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  • New IITs fail to make the grade - turn out to be just quantitative achievements!

    FOUR YEARS after they were established, the new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are turning out to be just a ‘quantitative’ achievement. Seven out of the eight new institutions are yet even to attract almost half the number of teachers that the central government had expected them to.

    That the new institutes are on a bumpy ride to achieving the levels of ‘IIT’ excellence is evident from the latest HRD ministry data, which shows that apart from IIT Hyderabad, all the new institutes are facing a shortage of anything between 40 to 50 per cent in permanent faculty posts.

    For instance, IIT-Ropar and IIT-Mandi, which is the youngest of all new IITs, haven’t filled 49 per cent and 53 per cent of permanent faculty positions, respectively. While this may not affect the teaching of programmes so much — as the lack of teachers is being made up with temporary appointments, adjunct and guest faculty — the shortage has contributed in stunting the growth in the number of programmes offered and, consequently, the number of students.

    There are many more issues that are plaguing the new IITs:

    Location problem

    The reasons for this failure are being attributed to a number of factors, the biggest being the remote location of new IITs. “No new IIT should be located in areas that aren’t well developed. Why would a good teacher want to join us when the connectivity is poor and the city/ town doesn’t offer good job opportunities to his or her spouse and good schooling options for his or her kids?” the head of one of the new IITs said.

    It’s not as if this problem has come as a bolt from the blue for the institute directors or the government. The establishment of eight new IITs — at Mandi, Jodhpur, Gandhinagar, Ropar, Hyderabad, Indore, Bhubaneswar and Patna — by the UPA government in 2008 had come in for severe criticism, especially in academic circles, as they had been set up by mere declaration, without any ground work. The seven old IITs were burdened with the tall order of executing the political decision and getting everything in order for the new IITs.

    Faculty shortage at the new IITs is just one of the byproducts of the proposal that was clearly not thought through. Even four years after their establishment, directors of the new IITs continue to function out of their temporary campuses.

    With the exception of IIT-Mandi and IIT Bhubaneswar, the remaining institutes continue to miss their target of beginning construction at the permanent campus sites. The delay was because of the red- tapism in getting land approval from the state and central departments.

    According to HRD officials, Pallam Raju, the new incumbent, was also apprised of these problems and the status of campus construction during a review meeting of the new IITs on Monday.

    Review meetings

    The ministry is, meanwhile, treating this matter with a sense of urgency. Apart from writing letters to urge all central institutions to fill up vacant teaching positions, the ministry has started conducting review meetings every month of the new IITs and IIMs to ensure that everything’s on track.

    “Despite the locational disadvantage, IITs do not dilute their selection criteria and resort to distress recruitment, which could dilute quality of faculty and we obviously don’t push them to,” said another senior ministry official.

    According to M. K. Surappa, director, IIT Ropar, in spite of campus and faculty woes on paper, things are not bad on ground. “I agree we are facing difficulty in attracting faculty because of the location. But even though we haven’t been able to recruit the entire sanctioned strength of teachers, we haven’t also increased our seats for each programme either. So our student to teacher ratio remains a healthy 1: 10,” he said.

    To neutralise locational disadvantage, some of the new institutes have started to carve a niche in areas that are relevant to their surroundings.

    For instance, IIT-Mandi is working on specialising in sustainable development. At IITRopar, spouses of selected candidates have also been offered teaching or research opportunities as an incentive to attract faculty.