Environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s pitiless trashing of the quality of teachers at IITs has stirred a hornet’s nest. While the faculty are understandably loath to criticism of their teaching standards, many agree that their research output leaves a lot to be desired. They have their reasons, though — pressures of undergraduate teaching; low salaries and not enough support of industry.
Jairam, an alumnus of IIT, Bombay, had recently said there was hardly any worthwhile research from the IITs. ‘‘The faculty is not world class. It’s the students who are world class,’’ he had said.
A former dean in IIT, Delhi gave his perspective. ‘‘There are two kinds of research: academic and applied. As an institute of technology, we need to focus more on research in collaboration with industry. We are lacking there. That’s because our funding comes from the government, not industry. Faculty in world-class institutes works closely with industry on R&D,’’ he said, wishing to remain anonymous.
Many faculty members complain that a bulk of their time is spent on teaching undergraduates instead of research. ‘‘We take tutorials, grade students, and do a lot of administrative work,’’ said a professor with the textile department.
However, a bristling Anil Gupta of IIM-A said the minister knows little about the intellectual capabilities of IITs. ‘‘Brilliant students have common sense and they know where they will find good faculties. If the best faculties are in private institutes as the minister said, then the students would head there,’’ he said.
Dr A S Venkatesh of IIT, Kanpur agreed: ‘‘What competence does the minister have to talk about IIT teachers? The faculty won’t improve unless government stops interference. We’d like to do away with BTech programmes to focus on research.’’
A mechanical engineering in IIT, Delhi, disappointed with his teachers, said, ‘‘Our teachers are good but not world class. They do not motivate us and easily give up on students who do not perform well. We can’t have an informal equation with them. They don’t care what we become once we leave IIT.’’
But other IIT alumni backed Jairam’s remarks on the quality of teachers in IITs saying only government can turn things around by providing better working conditions and salaries.
‘‘Even fresh IIT graduates get more money than their teachers. They earn much less than a joint secretary in the government. I think teaching is the last option for many. The government raised the number of OBC students and opened new IITs. But what investment have they made in getting good teachers?’’ said Y P S Suri and IIT Kharagpur alumni.
IIT Kharagpur does research worth more than Rs 150 crore annually. ‘‘It’s because of the government and industrial projects that we attract, that we are able to earn. I object to the minister’s remark,’’ said A K Majumdar,deputy director of IIT, Kharagpur.
Ali Contractor, dean (Alumni and corporate relations) at IIT, Bombay, said, ‘‘We’re proud of our alumnus and they are entitled to their views. We welcome Jairam Ramesh’s comments and feel it should be debated. We are not holy cows who can’t be criticized, but then as a young 51 year-old institute we have also made it to US top ranking institutes.’’
He added, ‘‘Our students are very good. But when you get down to it, faculty play a very important role. We may not be world class, but we are not doing badly either. I will turn to a mathematical analogy of normal distribution to describe this situation. We have a normal distribution of faculty just like all our alumnus. Our average is higher than the national average.’’