"Opinions are like assholes- everyone has one"!
These are my opinions. They don't matter much because they do not bring any change. People live as ever - spitting, throwing garbage, cheating, bribing, but leading a moral life - not smoking, not eating meat, not visiting a prostitute.
Reservations V: Apotheosis of IITs and myth of merit
Attacking apotheosis of IITs
Who are these elite IITians anyway? They are a group of students who have just passed an extremely tough entrance test at the age 16-18. Agreed, the IITians when they enter the institute after high school are one of the best in our country ONLY based on an examination conducted by JEE. But that's all there is to it, nothing more and nothing less. That doesn’t mean an Indian brain is just math, physics and chemistry. It only shows that they had the right combination of intelligence, hard work, privileges and social conditions, working for them during the time of the entrance test.
There are many others who do not have access to or obtain that right combination at that age and fail to enter but may attain them at a later age to become even more successful. In fact, it is the duty of such institutes to actually provide some of those factors to under privileged. It’s unfortunate that our so called top institutes do not consider these other but essential factors into consideration durng admission process- such as diversity, social backwardness, inclusion of different religions, which are known to play a vital role in the health of an institute and an engineer.
Many technology institutes in the world are rated high for their quality of the program- characterized by the research output and industry association resulting in inventions, improvements and advances in Science and Technology, diversity of its students and faculty, and not just by the salaries of outgoing students. Attacking the hype, I would like to say that IITs are very average institutes. Their B.Tech program is arguably one of the best, but the actual research and concrete results coming from Masters and Ph.D. programs are almost negligible.
To that effect, they are only good at supplying finest raw material or fodder material to MNCs, IIMs, MS and Ph.D. programs in US, but they do not by themselves produce any thing of great value in research content. There are no major inventions or innovations in technology coming out from these unnecessarily hyped Indian Institutes of Technology; except for some applications and solutions which look good in a Science Fare and Exhibition. As such I hold similar opinion of many other top-rated institutes of India- not just IITs.
[While I deride these institutes, I do know that all the alumni who feel proud of their alma mater will fight vehemently to support them. Even I felt very proud when my college was ranked in top 10 institutes of India. But frankly, we all know what kind of research actually takes place in those buildings. ]
When these institutes were formed in those initial days of Independence, the faculty was filled with forward castes, and it still remains that way. Currently, of the 400 member faculty at IIT Chennai 282 are Brahmins (only 3 from SC). No wonder, they are called ‘islands of excellence’ and ‘bastions of quality’. What they mean by that is that the ‘disease of reservations’ has not affected them. They have kept them ‘pure’ by avoiding the ‘contamination of lower caste’ that other institutes have suffered. This is the exact mentality that kept our caste system in fashion for thousands of years- that some castes are chaste and pure and are born from the head of Brahman himself, while some are soiled, impure, having sinned, and born from the feet or the soil under the feet of this Brahman.
Its time to reject such ideas and bring IITs and IIMs into the mainstream to include people from all backgrounds and also its time for faculty and administrators of IITs to produce good research by combining forces with Indian Industry (more about that later), instead of perpetuating the myth of ‘cream of India’.
What is merit?
If one were to follow the news and media channels in the last 15 days of reservations hungama, one would have come across this word time and again. The word ‘merit’ is defined and used as antithesis of ‘reservations’. I would like to understand what they mean by it.
‘Merit’ in the present context is being defined as the ‘scores or marks or rank’ one gets in an entrance test or in an exam before entering another degree or job. So, if one were to write IIT-JEE and get a certain rank that is considered ‘merit’. A ‘meritorious’ student is one who gets a good rank.
Due to extreme competition, only 1% of the students who write the JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) get to be admitted into IITs (approximately 3000 out 300,000). But having said that does that mean only the top 1% has the required qualifications and merit to carry on an IIT education? How about the guys who are in top 10%? Do they not qualify to carry on education at IIT to bring it the laurels it stands for? Compare that with any other college or institution in the world- even MIT and Harvard take in many students from top 25% and sometimes even from top 50% of the applicants. When we start giving out reservations to OBC/SC/STs that’s exactly what we do- instead of looking for candidates in top 1%, we widen the net to include the candidates in the top 10% (ranking 30,000 or so) or may be top 25% in some cases. Does that really affect an institute’s quality and performance? If it does, then there is something grossly wrong with such institutes which can only work with top 1% where it is believed that anything beyond 1% will taint and crumble the system. The snobbery of IIM and IIT professors is appalling. Some of them have said on TV that they can’t teach 'lower quality' students. If they are only good at grooming the top 1% and fail to groom top 10%, I propose they should move to countries ruled by monarchs to teach only the kids of emperors and kings.
We are obsessed with scores so much that we are unable to see anything beyond them. Just to illustrate how we never seem to outgrow this: Just check the questions asked by Indian students in every week issue of Economic Times where this newspaper invites members of top Business Schools to answer Indian student’s questions, OR just attend any of the academic orientation or info session held by top US/Europe Business Schools in India. 95% of the questions are similar to this- “I got 7## score in GMAT. Will I get admission to your institute?” Now, all the answers from Admission Committee are the same- “The admission criterion consists of many other parameters in addition to your GMAT scores and there is no hard and fast rule to that”. The questions never change no matter how much they try to explain.
The admission criteria to top MBA schools in USA is broadly (not necessarily true for all schools) based on the following parameters: Bachelor Degree scores, essays and background information, Interview, Recommendation Letters, GMAT scores (and TOEFL if applicable), not necessarily in that order. A person with 540 score in GMAT may enter Harvard, while someone with 780 (out of 800) may be rejected- based on various parameters which include, in addition to those listed above, promoting diversity, promoting backward sections and weaker sections, etc.
An Indian brought up in India knowing that ‘merit’ is sole criteria to get admission doesn’t grasp how this admission process works. The belief system he held all his life gets punctured. Some learn to appreciate it, and some ignore it as some weird and quirky gimmick that Americans follow, and continue to assume that its “scores” which matter in the end. To them ‘merit’ (read “scores”) is inviolable and is worth fasting for and dying for. That's when another sacred entity called 'merit' joins the pantheon of many Indian sacred symbols. And it is our culture of sanctifying things that is the bane of our civilization. (more on that later!)