IIT toppers take high-paying jobs in non-engineering companies.

Over the years the Indian Institutes of Technology have proved their excellence in engineering education. Two main reasons were the selection of students and the fantastic faculty. The JEE produced the best students and the faculty moulded into the best in the world. The goal of the students was excellence in technology and being the best in this field.

But that was some time ago. Times have changed.

A student came up to me and asked which branch of engineering he should take to complete the IIT easily and get into an Indian Institute of Management. Students ask for internship in banks and help from the alumni for this endeavour. A III B. Tech student asks for opportunities in music at an entrepreneur meet in an IIT. IIT toppers take high-paying jobs in non-engineering companies.

All these may seem stray cases. But isn’t it surprising that the top placement firms in the IITs are consulting, IT, banking and insurance? They seem to be taking away the chunk of the toppers. The number of B.Tech students opting for higher studies in engineering and research also seems to have declined.

The IITs were formed to improve technology and produce world-class engineers and scientists. But they have now been reduced to a brand image without the zing of engineering. The goal of students seems to be cracking the JEE, and not engineering. All these students are confident of completing the course with at least 5 point CGPA. Not really interested in engineering.

What is the reason? The quality of the students? The curriculum? The teachers or the lack of them? The parents? The coaching classes? The market opportunities for engineers? The JEE itself?

The coaching classes seem to have mastered a way of cracking the JEE. The student is bright and taught the methodology of cracking the JEE. Maybe, the JEE must not be so structured as we have it now. Maybe, it should be more randomised in the type of questions. Maybe, the questions should be related to more practical aspects of engineering. But if you want to be a top-notch engineer, it takes much more than that and years of painstaking learning in industry. Is it possible that the student is not aware of this aspect of engineering? Can the JEE bring this aspect to the fore?

Sometimes, parents force their children into the IITs because of their brand image. I wonder how many of them insist that their children stick to engineering as a career option?

Engineering seems to be one of the few fields where there is no compulsory internship like in medicine, law and CA. This is one of the reasons why students may not be fully aware of the beauty and possibilities of engineering.

Engineering is also a field which is like a joker in a pack of cards. The graduates fit into any career! Naturally, the student will graduate into a more lucrative/easier career. Would a barrier to this help in getting committed students?

Imagine the plight of the professors! They have to deal with more number of uninterested students. They teach engineering knowing fully well that very few of their students are going to use what they are taught. What can be more demoralising to the teacher in a professional course? With the number of institutes multiplying, can there be enough teachers of that high calibre? We seem to be diluting the importance of a temple of excellence.

Once upon a time, we were grappling with brain drain when most of the IITians went abroad. Now we have a great environment and demand for good engineers but we don't have them! True, it is a field where you need to build a reputation over time and the remuneration does not come as fast. It requires a great deal of passion to become a good engineer.

Does all this mean that the IITs have lost their relevance? To a certain extent, yes. They are not serving their basic purpose. If the IITs cannot produce great engineers, the purpose is defeated. We are unable to get the students interested in engineering. Yet, we are increasing the number of the IITs.

We are probably producing good thinkers at the IITs, which is why other fields are picking up the students. So should we rename it the Indian Institute of Thinkers?

(The writer is an IITian. Email: rkbala@hotmail.com)

More In: Open Page | Opinion