Sorry to be cynical about it, but this whole announcement of 4 new IITS and 6 new IIMs is nothing more than an election year carrot for middle class India.
First of all, do we need more IITs and IIMs in this day and age? This is not the 1960s or 70s when the concept of management or engineering education was a new one. And hence the government played the role of catalyst, evangelist and capitalist - all in one.
Now, it's more like mere neighbouring state mein ek IIT hai, mujhe bhi chahiye. Jaise Vijay Sales mein LCD TV dekh kar aayr aur socha, ek din hamare ghar mein bhi hoga.
Today there are 1600 engineering colleges and 1000 + bschools in India. The demand for these courses is being met adequately by private enterpreneurs. You can dispute the quality of many of these institutes but the thing to do then is to institute mechanisms to improve that quality.
"Building one more quality institute' will not address the problem. Assuming you can genuinely build quality - not just affix the tag IIM onto a good looking campus and take in all the wait listed students off the existing IIMs.
Speaking of mechanisms AICTE urgently needs to a makeover. The class bully cum school monitor approach is clearly not working. We need a regulatory body, but one which is effective, impartial and recognises that excellence is not just about square feet of campus area but academic integrity and intellectual capital.
So should the government completely exit higher education? I'm not saying that. But I think its role has to be more of playing the pioneer, of entering new and virgin territories.
So a National Law School University was an excellent idea and several more such institutes have come up along the same lines. This has certainly resulted in more bright young people taking up law as a career.
Let's take education as an example of a career the government could pick up and invest in. If you set up an IIT-IIM-NID like instiute of excellence where entry is based on a prestigious national entrance exam, I am sure that within 5 years the teaching profession as a whole would become respectable.
And there would be recruiters willing to pay attractive salaries to these graduates.
But going back to the whole concept of IITs and IIMs, I think the time has come to abandon this compartmentalised approach. Let's recognise that most students who join these institutes are not doing so out of deep interest in technology or management. They are in it for the chhaapa and the placement.
The situation is especially bad in case of IITs because the students are 17-18 years old. And they've slogged so hard to get in to the institute, many have little interest in what they actually study on campus.
So if I were the government I would set up an IIT which is an Indian Institute of Talent. You come in, get exposure to a number of different subjects (engineering, science, commerce and arts) and then in your 3rd year choose a
specialisation in one or the other subject which turns you on. Basically, the American university model where undergraduate education is all about choices. Not 'the best course I could get in with my marks'.
Come to think of it, we do not have any institution in India where Arts, Commerce, Science, Engineering, Design, Music, Medicine and Management co-exist on a single campus. At best we put up techno campuses where a medical, dental and engineering may co-exist.
The IITs are in fact the only technical institutes with Humanities departments but these depts don't enjoy the same status and importance as others because an undergrad cannot major in these subjects.
Imagine how much human potential would be freed if we de-linked 'intelligence' from the study of technical subjects. Left to themselves, we would find students who choose to major in organic chemistry out of love for the subject, not JEE rank.
And maybe we wouldn't need more IIMs to escape to... after graduating in 'I never cared for this' kind of subjects!