The India Institutes of Technology (IITs) – often considered by the general masses as the ‘holy cows’ of technical education in India, and recognised in higher education circles as National Institutes of Importance – are in fact premier institutes of the country that have, of late, come under scathing public criticism. This has intensified after they failed to be among the top 100 universities in the QS and the Times Higher Education global rankings. Strangely enough, though they find a place in the top ten institutes in the MHRD-backed India rankings, the IITs have been reprimanded for participating under the engineering category as opposed to their usual practice of participating under the university category in the world rankings.
Within Indian public circles, they are often berated as institutes that utilise public resources to finance graduates whose sole objective is to serve developed countries, thus draining the intellectual and the public capital of the country that produced them. Lamenting on how the IITs have turned into white elephants, Ved Prakash, chairman of the University Grants Commission, has described them as “not more than glorified engineering colleges”. Even on the research front, the IITs have been censured by many, including Hamid Ansari, the vice-president of India, for failing to be among the top institutes of the world.
While tracing their growth, Murali Kanta points towards a glaring failure of the IITs to attract Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and female students in a progressive way. In one of the recent issues of the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), the institutes were lambasted for failing to align their goals with the democracy’s. In this backdrop, it is essential to put to test some of these critical comments against the IITs and decipher the real problems that have prevented these institutes from achieving their full potential. And in order to do that, we must first understand the structure of the IITs and the socio-political context in which they were set-up.