I came across this article, and this one too, by Prof. P V Indiresan, in the Business Line. One talks about how exclusivity is the USP of the IITs and the other argues that India does not really need any more IITs. I might have been convinced if the esteemed professor had not made such a mess of his arguments. Initially, I wanted to simply rant. Now, I prefer countering each of his arguments with my own counter-arguments. In the meantime, check out this excellent retort by Abi. Ok, on to the real arguments the professor puts forward.
His first argument is that India does not need engineers of the quality the IIT produces simply because the economy expects them to sell soap or analyse stock market trends rather than apply the complex theories of thermodynamics they learn at IIT. He claims that
“Many youngsters struggle to get into an IIT not because they love the knowledge they can obtain there but because IIT education offers entry to lucrative careers. (…) Suppose, we have a similar business school which offers an MBA programme directly the way National Law Schools do. In that case, will not our brightest opt for a direct MBA and discard IIT?”
What the hell? So, the only kind of knowledge that recruiters value are those that an MBA degree can offer? I am sorry, but I don’t agree. Companies and organisations need good mechanical, electrical and electronic engineers just as much as they need good managers. IIT graduates may not pursue engineering in India. They may choose to do an MBA after their B. Tech from IIT. But, that’s their personal choice. What I do with the degree I obtain is my problem. That doesn’t mean that the government should stop offering those degrees. I have a degree in History, another in International Affairs. I am not using either at the moment. Does that mean that I forget what I studied? Or that what I studied is “thrown into the dustbin” as Prof. Indiresan claims? I think not.
His second argument is equally flawed.
“If high incomes can be earned without a university degree, people will mostly bypass college education. I know of the proprietor of a famous chain store in the old days of Madras who refused to let his sons join college for the fear college education will make them too arrogant to be humble before customers.”
Frankly, that’s ridiculous. In addition, his claim that most students play truant and miss classes at the slightest excuse because all they want from college is a degree that will help them be short-listed to superior jobs, is simply unacceptable. He is a teacher. One with several years’ experience. Must he necessarily be so insulting and demeaning of students? Does he imply that students will only join the IITs for their brand value, and nothing else? Those of you who have studied in one of the IITs, please tell me. Can you actually get an IIT degree without putting in some serious effort into your studies? Isn’t that the real difference between IIT and XYZ College? Any new IITs will necessarily have those qualities right?
“Thus, the stark fact is people are not interested in higher education but in good income, better security. If these could be ensured immediately after high school education, few will bother to attend college. Further, most jobs need skill training rather than academic scholarship. If we were to look at history, great economic empires were built not by university scholars but by skilled apprentices. Few of the richest — Gates, Buffet, Mittal, Agarwal — people in the world today will attribute their success to university education.”
I am sorry professor, but I think you have got the whole issue wrong. There can be no such thing as over-expansion of university education. While it is true that primary education must be strengthened to bring it on par with university education in India, to say that university enrolment must not be expanded is stupid and short-sighted. We need qualified engineers, just like we need qualified doctors, lawyers or accountants. To say that engineering education need not be expanded or reformed simply because the market wants good managers is like saying we must not grow wheat because the market demands rice. Stupid. Period.
The second article dazzles the poor reader with lots of scientific theorems, but behind all of it lies a single flawed logic. Because the USP of the IITs is exclusivity, there must necessarily be a shortage. If the shortage is filled, there will not be any difference between an IIT and a street-corner polytechnic. There again Prof. Indiresan seems to have thrown logic out of the window. The presence of half a dozen good B-schools in the US do not diminish the brand value of Harvard. Similarly, as Abi points out, the presence of multiple campuses of the University of California does not make UCLA any less sought-after. So professor, the lay person might be impressed with all the jargon you insist on using in your articles, but beyond the glitz, it seems to me to be a truckload of bad arguments, flawed logic and downright short-sightedness.