Why Tata Steel (and others) won’t recruit IITians

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes: Recently during a Ruby Union organized at IIT Madras, B. Muthuraman, Managing Director of Tata Steel, threw an unintended bomb shell when he stated that his company was unlikely to recruit fresh graduates from the Indian Institutes of Technology.

Reason: a few months earlier Muthuraman had had interactions with some final year students from IIT Madras. When he asked them to name the authors of a few books they had read in their subjects, none of them could.

He subsequently found out that the students were able to pass the tests without reading any books. To his further shock, he found out that their teachers were even less knowledgeable about the subjects.

Since IIT graduates think too highly of themselves and cannot be trained as a result, he said he would prefer students from other colleges. At least they could train those students even if they had less knowledge and were “less bright” compared to IIT graduates.

The above incident obviously generated a lot of interest on the part of the alumni who had gathered from all around the world. Further discussion brought out the fact that it is not just Tata Steel, there are some other companies too which do not prefer to recruit from IITs.

This is a somber observation by the captains of Indian industry and IITs should take note.

One of the reasons for such a sorry state is the way students are admitted to the IITs. On the one hand, the IIT admission process has been praised all over India. It is completely free from any corruption and undue interference. No one, however well connected, can sneak in unless he/she manages to get a high rank in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).

Infosys former chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy once told TV interviewers in the US that it was only because his son Akshay Rohan could not get admission into the IITs, that he decided to consider the offer from Harvard, Wharton etc. This one statement has gone a long way to establish IITs as one of the premier institutes of the world.

Surveys conducted by some foreign universities have also ranked IITs quite high. But will the IITs be able to maintain this status for long if Indian industrialists do not prefer their graduates?

A recent IIT review committee report of 2004 has also questioned the calibre of students selected in the JEE. Such tough and unnecessary standards in turn have resulted in students depending upon the “coaching factories” to secure high ranks in JEE and completely ignore taking any serious interest in their schooling.

By one estimate 95% of students getting admission into IITs have attended one of the many coaching factories which have spawned all across the country. The amount of money spent by students to attend them is about Rs. 2,000 crore per year, which is four times more than the annual budgetary allocation of the government to IITs. About 160,000 take the JEE and 3,500 are admitted to the seven IITs.

The impact of coaching factories can be better appreciated when one takes a look at the percentage of students admitted from different states from South India.

During one of the recent years from South Zone, 979 students were admitted and of that 769 were from Andra Pradesh which is simply mind boggling. Only 94 were from Tamil Nadu, 84 from Karnataka, and 32 from Kerala. This was mostly because of the huge number of tutorial and coaching factories in Hyderabad.

In the Northern Zone, Rajasthan, where Kota is well known for offering pressure cooker-type of coaching, is sending high proportion of students to IITs.

In the beginning, IITs used to give admission to high ranking students from each state to promote national integration. Later when admission was based on competitive tests, even without attending coaching factories it was possible to get admission.

However during the last twenty years, pressure cooking type of coaching where students completely ignore their schools and concentrate only on the IIT entrance test has resulted in one dimensional students. By the time they start studies at IITs, they are completely burnt out.

At IITs, failure rate is small. Getting admission into IITs is tough, but not passing out of them.

These students are good only at the technique of answering questions without fully understanding the concepts. Many learned papers have been written by IIT professors criticizing the present competitive testing procedure. The IIT review committee has suggested a research committee to come up with an alternative system. But not enough momentum appears to have gathered to bring about the needed changes lest the testing becomes less objective.

Instead of giving ranks exclusively based on JEE performance, IITs can adapt multiple criteria to give a weighted score. Some of the criteria are JEE test scores, PUC or CBSE normalized test scores, some marks for showing leadership qualities, marks for demonstrating social concern by taking part in some NGO activities, talents in sports, music, arts etc.

It is true that some of these are not as objective as JEE test scores. But by adopting more representative admission standards, IITs may be able to maintain their excellence. Otherwise they are likely to lose their excellence and become mediocre institutes.

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Dr Bhamy V. Shenoy is a B.Tech. from IIT Madras. A sanitised version of this article first appeared in Deccan Herald.