. US has some resilience still, thanks to tradition of local control in public education and thanks to a liberal art system at the university level that sends a message to school that all children should come to university with a broad-based preparations in the humanities…. The humanities and arts are not the idle entertainments. Even in business world, at least within its top leaderships, it is generally recognized that success depends on cultivating businessmen and businesswomen who are both imaginative, ready to innovate and envisage new possibilities, and also critical, willing to blow the whistle on an ineffective or corrupt corporate culture…

In India, these are the qualities most of the universities seek to kill. Can you find a program in sociology in Indian Institute of Management (save Kolkata)? IIM’s boast themselves in producing great managers of future while ignores the fact that they are being used by the top management of the firms. No examination in business (and in life) comes with 4-5 options and a guarantee and one will work. In fact, their job seems to do the same thing. Given 4 options, pick the best. May be someone from IIM would like to comment on this, if (s) he has read till here. In India, the middle class puts a lot of premium on profitable skills. The over obsession of Indian schools (middle class schools) with PCM (Physics, Chemistry and Math) and PCB (B for Biology, others same) has done a lot of harm to the social well being of India since the products of these schools are in the prominent public services who finds its very hard to digest the real problem India faces today and the opinions different from their perceptions. They still seem to believe that Math is the ultimate test to judge a person I.Q., and there in no problem greater than their own.

On these lines, IIT’s have done a lot of harm to nation. They should send signals to schools that it is O.K. for them to nourish Arts and Sports and soft skills in their students and we will show no hesitation accepting them at the cost of physics, chemistry and mathematics. Well, this argument make sense only if we consider that it is IIT social responsibility since a lot of student vie for them and ruin their life in that process. Honestly, this is not IIT’s faults. Parents should be careful what their children want and should put pressure on government to make Universities such as Delhi and Mumbai better. But this is not going to happen in near future. All of those who love to sober at the poor state of these universities in Delhi and Mumbai will be at war with government if they make them all India again.

Well, we have not touched the issue of research on IITs. People generally compare them with U.S. and European University and true that there is hardly any match. First of all, what they mean by research on the these campuses is actually development works for big corporates. Indian companies hardly have any research centers. Most of them do back-office work and you can not expect to sponsor any kind of work.  Universities of U.S., where professors are sold like start athletes, now very prominent, are able to attract a large amount resources not only from India but also from U.K., France, Netherlands and other E.U. countries. U.K. on the same time tries to fill the gap by attracting talent from commonwealth countries. Migration o
f talent have really been beneficial for U.S. as well as other rich countries. India has suffered a lot, not because we loose a talent, but also since the people who stay here to study feel inferior, the output of their research can not be very bold. Besides the difference between who have left, who stayed and who are about to leave make them very conscious of their lowness. One who has stayed in India, only due to the fact that he/she was not able to get the position elsewhere, will make the environment less congenial to research with low self esteem and frustration.

It is really necessary to take pride in oneself when one wants to sail trough uncharted waters and history proves than Indian, generally are not that kind of species specially after 11th century. Indian middle class which rules over all of our universities have bitten by a bug. Lets listen to Asok Mitra. “If you look up at any modern dictionary”, says he, “the middle class is defined as those who hanker after material possessions and social position.” He finds it an incomplete definition and add that “it particularly consists of those who consider material possession as the gateway to social position.” This is of course quite a revolution for in the the time of Nalanda when the middle class was a Calvinistic halo. Even though these middle class guys did not posses wealth, they had the honorable places in society and were very knowledgeable, innovators of technical skills and author of scientific breakthrough. And this revolution is true worldwide but in India its effects are largely being felt now especially after independence. Mitra argues that “globalisation have been the greatest non-civilisor, especially in our segment of world.” And middle class never had so good. There is another catchy American phrase : “One would sell one’s grandmother, to get extra goodies.” I myself has seen how Bill Gates is supplanting Karl Marx in once the great Indian state of Bengal. Ummm.. lets get back to our topic.

Industry oriented research (which is now generally considered the only definition of research) is increasing. It suits Indian also since chances of success over there is high and and just a nose distance away. Most of the fortune 500 companies do have their research center in India and they hire a lot of IITians but again pre-established ideas are forged into models in these labs. There is increase in their association with IITs. Recently if AMAT has given instruments worth few millions to EE-IITB Nano center, Bharti and TCS has come with their own research centers at EE-IITB. Though we do not have labs which had the history of creating ideas like Microsoft or Facebook then again neither any of the Indian studying abroad has done so. Government of India have been quite generous to IIT’s with funding and IITs have executed them really well. Doing research in South Asia have their own pitfalls since we do not have strong voices. Even if your research is of great values, it may not get published in Western Journals. For example, as Amit Misra sharing his experience with all these publication politics,

Two of the three reviewers assigned to peer-review their manuscript recommended publication after minor modifications. The third, in my “biased” and “unjustified” view as a scientific peer, inveighed strongly against publication on grounds that can best be described as specious. This group waited a year for the allegedly unreasonable reviewer to change his mind, but u­ltimately gave up and published their seminal contribution to understanding the genetic diversity of Indian people in a highly respected, though, alas, not a “high-impact” journal.  Strangely enough, the parent journal of Nature Genetics, that is, Nature, later published an article co-authored by two of the members of the same group that was unsuccessful in getting Nature Genetics to publish their report based on similar data. The lead author of this report published in Nature is, unsurprisingly, not an Indian citizen.

Even few professors from my department had trouble publishing their results even though they have built up systems justifying their finding. They got published since they were hard to ignore. As rational game theory suggests, “best way to become successful is by becoming the part of a strong group.” No wonder privatization of soul and intellect have been quite successful in this pursuit. Pay them to agree with you or lure them into some think-tank. Generally speaking, things are really messed up as far as research is concerned. Few Institute in India have resources and caliber to do research. For overview, you can read this commentary. I believe what D.D. Koshambi used to say about Indian Research,

The greatest obstacles to research in any backward, under­ developed country are often those needlessly created by the scientist’s or scholar’s fellow citizens…The meretricious ability to please the right people, a convincing pose, masterly charlatanism, and a clever press agent are indispensable for success.

Well, since the research in IIT’s are slightly increasing, there is no need to loose my mind over this issue.Though this research is not well qualified for scholarship.

Well, to say that universities are the only places to do research in slightly wrong. In 18th and 19th centuries, a great deal of research was done either away from the universities or at the margins of them. Henry Cavendish, Charles Darwin, George Green, Sturat Mill, David Richardo, Augste Comte, Edison Taylor, Adison, seminal works of Ramanujan and Einstein are the most prominent example I can think of. Why can’t we have this in 21st century India? Any answers? And more than that, except a moderate amount from Tamilnadu,  whole of the India did not produce any scholar outside the university system? Sissies?

Ok! Notwithstanding with all these non-coherent passages, why I love IIT is due to following factors.

  • They are not exclusive universities like U.S. and Europe. I was able to get admission even if my father who is a farmer did not have few hundred of thousands rupee in his account. I only have to go through some exams. And pardon my set of ethics, if will prefer to commit suicide than desert an Indian university  when its my time to contribute. I find it ethical to behave in this way. I am not saying that this is a good behavior or bad. Neither I am saying one should not leave shores to get the knowledge one can not get here.  It is ethical for me. 
  • I cherish Nehru as an Institute builders. As a farmer, I have strong feeling for his idea of India. IIT’s were his doings. May I quote one of his line, “We are small people serving great cause, since the cause is so great, some of the greatness will fall on us too.” I want few great institute flourishing in India and I can not see any way doing that by deserting them.
  • India is a funny place to live. I am proud to share my home with Indians who are interesting and funny, sometimes so much that they become exasperating.
  • Since IITs do not take interview at U.G. and Masters level, there is scope for those who are from unprivileged background and lacks these skills. Fortunately for me, this was beneficial since I do not talk pleasantly. This happened during my interview for Ph.D. at IIT Madras. They kicked me out in 5 minutes. 🙂
  • If we will not make these institute better, then it will be harder of those who have not yet born. Well, my definition of living a life is that your actions must make this world a better place for upcoming gene
    rations. Neither I can forgive those who were responsible for our colonization, nor I can stand the idea someone criticizing me for leaving them when they wanted us more. Since 1947, these people have done a remarkable job keeping India afloat while everyone in the West was writing her obituary. There have been alarming degradation of public Institutes and I do not like it.  

If there are problems IIT face or will face will be from selfish middle class which has been notoriously opportunists throughout the history. Since policies are decided by those who are the loudest and think in tweets and this class knows no limit in either of them, I’ll be amazed if IIT could maintain their character as they stand today after 50 years or so. But there is always hope with IIT’s since they are very much insulated from externalities – thanks to the IIT act. JNU faces much more externalities than IIT’s. Still JNU has produces some of the brightest scholar of this nation. That was only possible since their alumni have shown a tremendous investment in JNU’s academic life. I sincerely hope that IIT will be the places where some of the brightest of the mind quench their thirst of knowledge – not the one who train themselves to be marketable in Western or any Bazars. There are other many places one can fulfill these desires. One section of them may love to retain their engineering attitude – building up stuff. Honestly, whenever I see someone talking ills of IIT sitting abroad, possibly to hide his guilty conscience, all I see is the narcissism of neurotic.


0 thoughts on “Why I Like this Tarnished Jewel : IIT Bombay”

  1. On ur blogs comments it seems that i am only person who read ur blog……..i iam tired on debating on IIT ..people in IIT specially UG obsessed with IIT-JEE ranks …….those who doing PG …cannot crack exam like CAT so …take GATE exam cholo iit…..in PHD even worse mostly koi rasta nahi chlo PHD kar lete hai(no offense but my career (f**ked up) is in same condition 🙂 total ) …….. most people here have their own motives they come by conditions not choice……..in US university people come by choice……thts the key factor….. if take data of IIT those who doing pg or PHD…..are from either second grade Govt college or private colleges ….not from NITS or IIts hardly 1% from these ……… how can somebody create that shit into world class institute…… with such students…….. even IITs ranking is in top 100-200 ………thats great achievement considering to many problem going on here………

  2. Came across your blog for the first time. I plan to apply for faculty position in Indian institutes after my phd, so it was an interesting read :)Will be following you from now on.

  3. The limited amount of productive work and research are done by the PG's in IIT and not the UG's. Bsrring top 1% of the UG's, rest are very ordinary. Cracking an exam cannot be the yard stick of intelligence. In the long run dedication and hard work matters more than anything else. Newz these r nt biased opinions. The conception that only losers join IIT in PG & PhD has been proven wrong. In my year, we have guys who have left amazon, microsoft, IIM's to join the M.Tech course. The quality of the PhD's is far better than 99% of the UG's. albeit this is my observation being a part of the NLP group at IITB. Btw am doing M.Tech from CSE at IITB.

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