Who cares for India today

By Anil Agarwal
Published: Friday 15 May 1998

A recent issue of India Today laments the tightening of state funds to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technologies ( iit s) and the resulting problems that this is creating for the faculties and student bodies. It invokes the evil influence of the World Bank to say that Indian 'economic mandarins' now consider higher education a 'non-merit good' and are withdrawing support to these institutions. The entire tenor of the article is that this is causing unnecessary hardship. But nothing has been said about the quality of students and management of these institutions, which in many ways is appalling. I am an alumnus of one of the iit s myself, yet I don't think the iit s and their students should be mollycoddled with state subsidies.

The iit s were set up in the late 1950s and early 1960s to create a pool of high quality technical personnel. But over the years, what has this pool given to the country which has been supported at taxpayer's expense? In 1992-93, India's human resources development ministry was giving an annual grant of about Rs 200 crore per year to all the iit s, according to India Today . Therefore, in the three decades of their creation these institutions have received at least Rs. 2,000 crore subsidy, if not more. But a large proportion of their students went off abroad. Where, of course, they have done quite well. Colleagues of my own batch who had migrated to the us have as a group become so rich that they celebrated the silver jubilee of their graduation in 1995 in the Bahamas. I have no envy or criticism of what they did. But I just want to point out that many iit students have done little to serve this country. Why should they have been educated at taxpayers' expense. In 1993, when I went back to my alma mater, the students' group which met me asked the same question that my colleagues used to ask in the late 1960s: "Do you think there is a challenge out there for such highly trained technical people like us in India?" Nothing had changed in 30 years. The students had still not understood India.

What about those who stayed behind? Many tend to migrate into higher paying, non-technical jobs like management. The only people who generally tend to stay back in technical disciplines are those trained in computers and electronics because rapid technical change in this area has kept Indian industrialists on their toes. The reason is simple. The long years of protection gave Indian industry no incentive to pay good salaries to technical staff. The people who managed things or fudged accounts were far more important.

The biggest failing of the iit s is the culture they have bred amongst their students. Every student is acutely aware of the fact that he/she is brilliant and this breeds a conceit that is unparalleled. iit teachers do precious little to temper this arrogance. Numerous people have walked up to me after my lectures to say that they never hire iit students because their work culture is abysmal. They flit from one job to another in search of money or keep looking for opportunities to go abroad.

The iit s have rarely attracted poor students. So why should middle-class students be subsidised? I pay my taxes to support the poor and national causes not to support the personal ambitions of the members of the middle class. When I think back to my time, the fee was only Rs 200 a year. It has been recently raised to Rs 15,000 and is expected to go up to Rs 20,000 soon. But India Today also tells us that each undergraduate costs nearly Rs 1 lakh a year. Yet it still quotes someone lamenting the hike in fees: "So much for so little."

I felt a surge of anger on seeing this. Only an extremely dishonest, double-talking, pro-rich government could have supported the iit s for so long and neglected primary education to a level that we have become the ultimate illiterate nation. Why did the government officials, whose children infest the iit s, not demand a bond for the state subsidy invested in the students? Or else why did they not provide them with soft loans? The answer is simple. The vested interests of the middle class.

The management of the iit s has also not been so great. The total intake of undergraduate students has remained at around 1,500 to 2,000 since their start, even though India's population and industry has grown by leaps and bounds. Basking in the luxury of state funds, iit s' directors have had no desire to see their institutions grow. iit s were expected to pull other 'lowly' technical institutions along with them. But no such effort was made either. Finally, let us look at the resources the iit s sit on. The iit s in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai sit astride such prime property which if used properly, could earn them all the money they want. But few of the iit directors know anything about financial management nor does the faculty understand India's economics. I have sat in on a few selection boards for professors of iit s and have always been appalled at the kind of projects the professors take up, often funded by government agencies to meet the needs of the poor, which have no relevance to the income needs of the poor.

I remain deeply proud of my student days in iit -Kanpur. The institution gave me pride and knowledge. And I am deeply grateful to all those professors who gave me such wonderful education. But I still do not want a single rupee from my taxes to support the iit s. They are quite capable of looking after themselves.

Anil Agarwal .

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.