A panel discussion comprising IIT alumni was co-organised by The Hindu

The role of IITs may not be limited to imparting core subject knowledge, or churning out candidates for the most happening jobs in Information Technology and Finance.

With even secretarial posts in the Central government being increasingly occupied by IIT graduates and postgraduates, the prestigious institutes have come to be viewed as incubators of intellectual prowess. So feel ex-IITians who gathered at The Hindu office on Thursday for a panel discussion ahead of ‘Choice 2013’— the career counselling workshop for IIT and NIT aspirants. The workshop, sponsored by State Bank of India, will be held at Ravindra Bharathi on June 11.

Madhav Madhira, who has over 50 years of teaching experience in various IITs, sought to remind that IITs were initially set up to be research hubs, and not teaching institutions. What had earlier been a ‘by-product’ has become more successful eventually, dousing the institutions in its aura.

For those who pursue a career in the same stream, the knowledge of the subject becomes an added advantage by its relevance in the field, while those who arrive merely for the IIT tag will not go empty-handed either, the panellists sought to assure.

Five-year integrated courses are relevant for the first set of students, as they will get a better opportunity to explore and hone their skills in the core subjects, said Devi Karunasri, a young mechanical engineer from IIT-Madras.

Students who have enrolled for the four-year B.Tech can later shift to the five-year integrated course, but it is not possible the other way round.

Old versus new

On the choice between old and new IITs, there was the near-unanimous view that each had its own benefits. In terms of infrastructure and facilities, old IITs score over the new ones by huge margins, but the quality of faculty remains the same.

While emphasis has shifted from teaching to research in older institutions, the newer ones are more enthusiastic about pedagogy. R.S. Naveen Kishore, a 2012 graduate from the new IIT-Hyderabad, agrees that there were a few problems for the first batch, but his juniors had better facilities such as computer labs and drawing halls.

These hitches are to be resolved once the new and technologically-advanced campus comes up by 2014. Students in the old IITs, meanwhile, may have to make do with older equipment.

To a Facebook query on NITs in the North East, students were advised to keep them as last option, as their development would take more time. IIT Guwahati, however, has attractive offers for faculty, and hence may be considered, the panellists said.

Faculty shortage

The shortage of faculty is certainly an issue to reckon with, as a class of 120-140 students would be dealt with by a single faculty member in the first year. Sailesh Akella from IIT Madras said only one class is fortunate to listen directly to the lecturer, even as two other classes would just hear him through video streaming. However, at a few IITs, tutorials are being held after each lecture, which enhances the learning experience. After the first two years, the classes will be completely split stream-wise, with about 40 to 60 students per batch.

Curriculum

All IITs teach basic courses such as Mathematics, Physics, English and drawing during the first year, and a little of engineering and allied courses during the second. The core part of the chosen stream will be taught only in third year, to be taken to advanced level in the final year.

Choice of streams

On students blindly choosing streams based on their ranks, Sanjay Gadhalay, an IITian from the 80s felt the very system of ranking streams based on market preferences is flawed. Students should be allowed to choose the stream after completing two or three years of study, he felt.

Student suicides

The panel also discussed student suicides in IITs due to the pressure to perform.

According to Prof. Madhira, one has to work hard to fail in IIT, as there is relative grading. However, placements are the most compelling phase when students slip into depression.

“There are those who excel in allied activities and some who do good in academics. Those left out of both are usually the ones prone to depression,” Sailesh observed.

T. Muralidharan, an IITian from Youth Employability Services Centre (YESC) — the co-organisers of the panel discussion — moderated the discussion, while Prof. R. Balasubramanian from G. Narayanamma Institute of Technology and Science, engineer-turned-entrepreneur Srinivas Chakravarthi, and infrastructure consultant Chakrapani were the other IITians who participated.