JEE Advanced gets tougher every year but what is the alternative? – IIT Delhi Director shares the way forward

JEE Advanced – the engineering entrance examination has become one of the most competitive examinations in the country. As many as 12 lakh students appear for the JEE Main examinations out of which about 2 lakh are shortlisted to appear for the JEE Advanced. Out of these, only about 12,000 students make it to the top engineering colleges – the Indian Institutes of Technology or the IITs. Over the years, these examinations have become tougher and more competitive.

Professor V. Ramgopal Rao, Director, IIT Delhi discusses the present state of engineering education in India and more specifically the JEE Advanced examination, the reason why it gets tougher every year and what is it that IIT’s need, India needs today in respect to engineering education.

Professor Rao: We all want to change but what is the alternative model? For every one seat there are 1000 students. In this scenario, what can be the best exam? If 10 students are competing for one seat then you may have a process of selection but, in this scenario, it will be a process of elimination.  As a result, JEE has become tougher simply because of the number of students taking that exam. And we want an objective way of admitting students. There has always been a lot of discussion in the council and everyone wants to admit children who could not clear the JEE but are extra ordinary but how to achieve it? We can perhaps look at, say, the Maths Olympiad for instance. It’s not difficult to admit them based on alternate criteria but the day we do that, the number of students taking the Maths Olympiad will go up by at least 100x. Then the problem focus will shift from JEE to the Maths Olympiad.

So the JEE exams have to get tougher?

Professor Rao: The standard needs to get more complicated because if it gets easier, so many students will get a 100 out of 100 and you will have no way to select students. The students come with three years of intense preparation, if you make it easier they will crack it in half the time. Then we cannot select anyone.

Indeed the demand for IITs and the supply of the same is a concern. But the problem persists.

Professor Rao:  The problem is not with the exam, the problem is we don’t have good second tier institutions. There are IITs and then there is nothing. The next level institutions are so far below. The students are equally good, if you go to an NIT, the students are exceptionally good, some more so. What divides the students who are in IITs and NITs is not aptitude but perhaps speed. Maybe, our students can solve a problem in 15 seconds and NIT students can solve the same problem in 30 seconds, but in real life what difference does it make? Just because some students could do it 15 seconds they came to IIT and those who could do it in 30 seconds went to NIT. Somebody could do these questions in 2 minutes and they went to some other university – that is what is currently happening. That is not the fault of children. Exams have to be eliminating because beyond IITs there is a void. And the void is not of infrastructure…increasing the number of seats is not difficult. All it would take is perhaps one more building. The problem with NITs and other technical institutes is good quality of faculty.

Could you elaborate?

Professor Rao: Quality of faculty. IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi today have about 500 faculty positions vacant. If the top two institutions are unable to recruit people, what chance do NITs have of getting good talented teachers? Today, if there are good applications, I can offer 300 faculty positions. But, we do not have people at that level who we can be recruited to train the brightest minds, help with research, innovate and motivate. It is basically the quality of faculty which is hurting these institutions. And, the fact that only Indian Nationals can be offered recruitment at IITs and NITs and other government colleges creates further roadblocks. Admissions, yes! With so many students within the country, we should have stuck with Indians, but at least for recruitments, we could have gone global. We could have looked for the best talent all over the world.

IIT Delhi carries out research projects worth about Rs 500 crores every year. 

I believe the ‘Institute of Eminence’ tag allows you to recruit people from all over the world?

Professor Rao:  Yes. Policies are changing and today I can recruit a foreign faculty member and keep him on a contract for 5 years without offering a permanent government job. Still, it requires a lot of changes. Imagine, you have done a PhD from Stanford University and you want to come and teach in IITs, but why would I come if I don’t even know whether or not I will continue after five years? Even if I do continue after five years, there is no guarantee that I will ever get a regular position. And then there is the question of research. Someone doesn’t come just to teach as an IIT Delhi faculty. 1/3rd of our time goes into teaching and 2/3rd of it goes into research. To attract the best talent, I need to create facilities. I need to have PhD students and in turn I need to be able to support them. IIT Delhi carries out research projects worth about Rs 500 crores every year. Most of the research money comes from the government agencies like Department of Science and Technology, DRDO and all other agencies which fund this kind of a research. A foreigner is not even eligible to seek that funding. So, even if you recruit a foreigner, you cannot offer that individual a regular full time position and the research funding. In such a case, for that person there is no incentive. How will you build a research career? How will you ever stay here long enough and contribute to the research. That is big challenge.

So what’s the solution?

Professor Rao:  There are a lot of things that need to change and they are changing. At least now we can recruit them on a five year position. We are going back to the government to change those policies and it will take some more time. We will have to create a system when good people from all over the world can come and teach in our institutions.

IIT Delhi is on the wish-list of a lot of students. What is the wish-list of IIT Delhi when it comes to students?

Professor Rao: My only wish is that when students come here, they must come with an open mind. My biggest challenge is dealing with the students who have already laid down their path that involved a B. Tech degree and then a job…perhaps an MBA along the way. Their minds are closed perhaps because of their parents, the peer pressure, society or lure of a certain salary package. This is hurting the system right now. Such bright students, some of the brightest in the country but how many actually achieve something in life? Very few. In fact, not even 5% because they do not use their potential well enough. If only these bright students decided a little later in life about what they wanted to do, found their passion somewhere. There are so many things happening here, such avenues of research and if they exposed themselves a little, find out what interests them, find their passion, they would surely make a name for themselves. But there is hope for entrepreneurship right now. I think if we do it right, and as an institution, if we support these children, a lot of things will change in the country. We could see the next technical giants like Google and Microsoft starting from India. Students are excited about entrepreneurship. I think our future will be in the startups and in these children, the graduates of these institutions pursuing entrepreneurship. I think we need to support them.

And how does IIT Delhi plan to do that?

Professor Rao: Technology companies need a lot of lead time and that kind of ecosystem does not exist in India. That is where institutional support will help them. IIT Delhi has now announced a platform for harnessing deep technologies where we are trying to create an incubator purely for technology and product based companies. We will make all the resources available. Technology company require resources that are expensive – more in the line of a capital investment of about a 100 crore equipment. These are essential for product based companies…equipment’s to characterize your material, create your devices, test them. And you need collaborations that an individual will not be able to gather outside of the institution right now. That is where I believe that IITs need to play a role and we need to provide our institutional resources to these individuals who want to start product based companies. So, we are starting a PHD incubator.

Why PHD?

The reason why we named it PHD is because we want to give the impression that it’s not something a B. Tech student will be able to do. If you want to start a company, say in block-chain technology, you need deep knowledge of that area.  So, you need to develop some specialization in that area that will happen through deep learning and through pursuing further education. However, it does not mean that only PhDs can get into that incubator. Where there is a barrier for entry this incubator would help. Nobody even thinks of starting something that can compete with Google because it is based upon a kind of technology platform which for you to develop will take a lot of time and by the time you reach there, Google would have reached the next stage. That is the barrier for entry. We would soon send out a call for proposal for this incubator.

Not many people in India know about the great work being done by IITs. Some say it is because of research that IITs fail to get into the top 100 in World Ranking.

Professor Rao: In reality, IITs are at par with the American institution which is ranked 20Then why such low ranks? It is because of the parameters where IITs cannot (or could not) compete – not due to talent but a technicality. If you look at the QS ranking for example, there are 5 parameters from which they rank the universities, and out of the 5 parameters there are three parameters where we get a zero. We get a zero for the number of international students but the fact is we never needed International students because there is so much demand from our country itself. With so much talent within, we never consciously tried to admit foreign students. Second parameter would be foreign faculty. Again, since it is a Government of India job, a foreigner could never apply for it. The third parameter where we get a zero is the faculty student ratio and since we are only relying on the faculty of Indian origin, so we were never able to recruit enough people to meet our expansion needs. So in three out of 5 parameters we get a zero without any fault of ours. The remaining two parameters where we score very well are the reason why we are in the Top 200. And among them is Research impact. IIT Delhi is ranked 39th in the world as far as research impact is concerned. If we compare the rank of a USA institute ranked 19th or 20 , IIT Delhi is better than that US University. Final parameter is perception. Even today India is not associated with technology but with elephants and monkeys and Taj Mahal. Beyond that they don’t really think much of what is happening in the country but the research impact parameter is the only parameter where we score marks which is based upon actual numbers and not perception.

What’s the way forward?

Professor Rao: Things are changing now and I believe that in another Three to Five years by admitting foreign students, foreign faculty, I think things will change I am not too worried about it. Also just the fact that IITs are no longer just an Under Graduate Institutions. 60% of our students today are post graduates. At IIT Delhi, we have 2500 PhD students. It might take maybe one generation but things would definitely get better.

Source : timesnownews

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