The IITs are not really what they are cracked up to be

It is time once again to lay that old chestnut to rest. The specious claim that the IITs are better than some of the best universities in the world is beyond slack-jawed silliness. I am reminded of that by this tweet by my friend @KiranKS

That is, if you are unable to “do computers” at IIT, your backup plan B is to get into an Ivy league school. So if Ivy league schools are safety schools, imagine how much ahead of them must be the IITs.

I have been debunking that for a long time. See this an old post, “Imagine no Reservations” May 2006 (seven years ago — how the years fly by!):

The fundamental problem with the Indian economy is that the education system is one of the most flawed systems in the country. If there is one sector which is in dire need of reform, it is that education system. The most urgently required reform is to get the government out of it—lock, stock, and barrel. The recent move by the government to further increase quotas in the so-called elite institutions with a view to social justice is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. No, I take that back: it is akin to scuttling the lifeboats even as the ship is sinking.

I have heard the claim that the Indian education system must be wonderful because the IITs produce so many wonderfully successful NRIs (non-resident Indians), especially in the US. They bolster their argument with the specious reasoning that it is harder to gain admission into IITs than into Ivy league schools, and that Narayana Murthy’s son had to use an Ivy league school as a safety school.

Sure it is harder to get into the IITs than into the top American schools. That does not mean that the IITs are in any way better than those American schools. It is a Herculean task to get into a Mumbai local during commute hours, compared to which using the Paris Metro is a piece of cake. Congestion is not an indicator of quality. When supply is severely limited relative to demand, there will be a mad scramble to get some.

On average, fewer than two out of every one hundred who appear for the entrance exam for IITs get admission. If you were to choose the top two percent of any population, the average quality of that group will be a few sigmas higher than the population average. The IITs turn out good students because those who get in are good to begin with. Then for four years, these way-above average kids compete fiercely among themselves for grades. Finally, from this bunch of super-achievers, those with the highest grades and potential are snapped up by the best American universities. By the time these graduate out of the American universities, they are the crème de la crème who have self-selected themselves for intelligence, drive, ambition, and vision. We read about them as the Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires, and pat ourselves on the back for having a wonderful educational system.

That is most definitely not so. The dysfunctional Indian education system is the saddest and costliest example of governmental ineptitude and malfeasance. The solution to the problem of the Indian educational system has to have at its core getting the government to let go of its choke-hold on the system.

While on the topic, here’s a bit more from a later post of Jan 2010, “Rethinking Entrance Exams“, which may be of interest.

I have discussed on this blog at some length the problems of higher education in India. To summarize briefly, the problem is one of scarcity of supply. This is what I call an “engineered scarcity” because it arises from the government control of the system. In free societies with free markets, scarcities are not a chronic feature. Why? Because any scarcity due to say sudden and persistent increase in the demand is met with increased prices which in turn increase supply and the scarcity disappears. For scarcity to persist for decades, the system has to be rigged such that the supply cannot be changed to respond to the demand.

The government of India depends on manufactured scarcity because socialism thrives thus: first create the scarcity through governmental control; then the government doles out the scarce thing to favored groups; the people are brainwashed into thinking that since the government is the source of the supply, it (the government) must be the benevolent entity in the economy; therefore all efforts must be made to keep on the good side of the government so that one is favored with some of the scarce good.

The Indian government controls the supply of education for two reasons. First, it can extract rents from it. Licensing is the mechanism. To get licensed, one has to pay a bribe — often in the hundreds of millions of rupees to officials who have the discretion to refuse the license. Rent seeking is one motivation for the government control. The other reason is related to India’s “democracy” — buying the allegiance of favored vote banks by discriminating for and against specific groups. If you belong to a specific religious group, you get special treatment, and therefore that religious group’s vote is guaranteed.

Manufactured Shortage

This is all old hat and I merely repeat it here for setting the context. The main thing is that education in India suffers from engineered (or manufactured, if you please) shortage. This leads to immense social welfare losses. I propose one mechanism to fix one small part of this welfare loss. I say “small” only because it is small relative to the aggregate set of problems, not because it is trivial. This small part actually amounts to billions of dollars worth of welfare losses.

Now on to the specifics. The problem I will address is one of selecting who gets to have the privilege of going to an elite publicly funded elite institution of higher learning such as the IITs.

FACT A: The demand far outstrips the supply. Why? First, because the education is subsidized. So you get more than you pay for. When something is under-priced, naturally the demand will be higher. Second, even if the education were priced at full cost, the life-time benefit of an IIT education far exceeds the full price.

FACT B: Because of fact A, people are willing to pay a high price to get into an IIT. How much would people be rationally willing to pay? Something approaching the difference between the private cost of an IIT education (tuition fees, food, rent) and the private benefit (the discounted net present value of an IIT education.) So if the discounted net present value of an IIT education is Rs 100 lakhs, and the private cost is Rs 16 lakhs (4 lakhs per year for 4 years), then people would be willing to pay upto Rs 84 lakhs.

But of course no one really pays that much to get into an IIT. For one thing, for Rs 84 lakhs, one can go abroad and get a decent undergraduate degree. The point here is that people are willing to spend a large amount of money to just get into an IIT. And they do indeed spend a lot in their attempt to do so. An entire industry exists just for that purpose. The coaching classes industry. The more successful firms in this industry charge more fees than the IITs charge. And people routinely spend more on trying to get into an IIT than they would spend if they ever got into one.

As I have mentioned previously in a post before, the more successful coaching classes, let’s call “1st order”, themselves have to select whom they will admit — which leads to the absurd situation that there are “2nd order” coaching classes — those that coach students to pass the entrance exams of the “1st order” classes. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan mentions this in his interview. But I’ll come to that in a bit.

Cost of Coaching

For now, let’s do the numbers. The figures say that around 300,000 students appear for the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for IITs. These days it is not unusual for students to go to coaching classes for a couple of years before attempting the JEE. Assume conservatively Rs 1 lakhs per year as the cost of getting coached. Assume that around 2 out of 3 of those who appear for the JEE have attended coaching classes. That gives us an estimate of Rs 6,000 crores (2 lakhs x 300,000) for the size of the IIT coaching industry. (That’s approximately US$ 1.3 billion.)

That $1.3 billion is incurred every year and what is worse, it is amounts to a huge welfare loss since it is essentially a rent-seeking activity and therefore a dead-weight loss to society. The coaching does improve an individual’s chance of getting into an IIT but its aggregate social effect is nothing at all. It just intensifies the competition. It is an educational arms-race.

An analogy I find illuminating is this: if I stand up on my seat at a stadium to get a better view of the game, some others will also do so. Then in a short while, the entire stadium will be standing up and everyone will be exactly where one was in terms of visibility of the game while sitting down but now everyone ends up paying the price of watching the game standing up.

From the pool of 300,000 aspiring students who appear for the JEE, around 10,000 are selected. That’s one student out of 30. But is it true that the students ranked 10,001 to 50,000 are incapable or unprepared for studying in an IIT? Most likely, they are almost as good as those ranked above them. I am confident that if the capacity exited, 50,000 students could enter the IITs and do as well. We all know of people who failed to get into an IIT and ended up being very successful. Recently I learned that Venkatraman Ramakrishnan did not make the IIT grade but was good enough to win a Nobel prize in Chemistry. (That name once again!)

Changing the Rules

The rules of the game have to be changed. The best option would be to get the Indian government out of the life-blood-sucking control of education it has. But that is going to happen the day hell freezes over. The second best option therefore is to fix this welfare loss of competitive exams and make the whole business of coaching classes irrelevant.

Well, that’s it. Forced to recycle stuff every now and again because the canard that IITs are the cat’s whiskers just refuses to die.

Author: Atanu Dey


128 thoughts on “The IITs are not really what they are cracked up to be”

  1. I’d summarize this way the most important point your blog is (or seems to be) making: Let’s say x% of students around the mean of the normal distribution make it to IITs. Quality of students (as in achievement in their professional lives) begins to make a perceptible difference at y% around the mean, and y is significantly larger than x.


  2. Couple of years back, while sitting in my room at IIT-Bombay, I wrote this article… Please have a look..


    The negative social impact of IITs

    Ok, let me put the disclaimer right in the beginning. This article is NOT about
    contributions of IITs to society at large and their collective failure in developing
    a single break through technology which can be called world class and can be
    attributed solely to IITs. Well, these
    definitely are the colossal failures indeed, but we will focus on something
    else here. My basic contention is this article is that IITs actually have an
    overall negative impact on our society despite them themselves being a mediocre
    institute with almost no break through technology to their credit. So is it
    worth it? Are they worth the eulogy that
    they command given their mediocre technical contributions and colossal but
    negative social contributions?

    first and only claim to fame is that a huge number of students compete for
    handful of seats offered by them.

    analyze the impact of this: So among all the people who compete in IIT entrance exam, approximately 99% are rejected.
    So naturally these 1% people who succeed get infected with a great sense of
    achievement and pride and of course a sense of superiority over their peers. It’s
    a different matter altogether, however that the people who actually succeed
    were helped a great deal from five star coaching centers who siphon off a large
    amount of money in liu of that success. So success in this test, in large
    number of cases is not natural but practiced, practiced in a particular manner
    which masters the trick of trade to gain admission. Of course, it’s not my case that everybody
    who qualifies for IIT fall in this
    basket but truth is this route is more norm then exception. So quality of
    people who actually enter IIT
    varies a lot and unlike socially accepted norm, admission to IIT is no guarantee to natural genius ness.

    but that aside, the bigger negative impact of IITs come from the feeling of
    failure and rejection that grip a large number of talented people. Most of
    these people who don’t make it, accept their defeat in this battle of mind and
    accept their status of a second class citizen in the world of technocrat. Having
    accepted that, a large number of them then choose the path of mediocrity and
    pursuit of excellence is given a quite burial. Here again, I’m not talking
    about exceptions but this behavior is more norm. So IITs first contribution to
    the society comes in the form of decimating the self confidence of a large
    number of people who aspired to be the torch bearer of our society few years
    down the line.

    lets look at those 1% of people who actually succeed. 80% of these people (yes,
    that’s true, almost 80%) get into a stream of engineering that they haven’t
    even heard of before actually joining that stream. A small fraction of them
    later on develop a taste for it over time but then we can safely conclude that
    almost the same fraction of people lose interest in the stream they picked as
    their first choice. So, overall the net result is that 80% of these ‘bright’
    students are actually frustrated in this temple of high learning.

    that leaves us with approximately 0.2% of people (99% + 80% of 1% are gone) who
    sat out on their journey to become the top technocrat of India/world. That is
    less then 1000 people out of 4-5 lack people who begin by aspiring to be a top
    engineer/scientist, a very pathetic state of affairs to say the least. BTW, a
    significant chunk of these 1000 people escape to US universities or lost to non
    engineering streams. (MBA through IIMs is one favorite route). Now, one may
    ask, how can I claim that 99% of these people have accepted defeat at some
    level consciously or unconsciously? Well, the proof of pudding is in eating.
    Few of these people come back to IIT
    later on for their PG and research studies. The overall quality of these
    students is considered significantly below then undergrads by default. This is the unwritten rule in IIT
    and accepted by all. Hence, even though these people are good but their self
    esteem is deeply wounded which reflects in their academic achievements.

    what we ended up achieving in final analysis, a few hundred good engineers at
    the cost of an entire generation that either became frustrated or chose a path
    of mediocrity. If one thinks little deeper, the above analysis also explains
    the root cause of failure of IITs to get something world renowned, a largely
    indifferent/frustrated student population. For majority of successful alumni of
    IIT, the only role these IITs
    played in their journey is that these brilliant people had a stopover in IIT for some years before embarking on something

    why are IITs responsible for all this? I mean, you can ask, that what can they
    do if they have only limited number of seats? They have to after all choose
    only few of the aspiring candidates and they try to choose them in the most
    fair manner.

    lest I be misunderstood, the title of my article contains word symbol. I’m not
    trying to lay the blame on the doors of IITs. The failure lies at two levels:

    Even after 60 years of
    independence, we can give quality technical education to only some 1000
    odd people? Isn’t that a very-2 big failure of our policy makers? Isn’t it
    a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our country? And aren’t IIT’s symbol of that failure? Even after so
    many years, and now as a new rising super power, this is all that we have?
    Few hundred for a country of 1,20,000,00,00 people. Forget about providing
    access to quality education to every deserving student, we are not able to
    do that to our best and brightest even. On what basis do we want to become
    the super power of tomorrow?

    In fact, the brand value of IIT
    itself is the commentary on failure of our education system. If an engineering
    school with such mediocre technical achievements can become such a big brand
    value, one can gauge the extent of spread of mediocrity in our country and
    society at large.

    The second aspect of failure
    that that IITs symbolize (again the fault is not with IITs, the fault is
    completely with policy makers) is the lack of autonomy that our education
    institutes enjoy. Due to absence of this the basic tenets of scientific
    education get decimated. Students accept whatever comes their way without
    even questioning once. “Why I’m doing this? Ok, I got a rank in IIT, now I don’t have a choice but to get my
    self enrolled there. What I’m going to study there. Doesn’t matter?” If
    they can’t ask to themselves that why they are doing this, how do you
    expect them to question and answer bigger scientific challenges. The
    critical thinking is gone. Why it happened? Because there was no autonomy.
    Students can’t decide their area of study. IITs can’t change the
    composition of their classrooms. These are rather big things in fact, I
    mean you name it, right from top to bottom pretty much everything is

    IITs not only symbolize our failure to create sufficient world class
    institutes, they also symbolize that even these very few are not managed
    properly. The other shortcomings of IITs (like quality of research etc) are all
    the side effects of this bigger malice.


    1. Hi Manoj, Really interesting thought over the IIT framework. While what you say is partly correct consider my viewpoint. When someone talks about US, how many really quality tech universities are there in US. I could say about 20. beyond 20 most of them are rather average who donot do breakthrough research always.Its the likes of MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Caltech, CMU etc.. So what’s wrong with having a 15 IITs. Why do you think we need more IITs just to boost the confidence of the students who do not get into those 15. The problem lies in the indian, governance and social thinking..

      Lets begin with social thinking, First of all the belief that if we can’t get into engineering/medical, we are average is the root cause of it. There are n number of fields where one can excel according to his interest and contribute to society. Again this social thinking as part of its roots in Indian goverment poilicies and family thinking.

      The problem with governance and law is income disparity among occupations. Why does a BCom graduate struggle throughout his life but a engineer enjoys. Is the job in a bank or administration any less comapred to an engineer. Atleast it does not deserve the income disparity that we see.Why can’t we be interior designer, or urban planner… etc Because government policies in india fail to help create a market for any occupation. Evene engineering is not that attractive when seen from Indian pov. Its that engineers get lapped up by west and other streams grads have to stay in India creats the difference. SO Basically the governance system fails to promote any occupation and its growth. Policies/Laws are not good to sustain someones idea and become big.. Think about the most recent example of Flipkart. Flipkart is working its ass off to create a good ecommerce model but its been underwater since it began.. Why because it has to rely on cash on delivery as people are scare of identity thefts on using credit cards online… Imagine if there were strong rules to punish any identity theft many people would happily use credit cards.. On top of that the just for fun orders which you must have heard recently where people order from Flipkrt and deny when the courier person arrives with the product. How does Flipkart stop these issues without strong goverment laws and how can the business survive. This is just one business example. There are many others which must be facing similar issues. In such an environment do you blame the founders for incompetence. Same business in US would survived because of strict laws and benefit realization. So I would not call it failure of the person doing business or the product creator.

      Secondly the family system of arranged marriages, traditional thinking and expectation of risk averse behavior kills rest of the enthusiasm from any creator. In US people favor to marry someone who takes risk, but in India it is frowned upon because the our mom/dad expect us to have a stable life. Middle class just avoids any risk. In such a family, administrative and governance system its extremely difficult to think of creating any revolutionary products. well in all this, a child from beginning thinks that being in engineering could give him a ticket to west and hence they give up their interest. When they see engg and medical as only routes to prosperity its bound to dent their confidence when they dont get into IITs…because he has closed all other possible avenues for success

      Those who enter IITs are no less capable than any american graduate, but again the struggle to make big in India dents their aspiration. When they come to US they make big because the system in US favors talent and performance. Hence the same IITians are able to create Khosla Ventures, Syntel and acquire top posts in US

      So in all its not that IITs are doing everything wrong. Infact they do filter the best and create the most competitive grads to make big in life.. Its the system after IITs that decide if that competititive graduate is allowed to realize his dreams. Flipkart is a struggle by IITians but its failing because of reasons given above. So some IITians are trying hard to make name and help India but its just not possible without everything else in place. Its like saying, one gear can not help drive a machine.. its when all gears cog into each other that we get a fucntioning machine. The IIT grad and his efforts is one gear, the other gears are law, governance, public faith.

      And IIT students choose fields based on their ranks,because they know how much ever they are interested in aerospace engineering the goverment laws wont help them realize their dreams. SO best choose computer science as thats gives entry to IT/CS/Finance industry while other follow streams according to ranks… I could give a personal example. I know an IITian friend who was very passionate about creating robots and aeroplanes. So after graduating he joined a startup company in Mumbai with fellow IITians to create an unmanned arial vehicle. But they could not get even a part of chip designed inhouse as no one knows manufactures electronic chips in india. All of it was done by multinationals and just imported. Finally they thought to make this UAV they would have to first build their electronic shop and all. Thats how confidence in dented. See what happened to Narendra Karmarkar.. In US he gathered so much name and fame but on returning to India to help Tata make Indias fastest supercomputer he failed. Tata did not retain him even for 1 year..conflicts rose between them.. Why do you think this happened…

      So I don’t think IITs are less in number and IITs should be more to just accomodate more aspirants..Infact a system should be created in first place to retain the existing IIT grads in India and help them contribute. Once they see opportunities in India they wont leave for US and mark my words, then they would contribute greatly to Indian prosperity. Then one must ensure increasing the number of institutes. Else if you increase number of IITs they would just go abroad….Again I am not saying IITs can’t improve as they have to make a name for themselves in research.. but at what they are doing they are one of the best as their students.


      1. You hit the point my friend! . . . the whole system was made lazy and trained to produce clerks or the keepers of MNCs! Now, we the gang of clerks trained in elite, non-elite, public funded and private institutes have to argue it out. Please refer to the thesis at
        The regulators are regulating for money. If at all the public funded institutions (IITs, RECs, NITs, Govt. Colleges, etc.) had kept an obligation for every graduated engineer to serve public for minimum 15 years (while staying in India and using public transport) of any patch in their career, the rush to such institutions may drop down drastically. Unlike some institutes like AFMCs and alike in which students plan their financial implications of breaking the bond and accordingly plan an exit and the system is fooled.
        The current contribution (of such institutes) may by produce a BIS and conduct public projects; but how many practicing engineers in India are respected by a reasonable fees for their services? The regulations are not driving the customers (not even educated ones) for an engineered product. The engineered products are totally controlled by accountants and traders! Hence, a mechanical engineer cannot put up his own service center which may eventually evolve into a design and research!; an electronics engineer may set up a own communications and computing repair and service centers which further graduate into a manufacturing of good brands .. even top technocrats in this country opt for a very costly apartment in a building which does not have a structural calculation report!
        An educated customer or a well regulated product and services can only improve the state of every professional, either commerce, engineering, medical, legal or arts! . .the problem is when govt. starts regulating the PROCESS which is very prone to corruption.
        for eg. We have big municipalities, but very poorly paid and poorly educated people in there who make billions (under table) of sanctioning poor buildings! . .we need correct pricing for everything. . .and that too communicated to people!


        1. The only thing is, let us network,organize together. Let the old mindset people say whatever they want, that clearing IIT-JEE/CAT means genius, yes, it is good that kids have cleared these entrances, and even we, at least, I aspired it. But, I have realized, that genius is not bookish knowledge, but, meeting people, learning from the. That’s where the real value addition happens.


      2. Boss – Is passionate about creating robots and models etc. inborn?.Those are wants of US and they innovated it. Innovation is about creating for wants of our society Why the hell should government create markets for creating robots etc.and make easily available those chips etc. Is that the want/need of our society. This is the truth. You can have passion but when we have passion to innovate , create and enjoy the academic thrills for benefiting another society…it doesn’t make any sense for government to help set up these. One more thing – Flipkart hasn’t innovated anything. Its a me too syndrome….is eCommerce an innovation?. Tying up with merchants and selling online is not innovation in US or any other developed nations. This is like Autos making fanfare when there are no other means of transport…since it is not an innovation – everybody will adopt this me too syndrome and then Flipkart will cry for another type of help from government. The only thing that they implemented new was “Cash on Delivery”. Is this an innovation?. Even as a financial or business principle it’s not new anyways. Here is the truth – we cannot create a Google , Facebook or a robot or dam , magnetically levitating trains etc…(even innovate a tailor pin!!) only because we do not have those needs and you can call that as either low standards of thinking if you want. This is because our society works in a different mode. whether an Indian comes out of Ivy League or an IIT institute – the vast majority of them will not innovate for our society. Simple.


        1. Even google, facebook is not innovation, but can be termed as diruptive business model which changed the market trend, as those concepts were untapped.

          Real innovation was creation of Internet. That changed the way computing was done. Google, Facebook utilized the bandwidth created by the Internet.

          James Watts steam engine changed the industrial mode of production. That’s innovation.


    2. Here you mentioned the fact that ” The overall quality of these
      ( is considered significantly below then undergrads by default.
      This is the unwritten rule in IIT and accepted by all.”

      imagine you are in final year and a guy in second year says you have no
      knowledge,or you are not as intelligent as i am… how will you
      feel……That is exactly how pg students feel at iit (feeling
      less competent by their juniors)………… How can they do useful
      research with this mental state….. Every person expect some respect
      from his juniors, and on contrary you people are insulting your
      seniors… A friend of mine is pursuing from iit roorkee he
      tells me his professors openly says pg students are not as bright as ug
      students… imagine what impact it will have on his self
      confidence…… May be that is the reason for poor research output from
      iit…. I personally consider it a foolishness to prepare for
      gate… As at the end after all your hard work when you will finally
      succeed to get into an iit, you will be called “matka” by your juniors
      and will be looked down by your professors………


      1. i totally agree with u. I failed getting into iit this may after getting within top 100 in gate in my stream. Now, am considering myself lucky after reading all this. I can never live between all this esp if this is my academic environment 🙂


      2. I think Manoj has just written about the perceptions of society, in no ways I think he means it. With all this, it very true that nobody can humiliate a person without his/her permission. If an M.Tech. student has a bright idea and brings up in practice, he can very well negate the perception held by iitian undergrads. This issue shall be more maturely handled at the institution level and avoid the moral corruption of the undergrads by patient and confident response of the postgrads.


    3. The above comment is a statistical and economic view of the system. But politics has more power in this world than economics or statistics. In the end, it wins. In the end, ultimately, our society is formed almost entirely by those who serve themselves than the society. In such a system, according to Adam smith, the best result would come in a group if everyone does what’s best for himself. But John Nash states that the best result comes in a group if everyone does what’s best for himself and the group. Sadly, Indians follow Adam Smith. Whereas historically successful societies have followed John Nash. I rest my case.


      1. Indians will never do team work. To create or invent something new, it has to be thought out. But what’s Indian mentality? Always trying to prove that we are best than others. This is an attitude which is bred in Indians, right from the starts. Compete with others. Sadly, I don’t see this changing. IIT-JEE/CAT, they must have been scrapped post 95,but, that did not happen. I feel that even these coaching institutes have roles to add to the hype. And on IIT, I once again say, check the job scenario of the core engineering sector. What about mechanical, electrical, civil, metallurgy. We know that people get 1,25,000 USD, which, by the way, is present salary of software engineers in india, but what’s about core Engineering sectors? I have heard that IIT placement cells give more priority to the desk jobs of IT, and core brands are usually looked down.


    4. I have been reading articles on higher education and I would like to make two points here: governmental or not, all the good institutes are important links in the quality of our future workforce. Second, no one is talking about the quality of teachers. And government policies are the biggest monster responsible for low quality of teachers.


  3. If whatever rent extracted goes to consumption of goods, foods, etc, it is a good thing for economy: for instance, a person who saved 50 lacks, can get 10% interest rate (rent); he can retire and pay that 10% interest for food, travel, paying maids, etc.

    But that’s not how it happens in real world. The rent distribution is skewed: Naryana of Naryana academy captures most of the rent from coaching centers, international schools, concept schools. Where does his extracted rent go after paying off all expenses? Either(a) real estate or (b) stock market or (c) setting up more coaching centers for rent extraction, This activity brings inflation of real estate and financial assets.

    Indian government should allow foreign universities to set up their branches in India, the way Dubai and Singapore has allowed. This way, these new foreign universities can bring in reputation. Once these foreign schools get reputation; the private sector just goes there to hire the talent, on par with IITs.

    Then, the government may impose ‘reservation’ quota system on these foreign universities. Who knows.


    1. RSKumar, you wrote, “If whatever rent extracted goes to consumption of goods, foods, etc, it is a good thing for economy: for instance, a person who saved 50 lacks, can get 10% interest rate (rent); he can retire and pay that 10% interest for food, travel, paying maids, etc.”

      That, unfortunately, is a case of the broken window fallacy. If it is not clear, I can explain in a separate post.



  4. “Then for four years, these way-above average kids compete fiercely among themselves for grades.” — In that, Atanu is sadly mistaken. Ask any IIT prof today. Attendance is down to a typical of 40%, “excellent” being 60%. Also read the comments of Varun Aggarwal here to understand what Atanu is up against. Finally, Atanu should comment on the Aakash fiasco, it’s long overdue.


    1. og,

      Why do think the IITs as a collective, with whatever resources and freedom it has at its disposal, still did not come up with a grand plan to educate the Indian work force on a continuing education platform?
      I see some you tube video lectures of reasonably decent quality being produced by some IIT’s but it doesn’t seem to address much audience. Its not targeted. It doesn’t have a stated vision. It works on MHRD vision of thugs like Kapil Sibbal.
      Almost all top100 universities in the US incl. Stanford, Columbia, Yale, MIT etc.. now offer graduate and doctorial programs online. some do it 100% online and some need some attendance. They are not OBSESSED with the past grades, institutes and pedigree of the candidates unlike our IITs. Whatever little is offered by IITs through some private service providers (shame that IIT’s can manage it on their own) are in the area of business management, an education the world can well live without.
      Elitists from these institutions have expressed concern that having such an online education will dilute the brand value of IITs !
      This is blade selfish thinking.


      1. Allowing for three killer roadblockers: 1. inability to fire (esp. non-academic staff) for non-performance, 2. very limited budget by world standards, and 3. students who have reached nirvana via JEE and have nothing left to achieve, IIT’s have actually performed very well compared to research universities in other countries.


    2. Yeah except 75% is the minimum you need in order to sit in exam.. and you should see the environment during placement season to witness the level of competition.


      1. Nope. Many profs turn a blind eye to the 75% rule, because it will reduce their rating and fill the class with unwilling horses. They will also refuse to fail students if at all possible, because they cannot justify taxpayer money spent in “processing” a student twice.


  5. If NRN’s son were to make it to IIT, he would have turned out to be code monkey doing some menial job for some American Tech company or a labor contractor in India. At Cornell, he would have developed the testicular fortitude to think and create something more useful to the mankind. If anyone can afford tuition abroad, any of top1000 universities in America or elsewhere will make a 1000 times better choice than top IITs here.

    IITs are not an inspiration. Its an intimidation.

    One can learn a lot of theory with intimidation but he/she cannot create what great engineers from Britain and America created more than 100 years back e.g. Hoover dam, Empire state building, Sub sea tunnels, Magnetically Levitated Trains, Jet Engines, Telegraph systems, Autobahns, earth movers, space crafts, lake mead and more recently large hadron collider. Creating these things need balls, honesty and vision.

    I bet any IIT mechanical or civil engineer with 10-20 years of experience will ever have the courage, vision and intellectual honesty to create anything close to these engineering marvels that exist in other parts of world. What remains in India even today are the stuff left by the British Engineers who fortunately didn’t study in anything like IIT’s..


    1. The gaps you have pointed have more to do with those who set the vision, less to do with those who execute.

      The bigger problem in India is that the best brains end up in technical streams. As a result areas which have a major public impact like public policy & planning, political science do not get the benefit of the best brains.

      Further any one with a sharp intellect and data-driven thinking who enters these streams get mercilessly attacked by the Fibbing Leftists who dominate the humanities space in India.

      What India needs is a break from the champagne-circuit jholla-walas, and give a chance to technically savvy, data-driven thinkers to drive the social discourse.

      And you will be surprised at the number of IIT graduates who have contributed to the engineering excellence over the past 3-4 decades in the US.


      1. IIT system has failed to fulfill nehru’s vision. Actually, nehru also did not think. He was enamored by western science, but forgot that it took west 500 years to get upto that level, they built infrastructure, skills etc.


    2. There are probably more Cornell grads in Wall Street and code junkies themselves than researchers or scientists. Please don’t confuse undergrads with researchers. Please compare the economy growth and size of the two countries and the corresponding research funding programs to get a better understanding of scientific output of a nation.


    3. Whom do you blame this on? The people who get into IIT and don’t have the ‘testicular fortitude’ or the people who govern this country that inspite of the talent that gets into IIT, they can’t muster the ‘testicular fortitude’…its amazing that the same set of people do well in the US, but fail in India like Ashok Khemka and Arvind Kejriwal and so many others…where does the fault lie?


        1. Or morons like you who don’t have a clue about morality and how to build your own democratic country…maybe learn from the US!!


          1. Thanks for your kind words. I was being cynical. Like you I am also curious why “its amazing that the same set of people do well in the US, but fail in India like Ashok Khemka and Arvind Kejriwal and so many others”. Is this just the monetary reward ?. Definitely not. Is this sense of freedom.. may be. but US is not as free as India is. I mean you are not free to take a leak anywhere you like unlike India. What then is the reason ?. Indians probably work well when led well. That’s all to it.


            1. Its because of rule of law and curb on corruption..and nothing to do with religion!!
              Look at every country in the world and those that are developed have very strong enforcement of rule of law..and law is applicable to everybody including the high and mighty!!

              If even politicians and big business have to make money honestly, then they have no choice but to ensure people make money and thus ease the path for people to start and sustain businesses!!


            2. ha ha ha, you have talked in terms of followers or dasa. There’s another word in hindu/ved, LORD/BHAGWAN/SWAMY/PRABHU. Now I don’t want to enter into the nitty gritty of vedic brahmanism, but yes, at present all hindus are dasas or followers.


            3. The answer is very simple. I had thought about it
              long back and found a simple answer. The reason is not Hindu religion only because there is no such thing as Hindu religion but you are right in a different sense. It’s all about the need to create an innovation. Simply put – we are taught to obliviate our needs. Necessity is the mother of the invention
              – which simply means that one needs to have a need or a want primarily. Here is the main truth , Indian mind always innovates in minisculing the needs and that’s the reason , we would not have invented even a wheel , or a pin or even a gas stove etc. in the first place and not to speak of dams , particle colliders , aeroplanes etc. This is what permeates the mind , body and soul of the vast majority of the race. Add to these thought processes of such a race as – the need to fulfil your basic needs like food , shelter , clothing , sex etc – viola – what you have- the present day Indian. Okay – but how is this race performing better in US (innovating) . This
              answer is also very simple – as in this case you are not just innovating for your needs but the Americans'(add any
              other) need. The requirements of those race needs material innovation. Those race needed damns , they needed electricity , they needed transport , they needed clothing , fashion etc and the result is – they innovated. Whereas
              the Indian race wants to destroy the need or want and we innovated in those fields. This Indian race will never ever become like the intellectual Americans / Germans /Koreans or Japanese or whatsoever . we work across two different
              dimensions and the needs are diametrically opposite and innovation is continuously happening across these spheres. That is why an IITian or any other Indian engineer will never ever create Hoover dam, Empire state building, Subsea
              tunnels, Magnetically Levitated Trains, Jet Engines, Telegraph systems, Autobahns, earth movers, space crafts, lake mead and more recently large hadron collider…


            4. No, Indians can rule, provided VEDIC BRAHMANISM gets revived as it was. It was VEDIC BRAHMANISM which produced all those rishis,munis,acharyas.


            5. I am not sure what exactly you mean. If VEDIC BRAHMANISM involves inclusiveness and non-obliteration of desires and wants rather than obliterating the same , then there may be the chance of this ruling the world but it looks like the Indian mind like Ganges flows in one direction for ages and to move it in a different direction is not an ordinary task. It also looks like these two different directions are there for a purpose.


            6. Because indian mind is trained by baniya now, they think about money, not knowledge, not wisdom, but money. Even getting into IIT is nothing but a short cut to achieve money quick and fast, because IIT guarantees success in life.


        2. you are partially right, blame it on HINDUS only, who just want to get a ‘JOB’, a ‘DECENT PAY’, a ‘DECENT GIRL’, that too, they choose life partners based on the parameters shown in 3 hours, err BOLLYWOOD, funded by the dawood ibrahim. So you see, hindus will never think, as they have decided that they will be followers.


      1. When you present an opinion on every damn thing under the sun, you also run the risk of exposing your ignorance and lack of understanding of issues. Maintaining silence is better than squandering ignorance. At least, nothing will tumble out of the closet.


        1. Only a control-freak would fear being wrong with his views about anything…the only way to refine and get to the truth is to be challenged…and its better to have a view on EVERY ISSUE UNDER THE SUN…rather than sit quietly in a corner and let the world take over your destiny…its better to come out looking ignorant than maintaining silence (Manmohan anybody?) and being swindled by morons…


          1. You’re at it again. The problem with Modi-fanatics is that they reduce everything to Cong-BJP skirmish. Unfortunately, there is much more to the world than that.

            And no – it is better to research and then comment.

            Modi-fanatics have found that exceptionally hard to follow, hence one sees lotsa gibberish splattered all across the internet.


            1. Are you commenting after researching ? Doesn’t look like it…and i didn’t mention Modi anywhere in my comments and neither Cong/BJP…also my comments atleast has some recommendations… maybe you ought to listen to what’s being said rather than what you want to say 🙂


    4. James Watts designed steam engine. He was an instrument maker. Thomas edison did not go to school . It is these people who made things which we use in our daily lives. That’s Engineering. Opening an app shop is not Engineering. Even small kids can make apps, what’s so creative in it?


    5. Preparing for IIT/IIM is wastage of time. We would have lost 20+ years of our life. By 15, learn a skill and by 25, put it to use to make something.


  6. When I was a student 20 years ago, hardly any of us could afford to pay for an Ivy league education, and fewer still had the option of studying abroad immediately after school through the SAT route. The second societal cancer was the pressure from family and peers, where not getting into IIT was considered a failure in life. These two have changed significantly over the past couple of decades.

    The third and biggest problem of manufactured shortage is not about to change any time within our lifetimes because it is so tightly coupled with political goals. Even an idiot with a half functional brain can see that reservations have not only failed but also backfired on the nation. The only benefit has been to vote bank politics, and it is my opinion that the very basis of reservation in our country is only to benefit the political parties, and has nothing to do with education, jobs or the betterment of the “downtrodden” backward classes.

    As long as this stalemate remains, the situation with the IITs and every other institution of higher learning will keep getting worse, as the people who can afford it keep fleeing to greener pastures in ever increasing numbers.

    My advice to students has always been – get out of the country while you can, but choose your path wisely. I would rather study and work in another country to mutual benefit. In a mad dash to exit the country I’ve also seen unqualified students land up in unsavoury positions in sub-standard places, bringing disrepute to themselves, their race and nation. Take the notorious Tri-Valley university scam in California, that’s only one example.


  7. “The second best option therefore is to fix this welfare loss of competitive exams and make the whole business of coaching classes irrelevant.”

    — I agree on not controlling the education system. But now you are suggesting to control the coaching classes. Its best to leave it to the people to decide what they want. And why do you think coaching classes are a loss to the society?… Is the money disappearing somewhere?… if you look at society as a whole, money just changes hands and again gets back into the system…


    1. hi Sunil,
      The money changes in Casinos as well. Does it not lead to entropy? is it better spent in say, infra. dev (education for more)? all those hours in coaching classes for tutors/students .. are they making them more creative? i disagree, since most end up in some wall st. as above avg. crunchers


    2. I don’t see where I advocate that coaching classes should be controlled. I say that they should become irrelevant. If it were not supply constrained, all qualified students should have the opportunity to study the discipline of their choice in institutions that are capable of actually teaching. Coaching classes are a rational response (from the point of view of the individual) to a flawed system but they are not good at a societal level.


  8. I have a lot of respect for you Mr. Dey and I perfectly agree with you on the part of created shortages.

    I, howsoever, have to point out some inaccuracies on some of the statements you are making.

    “The coaching does improve an individual’s chance of getting into an IIT but its aggregate social effect is nothing at all. It just intensifies the competition. It is an educational arms-race.”

    Frankly speaking, you should visit any of these coaching you are talking about and talk to the teachers over there. Next, visit any average school and talk to the teachers over there. I am reasonably sure, you will find immense difference, not just in their knowledge, but also teaching aptitude. Coaching not only sharpens a lot of students, but also improves the quality of an average student getting in.

    “if I stand up on my seat at a stadium to get a better view of the game, some others will also do so.”

    True, but this analogy is inept. This assumes that if everybody gave up the desire to get better, the outcome would be the same. It is, howsoever, highly depended upon your premise that coaching doesn’t improve anyone. It is more like, players taking coaching at cricket camps, so that they can get better.

    “From the pool of 300,000 aspiring students who appear for the JEE, around 10,000 are selected. That’s one student out of 30. But is it true that the students ranked 10,001 to 50,000 are incapable or unprepared for studying in an IIT? Most likely, they are almost as good as those ranked above them.”

    Again, this statement assumes that IIT JEE is a bad measure of someone’s aptitude. It is actually a very tough task to filter out a hand ful from the huge pool of people applying for admissions, but assuming that 10001 to 50001 would be as good as 1-10000 is subject to hasty generalization (

    Please understand that, I am in agreement with your views that we should do something for the education of these 40000 and the rest of 9,50,000 students more and that Government should let go of the ridiculous controls it has on the educational system in the country, but the secondary attack on coaching classes isn’t really warranted for and that, this article, although sounding wise, isn’t really up to your name.


    1. I believe you have misunderstood my point. I am not dissing coaching classes. See my response above to Sunil’s comment.


  9. Whether the IITs are “better” than a University X – is subjective and open to interpretation. However, it is disappointing to see such exercises in misguided cynicism and non-sequitur analogies. To me, it hurts on a personal level.

    I grew up in a minuscule town in North India – no railway junction, no bookstore, no “English medium” school, no computers. My father works in the government and my mother is a schoolteacher. But my parents, wonderful as they are, bit the bullet and allowed me to move to Kota to prepare for the IITs. It was an intellectually demanding and fulfilling experience – and we all learnt a lot of life lessons about tenacity and perseverance. I got in with a top 50 rank and did well in the Olympiads.

    Now, it was tough to get into Computer Science at a “top ranked” IIT. My classmates were, without exception, very intelligent, hard working and extremely down to earth. Most came from fairly humble beginnings. I hope you agree that the intellectual stimulation of having the best minds in the country as peers is not treated justly by a dismissive analogy of a local train.

    Always keen to “do my own thing”, I worked with a startup in India for a while. A few years of that increased my desire for knowledge, and I came to the US for graduate school (yes, at an Ivy League university). Was IIT “better”? The universities here attract the best of from all around the world – the best professors, the best students, the best facilities. I feel blessed to be in their company, but I’m certain that my IIT degree was better preparation for life than a (albeit hypothetical) undergrad here would have been.

    I hope to start my own venture in India in the coming years – as some of my more talented classmates from IIT already have. So here it is – a kid from a small town middle class family, in a third world country, can dream of the stars and maybe even get there. And in that particular respect, the government aided and subsidized IITs, flawed as they might be, hold their own against any university in the world.

    I understand that the writer of the article did not get into an IIT undergrad program – but is brilliant, knowledgable and successful. It is reasonable that personal experiences often cloud our judgement, as they might have clouded mine. But we have to understand that mere cynicism for the sake of one-upmanship won’t lead us anywhere good, and might inadvertently misguide the future generations. Regarding the solution you mentioned in the last line, I’d like to plug for Avanti Fellows (I don’t have anything to do with them, fyi!).


    1. You wrote, “And in that particular respect, the government aided and subsidized IITs, flawed as they might be, hold their own against any university in the world.”

      One of my major points is that the subsidies given to IITs (and other tertiary education institutes) is regressive and welfare decreasing. It makes no economic sense and it just penalizes the poor. For more on this, please see my post on “Who Actually Paid for My Education.”


      1. By that logic, there should be no funding to NASA/space orgs., no country should collaborate with CERN or ILC or Kamiokande guys, and no research grant should be given mathematicians working on abstract math or to theoretical physicists/string theorists.


        1. Mr/Ms control:

          I believe that you need to distinguish between expenditures in basic research (CERN, etc) and expenditures for tertiary education (IITs, etc.)

          I leave it to you to figure out why they are different.


          1. I am surprised, but still, I’ll respectfully leave it for you to figure out how the two are strongly, in fact, very strongly linked.

            Training in technological/scientific fields is not something that is packed in boxes and delivered at appropriate stages, in appropriate places, under appropriate labels.

            Unfortunately, it has somehow become the case in India. THAT’s how Indian institutions strove for mediocrity and ended up somewhere below it. On the contrary, the US system is just the opposite – the excellent research culture in universities/technological institutes makes the system self-sustaining. It’s ironic if you look up to the standards of Harvard and at the same time expect them to achieve the same with low infrastructure at a moment when they are far from the self-sustaining threshold.

            You should also notice that currently the money that alumni donate back to IITs, typically 5-10% of the expenditure of any IIT, is miniscule compared to what is the case with say US universities.

            This was about what you call tertiary educational units. The school system requires a completely different kind of overhaul.

            Hope that will serve as some food for thought!


    2. Nice to know that a kid from
      a small town middle class family in a third world country dreamt of stars.

      This is commendable but examples like yours are cited a dozen times every day
      in every small town middle class family as a matter of HOPE and that’s NOT a
      healthy thing!

      I see this more as a warning than motivation because in an impoverished country
      like India, GETTING into IIT in itself is deemed to be an accomplishment in
      itself, an end in

      itself. This is the unfortunate part. This is a social disease.

      In the same third world country, there are impoverished and clueless yet talented
      and deserved people who don’t even know what to dream to begin with. Because
      they studied in third class state run municipal schools where they neither had
      fellow students nor the teachers worth any inspiration of any kind. They are
      usually the sons and daughters of illiterate to semi-literate cart pullers,
      poor farmers and construction

      workers and sometimes helpless Govt. servants who don’t have any option but to

      their children to the only school in the town run the state. A few exceptions
      from amongst these students exist who make to IIT and IAS but the sad part is
      they are cited again and again and again and again in the community

      make it sound more like a warning than any inspiration. In a society like ours,

      achievement and a sense of pride often have wrong connotations.

      I emphasize that this whole “dream” thing of getting quality education needs to
      be rendered irrelevant because the objective of good education is not to create
      supermen. It is create a pool of talent from who the society benefits from
      other than tax monies and repatriations of US dollars to the bogus state that
      made you eminent. This is possible only when SUPPLY of quality education is
      abundant. There is room for at least 1000 more IITs scale and above quality institutes
      and who says quality faculty works only for money?. If we have the vision, we
      can get the best faculty from the best schools in the world by paying a decent
      fee. I mean not just Indians but even
      Americans and Europeans.

      Society expects something from you fine people who benefited from our monies.
      The expectations are small. E.g. I would have expected that the combined might
      of IIT alumni should by now have pooled enough resources (at least some to get
      started and seek donors like me) to create a world class university of the
      likes of

      Harvard and MIT in India without the subsidy business. It can be completely for

      profit institute but the vision must be to educate everyone who deserves

      education in any area at any age from any economic background. Surely the
      banks, trusts, Tata’s, Birla’s and tons of corporations exist to
      finance this education. Such a university may have some moral obligations
      to assuage the cost of tuition for the poor but that is also not important.


      1. Again on the nail – especially …”GETTING into IIT in itself is deemed to be an accomplishment in itself, an end in itself. This is the unfortunate part. This is a social disease. ” – This is 10 out of 10…echoes my thought process.


    3. Ditto! Very similar story. Would like to get in touch with you good sir [if that’s possible and you don’t mind as well]. 🙂 [Btw, Avanti initiative by Rohit and others was a great one.]

      It’s not very hard to track the author’s meretricious arguments this article abounds in. Look at this for example – “I am confident that if the capacity exited, 50,000 students could enter the IITs and do as well.” – This is so ludicrous. If the author thinks that the likes of Ashoke Sen, Shiraz Minwalla, V. Gopakumar, Ashwin Vishwanathan, Kayal, Saxena, Agarwal, Motwani, Abhinav etc. are as common as an old shoe, I can only laugh at his colossal willful ignorance. The author doesn’t probably realize that his confidence has zero-potential to move a leaf, let alone the aptitude, attitude and performance of 50,000 selected students!

      Further, look at the title of this post and look at the content – he focuses damn well on the coaching business, selection procedure and the economics of the whole thing, but most of the arguments have nothing to do with what happens inside the IITs and what precisely are the problems that bedevil them internally in terms of research, teaching, training and infrastructure,,,, happens when people not in research/academia shoot beyond their expertise and wander into unchartered territories. But the current author is already notorious for it, for instance, look at this unparalleled sophistry – “Why a Vote for the AAP is a vote for the Congress”.

      Having said that, I must mention that it is also true that not being in an IIT doesn’t mean that one can’t achieve wonders in life,,, exactly like not being in Harvard doesn’t mean that you are intellectually dead. For another thing, there were great researchers even when IITs were not in existence! Clearly, the author is defending what no one is attacking, in order to frame a line of attack on his “adversaries”. Laughable!

      I have always maintained that the job of deciding the education policy must be left with top-grade researchers and professors. The economics of their plans should then be discussed with expert economists. Quack articles of these sort are nothing more than a regurgitation of rants that the author has nurtured for a long time in his subconscious – and mere anathema to the experts!


      1. Dear control .. All of the names you mentioned:

        Ashoke Sen: PHD :Stony brook

        Shiraz Minwalla: IIT MSC Princeton university PHD ( Probably secured a rank greater than 10K in his IIT JEE test so coudn’t secure admission at IITs for Btech course 😉 )

        V. Gopakumar: PHD: Princeton University

        Kayal, Saxena, Agarwal, Post Doctoral research at Princeton university.

        My 2 questions to you…

        Ques 1:Why do these guys gain fame only after they have completed their higher studies from the US?
        Ques 2:What is the difference in the marks of a student securing 10K Rank at IIT JEE and a student securing 30K rank at IIT JEE?
        In terms no of questions maked correct and no of questions marked incorrect by both of them? Lesser than 3? Are 3 questions enough to decide wether you are going to be the next Shiraz Minwalla? (Pun intended )


        1. Yep. All went abroad for PhD/post-doc.

          1. I guess most of the top brass moves out pretty early, and when they accomplish something big, they are usually in the 25-50 age bracket.

          [I spose, the real moot question is – “If an IITian/a person doesn’t go abroad, will (s)he be equally successful as a researcher?”]

          2. Nothing really to conclude anything. It’s just a discontinuous step function taking its toll.


    4. I missed out your comment,read it now, and commeting on it.

      While, your success is brilliant, but the fact is that IIT system did not have any role to play. That’s largely due to your hard work, brilliance and determination. And you would have been at this position, even without IIT, as your are brilliant. The only thing which would have changed is the time, without IIT, it takes 10 years, with IIT, it takes 3 years to achieve the stardom.

      For that matter, even I have got an offer from university of edinburgh, took me 9 years, no entrance, but the course is really brilliant, and the university is part of russell group of UK. And edinburgh is the reason which made british superpower, as well as, usa the superpower because 16 signatories of usa freedom were from edinburgh, that’s all history though, and is debated of another day.

      And that’s the point, which author is trying to convince. What value addition IIT system brings in to the Indian society? IIT were created under public law 480, because Indian government used to import wheats from western world, yes, contrary to popular belief that IIT was vision of nehru’s scientific temper and all other stories, the fact is that foreign nations set up IIT here. And in those days, they used to have student exchange program, and there were no entrances.

      Once the task of running IIT were handed over to Indian government, the government has destroyed it. Indian industries never supported IIT in anyways.


  10. hi Atanu

    I am not debating about the Quality of education in IITsI contend that the IIT JEE has a huge bias for kids who can spend huge amount of time/money on prep. This was not true in 80’s, though. That means majority of these successful candidates come from affluent families. So, disagree that kids with rich dads are super intelligent. they have a huge head-start. its known to Government and officials and the people at vantage point. So it goes on


    1. You wrote, ” So, disagree that kids with rich dads are super intelligent. they have a huge head-start.”

      I did not claim that kids of rich people are super intelligent. Therefore you cannot disagree with a point that has not been made.


  11. hi, i saw your comment on deeshaa about IITs. I wanted to get some discussion offline if you are upto it 🙂


    1. also, Why should government subsidize on higher ed (anything +2 is higher when our datum is so low. Bring more people to level playing ground than siphoning off poor for providing IIT subsidies ? Yet, I am not communist 🙂


      1. Good. See the post I referred to above about who actually paid for my education — where I argue that the subsidies I got were paid by the poor.


  12. a) I agree with 75% of this post, about needless govt subsidies for undergraduate programs, etc.
    b) However, I think the subsidy program should have instead been a grant program for research projects, like NSF/MURI/DARPA in the US.
    c) Judging any university by its undergraduate program is less than half the story, as it should be (and will always be) judged by the research output of its PhDs. When we talk about the lack of nobel prize winners out of IITs, it is pointless to focus on the undergraduates or JEE. One should be talking about GATE and the PhD programs and the funding for them. JEE is close to irrelevant to research and scientific output. Many of the undergrads go to the West into research programs and their scientific output is huge. They did not have the facilities or funding to pursue research in India.
    d) The undergraduate program is a selection oriented program. It already cherry picks the best and the 4 year program does not impart any great add-on value. And, this is similar to Ivy league cherry picking. The only difference is that Ivy league has evolved from focusing purely on a written exam to a holistic evaluation of a student, but the rat race is just as strong. See Malcom Gladwell’s article on this here:
    e) Coaching is not a problem per se. In my time, it was way better than school teaching and quite valuable (if used voluntarily and as one component). I disagree strongly with those against coaching (and those arguing that scores in board exams be incorporated into admission criteria). However, coaching has become expensive and somewhat narrow.
    f) Continuing on from my previous point, the way to fix it is not to ban coaching or change the admission criteria, but to ensure there are more good quality private and public universities, so that JEE is not the only game in town. The problem in Indian policy making is that criticism does not lead to good policy choices. Instead of doing the hard work of expanding supply of good institutions, people clamor for changing the admission criteria or labeling more building as IITs, or banning coaching. Any person can see that these measures will not solve anything.

    g) I also disagree strongly with those who question the contribution of IIT undergrads to India or the world. No individual can be faulted for working in his best interest, as long as it is ethical and meritocratic. And, again, scientific output relies on funding and research programs, not undergrad programs. Undergrads are incentivized and attracted by good PhDs and research professors, not the other way around. Thousands of IIT undergrads are contributing to research in the West. And, just to make it clear, from my point d, its not IIT that creates good researchers, but its the students themselves. And, the only way to fix it is to have a national research funding program.
    h) Increase in funding (and nobel prize winners) will come only with economic growth and expansion of research programs.

    i) The problems of economic growth do not require rocket science but solving basic policy issues. We need more research programs in policy making, political economy, economics, etc rather than science.


  13. Anybody knows what was the guy’s AIR? I had researched this a few years ago and found out he didn’t qualify. Not SC/ST OBS or Gen, he didn’t qualify at all.


    1. AK, I am not a sympathizer of Murthy. However, just because his son did not qualify in JEE, it does not mean that that guy is incompetent. In fact, degrees (from IIT, HYPMS) and learning are two different things: very few have both (degrees and learning); majority goes for degrees; the curious bunch out there have just one (learning).

      The real problem lies elsewhere: these ‘elite’ and not-so elite schools have filtered candidates for companies to do the recruiting. In other words, these schools are doing the work for the corporate.

      Lets recall the story of Eklavaya, who learned on his own. There is an Indian saying: as long as one is curious and want to learn, he will find a teacher in some form (a set of books, a set of experiences or a person, a combination of any of them).

      The modern education has PERVERTED the process of learning!!


      1. I wasn’t calling Murthy an incompetent bitch(which I’ll never, I can’t. The man is a biz genius) and neither his son!

        I just wanted to get into the truth of this rhetoric(often posted in reference to reservation) that Murthy’s son didn’t get into IIT(they put it like ‘because of reservation’) and that is why poor helpless fellow had to be satisfied with Stanford. Injustice. Merciless reservation. Well, I also wrote IIT JEE in 2006 and had a score of 108(P)+118(M)+8(C) which is not sth stellar (because it returned FAIL) but I would say it’s respectable at least. Well, it doesn’t count now. I didn’t make it. That’s one of the two regrets I still have that I should have stopped hating Chemistry. I am now in peace with the fact that why I also had to pass a subject which I never needed and will never need. I blamed the system and to some extend I still do. Afterwards I was trying like crazies to get into one of those Ivy UG schools(dropped an year and of course wrote JEE again, had less scores – 2 in Chem this time). Hell even somewhere in Singapore or so. Couldn’t. Lack of knowledge, somewhat funds too and mostly determination. But then slowly, after I grew up and finished college(a NIT, initially grudgingly but later I loved the years and would give anything to go back to the same campus again) and realised that Chemistry being a entirely different language than the other two is actually important to make you “learn” or rather say learn to learn. (Not exactly in the way Sibbal has made it but it’s important).

        So, my rambling – he didn’t make it. According to JEE criteria/rules/law/whatever he was not competent enough to get into an IIT just like me and lakhs other. End of story.

        PS. I am an OBC by birth but I never had a caste-certificate. My parents were educated (Intermediate – dad – 4th grade clerical post, (late) mother – matriculation – nurse) and had jobs, they could afford my education. Did. Maybe I was an idealist to not have that certificate with me but my reason was not that I opposed the reservation but because I thought I ought to leave it to someone who deserved it(I didn’t at all). Unfortunately things don’t work out and most of the guy who came to my NIT on reservation were all Kota returned, had spikes and taught me difference between deo and scent. Mostly rich. Some filthy rich. Using reservation for 1-2 last generations in their families. My roomie in 1st year was SC and his father had been a businessman for years and now did contracting for Railways and his mom was a college principal. He changed bikes every 6 months or so. Got a schol form govt every six months which was more than tuition+mess+hostel fee. Oh, he didn’t have to pay anything other than mess fee, or maybe sth(not sure).

        After meeting him I remembered my school mate(back in my village) Ajay, he was a SC too and I hated that fcuker(guess I still do). I never could come 1st in my class till class 9th. He did. I stood first in class 10, he had left school previous year. His father had died of some fever. I am in touch with him. He kept his love for books. In my village in Bihar he is the only person I talk to in English (he prefers it, he says it will help him keep the lingua alive). He is a Govt teacher now. Later he finished schooling and did BA somehow. Motherfcker solved mathematics in a way that I felt like smashing his head with some stone out of jealously and he chose history, just out of passion. Made me feel ashamed again. Here I, an eternal literature lover, chose Engineering because it was safe.

        I also know some Brahman guys who couldn’t make it just like Ajay though their number is extremely lesser than Ajays (plural). But neither can be discarded. Ending reservation is not the solution.

        Shit, nobody writes such a long post script.


        1. I had cleared IIIT-BANGALORE entrance exam, no coaching ,no preparation, just went there. IIT-JEE once upon a time used to attract such raw talent. And oh yes, now again, got short listed for S P JAIN. And i cannot clear CAT -IIM, how soever hard I may try. And by any means, I am not a pushover, I also am a topper of science. Indian Education system, the government one somehow is made to kills innovation, talent and creativity.


  14. even if you dont compare the iits with an ivy league institution you can still see how the iit’s (inspite of being the so-called best colleges of the country) have innumerable flaws. and without doubt our government is responsible fr 99% of these flaws. among these the most horrendous is the reservation for the so called sc,st,obc etc system. considering how desparate people are to get into an iit its literally a sin against the general quota people to reserve a seat in an iit & dat too at less than half the cutoff for the general. our HONOURABLE ministers have been commenting dat the quality of iit students is decreasing due to board marks ignorance etc but how can they ignore the very obvious fact that it is first & foremost due to these quotas. as an iit aspirant myself ive seen extremely talented students who missed the iit cutoff narrowly & hence were deprived the chances of studying in it but another sc student who actually failed in the first attempt in cbse boards but later gave a compartment test and then studying in one of iits only on the grounds of caste. what will be their quality when they pass out? moreover apart from the usual examination blues, engineering students have to go through a lot if they arent successful in the jee. since i too was not successful in my first attempt i know how it feels. not just parents but everyone else suddenly appears out of the moon to comment on you & your intellect even if they are meeting you for the 1st time in deir lives! we hear so many cases of students commiting suicides or going into depression. some consider their careers to be shattered. all this just because they dint get into one of those miserable colleges. who will explain to them that they r in no way any less than those iitians? & do those iitians end up serving in india? no 90% of them become an imported brainy package for the usa,uk etc! is this why the iits were started in india?


    1. 1) Those guys were brainy packages with or without IIT label. IIT only selects them, so lets not put the credit on IIT but it should be on the individual.

      2) Majority of them actually stay back.. so 90% is an exaggeration.

      3) Those who go out still maintain links back to India and contribute immensely in money inflow, know how sharing, business relationships, etc, etc. They serve India more than some who stay back, because the domestic system is pathetic and does not let the ones who stay back prosper as much. Serving the country doesn’t have to be done sitting in India.

      4) The problem is we don’t have good alternatives to IITs because politicians own most of the next tier sub-standard degree churning colleges. That is the problem that needs to be fixed. Which additionally means, removing the license permit system and restrictions on foreign or private institutes. If that is done, IIT will not be a big deal and the problems you speak of will be solved.


      1. Back then, in 90s when indian forecasters predicted the explosion of indian population, the committee and politicians never took action, which is not surprising. At that time, the seats of IITs should have been increased. But government gives budgets to IIT, hence they have their own reasoning on all this. I think IIT system was an experiment, and now government is not showing any interest in that. And people such as Narayan murthy ete cannot be wrong. Many IIT deans themselves are saying that government of india is systematically withering IIT system. Why is that government of India never shows any intent to get IIT graduates back? Who can stop government? IIT graduates are suffering because of this lackluster policies of government. Not to forget, coaching industries have made a niche business here. And no, coaching factories won’t stop, they provide employment to lot of youngsters in our nation.


    2. IIT system has flaw in it, there’s no doubt. I have never heard an Engineering school admitting candidates on the basis of an Entrance Exam. This applies to overall indian engineering education anyways, but then, IIT-JEE is something which is supposed to separate the grain from the chaff. IIT undergraduates have achieved success, but that’s because of their own hard work and opportunity in the US. I don’t understand what IIT has added value in them? But then, I will say anyone can become an entrepreneur actually. That’s the whole point. IIT is being made rotten by the politicians and administrators who lack vision. And I believe that government is slowly making a case to wither or destroy IIT system actually. The very reason that why IITs were created has failed and government knows this, and there’s no point in backing something which is a failure.


    3. Government is doing its work of taking all strata of Indian society across the growth ladder. Among various schemes and options – this is one of the methods they implement. I am neither supporting it nor denouncing it. But my reply is that there is no reason for IITs to fail because of these quotas in the institute. This is the most ridiculous logic ever!. Simple logic – IITs and similar institution in India fails (to innovate) for Indian society because like the Stanford , MIT’s etc. they are not solving problems of their society but of the problems of other society. Ponder over this and you will understand that this is true.


      1. Agreed. Your points are true, where you said that only innovation indian mind has done is negating others.

        Indians, even to this day, still study the marxist version of history, where it is taught that harrappa was destroyed by rig vedic aryans. They think that it is part of their destiny.

        Why don’t they rise above such things and do what those aryans did, considering that they accept it as true?


    4. The comparison is meaningless. IIT undergraduates themselves flock to study their post graduate from ivy leagues abroad, then what purpose has IIT system achieved? And whatever success IIT alumni boasts of, it is by getting trained on foreign soil.


  15. At the end of the IITs are just normal engineering colleges. What made them different was that a lot of smart kids studied together.But this quality of IIT which made it stand out is not dimnishing because of the reservation system and the level of paper being such that it appears favourable to those who ratiify rather than understand.

    All questions being raised on the quality of IITs have only one answer, which is the kind of people you are putting there.


    1. No …..not the people alone. Engineering institutes of a nation will solve the problems of that nation and not those of another nation.


    2. Many non IITians also have been successful. But there success came abroad. They got trained on the infrastructure and under the guidance of people there, not here. There’s a difference.


  16. As mismanaged as India is there will always be plenty of brilliant people in absolute terms when you have a 1+ billion population. However, in per capita terms…Well you get the idea.


  17. IITs and Ivys produce super number crunchers, algorithm-suckers, beasts who thrive in the world of kernel programming and low level I/O……..all this is cool. Algorithms lie at the heart of any sound and successful business idea. However, one does not need much of a grand education (branded or otherwise) to think of the next cool business application. Branding of education is an unfortunate consequence of the “business of education”, something which private US schools are very deep into and something that the IITs try keeping pace with through their glorious alumni. Instead, those schools which produce outcomes of practical usage (if not too deep into number-crunching) stand higher in my opinion. As an example, UC Irvine doctoral student Roy Fielding proposed the concept of REST which is something of a backbone of APIs.. what were the glorious IITians or Cornell grads doing then? Branding up their super-hyped orientations and graduation ceremonies?


    1. Fallacy. Any one can write alogrithms, you need to train people first. IIT education trains comp sci graduates on those problems which are applied in the US corporates such as microsoft, amazon. That’s it.


    1. Analogy between queuing up for maruti and mercedes benz immediate availability will be perfect. As per Indian mentality, maruti cars will be world class because one has to wait for almost 3-4 months to get that item, means competition, long wait. But merceded benz can be purchased immediately with money. Means the quality sucks. Similarly, clearing IIT entrance means genius, studying in a top notch engineering college on the basis of paying high fees is stupid (NOTE: NOT TALKING ABOUT THOSE DUMB PEOPLE WHO PAY MANAGEMENT FEES TO GET ADMISSION)


  18. Hi atanu,

    Nice blog, and it echoes my thought.

    Now I will add something here, according to me, IIT/IIM are the institute of working class, now don’t get me wrong. The purpose of IIT/IIM is mainly to make the working class people of this nation to move up the ladder. There are universities of several kind, meant for aristocrats, who mainly are home tutored, and actually, belong to intellectual class of a society, they will be law givers,economists, planners, etc. Second is meant for noble class, they might belong to the erstwhile working class or those people who have money, these people will usually form long business, corporate, or something, but there purpose will never be to attain money, they will even write poems or perform arts. third category belongs to working class, these are people who study to get a job and move up the value chain. IIT/IIM belongs here. India has such a vast amount of population of working class people or middle class, hence the horde or madness to join IIT/IIM is amongst them.


    1. Absolutely agree with you….its all about rat race….one should follow his passion/interest….its a pressure on students beyond their will…To be established in society….meet the expectations of family…etc
      Though some are interested in engg…some are not….


    2. You are also right in a way…and we cannot expect innovations from these institutes. Its just another institute. The world has not heard them.


      1. What India needs is university. It is university where research happens. The world’s finest minds have thrived in university. Chanakya from takshila and many more. IIT/IIM are institutions and they are opened to provide consulting to Indian government and they are successful it that. Their flagship courses such as B.Tech, PGP etc are a way to sustain themselves and impart training skills. I don’t know why are they glorified. Technical education is not even something which is pursued by the bright brains.

        Also, not to forget, the claim that their graduates are best and brightest is bit of a fallacy. Yes the graduates are good, because they have excelled in one process, whose implementation can be a subject of debate, but leave aside that for the time being. Do IIT/IIM accept foreign candidates? Now, I am not talking about US/UK people, they are advanced, But why don’t IIT/IIM calls the graduates from southern pacific countries or australia? Something is definitely wrong with IIT system.


        1. I agree about building such universities. But if we do not do it differently – my concern is that even the brightest minds would not innovate there. It’s very simple – somewhere in one of your comments you had said that many think[sic] getting into an IIT itself is an achievement – an end in itself. I would add further they become like a spent up force. This
          achievement is what makes them go to temple and forfeit their hair after getting an IIT seat. Isn’t this true?. This entry was not actually needed for achieving their passion in Electronics or Mechanical engg or whatever. This
          entry was needed only for achieving an Indian’s normal wants – food , shelter , clothing and sex. The Indian society is made to point towards these parameters only not only because of population but also due to various conditioning. An example – One of the foreign students asked a simple question in a blog (addressed to all Indians) to just imply that we blindly copy – the question is – why use a car in India that has glass windows that lets heat inside and then use A/Cs to
          cool the insides. In the developed nations which are more or less very cold and probably sub-zero temperatures….it’s needed to have glass windows to let heat inside. Again this example which I quoted may not exactly be relevant but
          would convey the point that as a society our use cases are totally different from an American or an German. America needs online stores – why? – may be less population , mostly very cold climate , nearest shopping could be miles – even
          90 to 100 miles etc. Automation , online stores are needed for them. Do we need them?. It could benefit us but not without issues – look at the war between shopping retailers and online retailers. It’s not going to stop. We could state
          many such examples. If we design the institutes as per what you said – which I agree – we must inculcate a new thinking process and completely (100% removal) of rote learning. No written exams at all but direct practical testing only.


          1. Agreed. I have written a blog on the same thing. I have visited IISC open’s day event and found that even there, people don’t talk about indian model of science and technology. They were showcasing solutions, machines etc which belong to west. Until and unless we don’t create Indian model of Science and Technology, nothing will change.

            As for jobs, studying and clearing entrances are not even required to acquire them. Jobs are obtained by skills, not by writing exams.


            1. Absolutely
              true. An Indian would then innovate for the needs of our society not
              in the western way but through this Indian model.


  19. Wow. This guy thinks the government is responsible for the lackluster performance of IITs. He compares getting into IITs with getting into a local mumbai train. And he thinks the Indian government is strangling the IITs with socialist policies and manufactured shortage.

    Does he have a clue? There are private engineering colleges in every nook and corner of this country. It’s just that no talented student cares about them.

    He compares IITs with ivy league. Harvard has an endowment of 30 billion dollars. IITs have to make do with $150 million annual budget. Shouldn’t comparison be made when the amount of money is comparable?

    It’s a matter of resources people. Plain and simple.


    1. Government is responsible for this lacklusture performance of IIT. I don’t have anything against IIT graduates, they were bright and their success is on their plain hard work. I don’t see how IIT system added any value in them? That’s what the post is all about. IIT is indeed not what the madness for IIT JEE should have suggested. The bootcamp training for IIT JEE, man, I mean, come one, you don’t become an Engineer by writing exams. You have to build a working model. Indian Engineers lack skills, there’s no point in this. IITs were supposed to impart such skills, the IIT graduates, I believe would have loved to help fellow Indians by teaching them, but somehow, the policies are too against them. It is good that IITians just go abroad, why shall they waste time here? And I have already said, government wants IITs to shut down, they know that they did not serve the purpose which they were supposed to, due to their own failures, the government’s failure.


      1. Also sir – IITs will never innovate even if government supports them 25*8 and pump them with every dollar tax of an Indian. The reason – jet engines , aero models and likes are not the wants of our scoiety and therefore will never be consumed by Indian society. Any product how much ever poor quality it is and if that is what caters to Indian society – that is where you can innovate and sell to Indian public. Also worst is due to lowest standards of thinking – solution for an Indian need will never address a global need as Indian needs are vastly and totally different from global world. The sooner we realize the better we channelize fund and support that whole heartedly. The quality of Indian movie industry is highly questionable but still they make money – why? . That is why an IITian or any other engineering graduate who is passionate on creating jet engines , magnetic trains and the like will need to go to advanced societies where they need them and not in India. Why will the government provide channels for developing these?. IT services industry in India too made money by providing services for global economy in the advanced societies and not for India. Internet doesn’t run business in India but for the world – yes!!. Smart phone doesn’t run business in India. eGovernance – total zero!. Government will help only if you help Indian society and not otherwise. This is my feeling…and thought process too.


    2. Friend – its not the budget. Their institutions need 30 bn USD and more to create innovative solutions for the problems their society faces or what their society wants. We need budget to research and create innovative solutions for the problems and wants of our society. It all boils to use case my friend. Our use cases are different. Indian society doesn’t need smart phones , jet rockets or an online retail store. Remove all this and still India’s wants will be addressed. But remove all these from US society and see what happens.


  20. People take admission in IIT to get lucrative jobs
    I was one of the hundreds of students of IIT coaching , students there used to say it when asked by teachers ‘why you are doing coaching’ …’to get good jobs’
    That’a all was there dream.
    I suppose nobody goes to IIT to study computer science or mechanical engineering, they go there to get ‘good jobs’
    This is the reason why computer science courses finish early during counselling …Computer Science=Better Job=Fat salary
    there is no room for learning..


    1. Yes, wasted my one year. I was so passionate about mechanical engineering that I had finished keplent and kolenkow by the time I pased out of my 12th class in CBSE and was waiting to join coaching institutes. But then, I don’t know what happened, I thought IITs are best place to study Engineering on this planet, and i fell in trap. Wasted my father’s hard earned money, I still feel very bad about this.

      And, in India, people don’t study Engineering to understand and practice it and make or create something. It is just to get a secure job.

      Result of this mess – passionate engineers of our nation are dying a slow death.


  21. Hello Atanu,

    >>get the Indian government out of the life-blood-sucking control of education

    Couldn’t agree more with the inference. One thing which govt does consistently is the disruption of price signals, usually after their intervention ‘invisible hand’ is no where to be seen.

    IITs have a huge appeal but their fees never sky-rocket, but as you explained nor does the quality of education. Good quality education demands capital investment; as they say “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”, but then Indian govt is in love with mal-investments and dependency.

    If we let prices work then automatically choices will emerge, it lets market know where it needs to optimize and where additional investment is needed, competition brings down the cost, resource allocations will match the demand & you will get what you pay for. Lets have good laws which can enforce transparency and let the market manage the delivery of education.


  22. Well, to be honest, I don’t think so that an IIT/IIM education adds any value. I means, if it is opening a shop of apps development etc, then anyone can do it, and by anyone, I mean anyone. Of late, I have not heard any Engineer of the caliber of james watts produced by IITians anyways. And I believe, that quality of IIT/IIM has gone down, because now those who join it belong to working class people of India. Back then, at least kids from good/decent family used to join it, so they had good thinking. The universities meant for working class people are always vocational/trade school and it is a fact that the hoardes or masses always turn a place as per their thinking. IIT/IIM has now become a trade school, not a place of thinkers. People may think I am being too cynical here just because I could make it, but I have posted this after my own observation.


  23. I understood this long b4, that y i used all coaching money in the pool and snooker rooms….and have big fun…guess what i dont regret that even after 14 years.


  24. U r no one to writ
    On backward classes.. Ur nt very intellectual person.. Go to history mr.. But as said on can’t stop barkin street dogs and their r many.. Mr atanu


    1. Oh yes, I attended IIT Kanpur.

      But I also attended the University of California at Berkeley (PhD), Stanford University, and Rutgers University. They make the world rankings. Have you heard of them?

      Fact is that IITs are OK technical schools but they really don’t get a place in any global ranking of institutions of higher education. That fact is very unfortunate for India — that India’s best technical schools don’t make the global cut.


  25. Which makes me to ask one question.

    Why is that Indian education system is focused mainly on technical and management studies? What about economics, political science, liberal arts, fine arts?

    Where is sports? We know the tally of medal in olympics. I don’t consider cricket a sport anyways.

    This shows the psyche of Indians. They aspire nothing.

    Sad, that the land which produced arthashashtri kautilya is looming in darkness.


  26. I like the blog and intent behind. Agree that coaching classes makes it worse. I also liked the comment by Bihar NIIT student. This reminded me of my friend’s brother in 1970s who came first in high school and was eligible for MBBS, but as his father could not afford, he joined as a telecom operator based on his marks. The school 2nd became engineer and went to US.
    In our time, most of the telecom employees are brilliant students, but from poor back grounds.

    If IITs target rich students, it would not solve any other than creating greed and money gathering techniques by parents to afford the fees


  27. I’m a senior student from FIITJEE. This is what I’m exactly trying to say. 🙂 This post is absolutely true. Thank you for showing interest to bring awareness.


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