Do Top Indian Institutes Have World Class Faculty?

Posted on May 27, 2011


The Top Honour Still Eludes Our Top Ranking Institutes

Author:  Sanjay Goel,


Minister Jairam Ramesh’s recent comment on IITs and IIMs not having world-class faculty has led to an intense debate.   Many academicians are giving an emotional response. Politicians are known for doing this anyway.  Here is what I feel about the issue.  

Not being ‘world class’ does not mean that these institutes are not good or are not good for the industry/country. A spade is a spade. Facts must be accepted before jumping at conclusion. As per various international rankings, our top institute are not among the top institutes as per any list. How many Nobel laureates work at our top institutes? How many BTech’s from IIT aspire to join ‘world class’ IITs for Master’s or PhD? How many IIM graduates aspire to join ‘world class’ IIMs for PhD?  How much of world changing research has been carried out at our top institutes? How many patents are in the name of our top institutes? How many world class companies have been incubated by our top institutes?  How many world class conferences have been initiated and are regularly organized by our top institutes?  How many world class journals are published by our top institutes?  Does our  curriculum offer world class flexibility?   How many new innovative interdisciplinary educational programs have been launched by our top institutes in the last five years? How many international students or faculty are there at our top institutes?

Every year, IITs are able to very easily get a very large chunk of major government research grants from various government agencies. How many these projects have succeeded in delivering the real objectives? Interestingly,  IIT professors find it very convenient to sit in most of the assessment and evaluation processes of other institutes.  But None of IITs go through the   accreditation process  by NAAC or NBA or other agencies.  On the other hand, a good number of  programs at world’s top universities, e.g., MIT, UC Berkeley, Stanford etc. are  accredited by agnecies like ABET etc.      Do  IIT faculty welcome any initiative for the quality assessment of their own  government funded  institutions? 

Let us compare the research output of IITs with the premier international universities like MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, CMU, etc.  ACM guide to computing literture on ACM digital library provides bibliographic records of   research papers published at various forum including ACM and affiliated organisations, IEEE, etc. In May, 2011,   the following data was captured from this respository:

Count of papers:   1.7 Million (approx.)

Count of papers with author(s) from MIT, USA:  approx. 10,000

Count of papers with author(s) from Stanford University, USA:  approx. 9,000

Count of papers with author(s) from CMU, USA:  apprx. 11,000

Count of papers with author(s) from UC Berkeley, USA:  apprx. 7,400

Count of papers with author(s) from Cornell University, USA:  apprx. 4,200

Count of papers with author(s) from India:  less than 12,000

Count of papers with author(s) from all IITs:  approx. 3,700

This data shows that following two common beliefs are not  correct:

 1.   Only IITs do quality research in India: As per this repository of computing literature, more than 2/3rd Indian papers do not have even a single author from any IIT.  Further, many papers in the remaining 1/3rd category also have co-authors from other orgnisations.

2.   IITs carry out world class research:  As per this repository of computing literature, the total number of papers from all IITs is lesser than the umber of papers from any single top ranked university like MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, CMU, or Cornell.

In June 2011, we interviewed 40+ candidates with MTech (CS). More than 70% of these candidates did their MTech from some IITs (Kharagpur, Roorkee, and Guwahati) and some NITs. Most had reasonably good  CGPA’s too. It was shocking to see that most of them could not even write very simple programs that are expected from an average quality 1st sem BTech student at any average institute. Most shocking part was that many of them admitted that during 2 years of MTech at these IITs/NITs, their programming experience was not more than 1-2K lines of code.

 This does not mean the students from other institutes did any better. Surely most of them were even more inferior.   However, what’s disturbing is that just because somebody has completed MTech, even from IIT, with reasonably good CGPA,  does not guarantee  an acceptable  level of engineering competence of the students.   The quality of the research universities has to be judged from the quality of their postgraduate and doctoral programs rather than undergraduate programs only.

I think that we in the academic community should take the criticism with more open mind. Why live with an illusion of being world class without actually attaining the high standards of MIT/Stanford/Berkeley/Harvard/Oxford/CMU etc.?

World class cannot be expected to come in academics, while the elements of ecosystem are not world class. Is faculty’s compensation world class? Is our students’ and parents’ perception about purpose of education world class? Is the curiosity level of our students world class? Is our students’ passion and urge to create something new world class? Is our society’s, adminstrators’,  and managers’ risk taking ability world class?  Can we dare to administer our exams without invigilators? Can we assume that our students will not indulge in plagiarism in their assignments? Is our funding mechanism world class? Is our industry’s  endowments to our institutes world class? Is our industry’s enthusaism for academic research world class? Is our faculty selection process world class? Are our Institute governance systems world class? Is venture capital availability world class?  Is our academic regulation and accreditation system world class? Is the role of government agencies in academic regulation and management world class?…

In fact, rather than taking it as a threat, this criticism by the minister should be used as an opportunity by the academic community of India. In a way, it’s good that there is a realization that we don’t have world class institutes. It’s even better that we feel pained at it. Recognition and acceptance of the problem are the first necessary conditions for finding its solution. Hence, the academic community should now come out with blueprints for transforming various elements of the larger eco-system and demand the enabling conditions that are necessary for creating world class institutes. After all, Rome was not built in a day.

Cheers and let’s work harder.

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