None of the IITs is anywhere near world standards today. Not a single IIT has made its mark in the Top 200 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings in 2011.
The IIT system is the brainchild of the 22-member Nalini Ranjan Sircar Committee that was constituted in 1946 for the creation of higher technical institutions for post-War industrial development of India. This committee recommended the establishment of such institutions along the lines of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S. with affiliated secondary institutions. As per the recommendation, four IITs were set up in Kharagpur, Bombay, Kanpur and Madras. The IIT, Delhi, was established later, in 1961.
The IIT, Kharagpur, the first in the series and started in May 1950, was known as the Eastern Higher Technical Institute. It was set up in collaboration with MIT. The name “Indian Institute of Technology” was adopted before the formal inauguration of the institute on August 18, 1951.
Planning for the IIT, Bombay, began in 1957 with the participation of UNESCO, utilising the contribution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). It received substantial assistance in the form of equipment and expert services from the USSR from 1956 to 1973. UNESCO also offered a number of fellowships for training Indian faculty members in the USSR, which provided additional assistance to supplement the Aid Programme.
The IIT, Kanpur, was started in December 1959 and during the first 10 years, it benefited from the Kanpur Indo-American Programme (KIAP), where a consortium of nine U.S. universities — MIT; the University of California, Berkeley; the California Institute of Technology; Princeton University; the Carnegie Institute of Technology; the University of Michigan; Ohio State University; the Case Institute of Technology; and Purdue University — helped set up research laboratories and academic programmes. The IIT, Kanpur, was the first institute in India to offer the Computer Science course in August 1963.
The IIT, Madras, was started when federal Germany signed the first Indo-German Agreement in Bonn in 1959. This provided for the services of German professors, training facilities for Indian faculty members and supply of scientific and technical equipment for establishment of the central workshop and laboratories at the IIT, Madras. The institute was declared an ‘Institute of National Importance’ in 1961.
With the assistance of the British Government, The College of Engineering & Technology was established in 1961 in Delhi which was later declared an institution of national importance and renamed the ‘Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi’ in 1963. This institute was started in collaboration with Imperial College London, which played a pivotal role in initiating the academic activities.
The Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, was established in 1995 and the University of Roorkee was converted into an IIT in 2001.
After six decades of the inception of the first IIT in Kharagpur, it is pertinent to introspect on how far these institutes have achieved the excellence envisioned for them by the founding fathers. Although these institutes were expected to become world-class centres of learning, none of the IITs is anywhere near world standards today. Not a single IIT has made its mark in the Top 200 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings in 2011. The IIT, Bombay, was the only Indian institute which managed to find a place for itself in the Top 200 in 2010 but this year, it too slipped 38 places and ranked 225. The same way, the Delhi and Madras IITs, which had ranked 202 and 262 in 2010, fell to 218 and 281. The other IITs featuring in the rankings, including that of Kanpur, Kharagpur, Roorkee and Guwahati, do not find a place in the Top 300 World University Rankings. The QS ranking, conducted every year, is based on employer and academic reputation and research quality.
In the recent past, attempts have been made to make exposure of the IIT system to a larger number of candidates, Eight more IITs have been established in Bhubaneswar, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Indore, Jodhpur, Kanpur, Patna and Ropar. In an affirmative action, concession for the weaker sections has been offered in admissions and in recruitment of faculty. The Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) is being synchronised with that of other engineering colleges. The point to ponder now is whether steps are also being taken to bring all these IITs on a par with world-class institutions.
(The writer is a past president of the IIT Delhi Alumni Association. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)