Elitism seems to be a deeply ingrained trait which is difficult to dispense with among human organisations. That seems to be the case with the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) which have been consistently resisting an attempt to hold a joint entrance test for admission of engineering graduates. IIT-Kanpur and also a few other IITs have raised the banner of revolt against the idea which is yet to take off the ground.
The council of IITs proposed a common entrance aptitude test for admission in IITs and other engineering colleges from 2013 onwards. This will replace the current mode of IIT entrance examination and 15-odd separate tests for admission of students in state engineering institutes and private colleges.
In fact, the common entrance test is devised to facilitate students to get a single-point clearance for their admission on the basis of merit. Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal endorsed the idea of holding such a test which would ultimately regulate the admission for the engineering course aspirants. Obviously, the proposed test needs approval by the central advisory board of education and the state government given the fact the education is a state subject.
Much before the proposal could be concretised into an action, IIT-Kanpur director and faculty members of the other IITs raised a storm. The senate of IIT-Kanpur steadfastly refused to kowtow to the proposal approved by the HRD ministry. This was followed up by similar resistance by faculty of the other IITs. The apparent reason for the resistance is that the joint entrance test for engineering courses would compromise the standard of the IITs. This assessment goes against the proposal which was unanimously approved by the councils of the IIT, NIT, NIIT and certain state institutions.
As of now, the objections raised by the IITs over the entrance test seem quite superficial. Even some of the senior faculty members are bewildered over the resistance to evolution of a new method of entrance test. They are equally baffled to understand the logic that the test would compromise the high standards of education in the IITs. On the other hand, they feel the joint entrance test would enable a large number of aspirants to pool in their resources and put in their best for the test which will be highly regulated and conducted by professionals.
However, all these arguments are not cutting ice with the IITians who relish the tag of elitism that comes with the prestigious institutes. Despite the fact that IITs are lacking in basic infrastructure and facing acute dearth of qualified faculty, the focus of the ongoing debate on India’s premier institutes has been shifted to an issue which has nothing to do with upgrading the quality of education. Apparently, this is not a good sign for future of India’s technological education.
If indeed the brand value of the IITs depends on the quality (or toughness) of its joint entrance exam (JEE), then shouldn't the IITians be fighting to maintain that level of rigour so that other engineering institutions across the country rise to the level of the IITs? Or should they be fighting to keep the rest at arm’s length?
To argue that clubbing the IITs with other engineering “dalits” will diminish the standard of education of the former is to have very little confidence in the so-called greatness of the IIT-model of education. Is the IIT standard is so fickle that by a mere touch from the lesser institutions at the joint entrance exam level, the IIT brand will be sullied beyond redemption?
India is proud of its IITs and nothing should be done to drop their standards of education or dilute their brand. But everything must be done to raise the rest to the level of the IITs. As long as the IITs can keep evolving and improving to be better than the rest, they deserve to be at the top. But they cannot demand to stay at the top only to perpetuate a certain brahminical order in engineering education.