The under-graduate education has expanded in India like anything in the last decade or so. But the graduate education enrollment remains very poor, particularly in engineering, and even more starkly so in IT areas, viz., Computer Science, Electronics, Communication, etc. And the PhD students are an even rare breed.
The academic community appears to be unanimous in arguing that the shortage of PhD students is the biggest challenge that they face. But are they really serious about solving the problem. I have my doubts.
I recall an incident that happened during a panel discussion in IISc Bangalore in December 2009 on this issue, where I pointed out that there are a large number of excellent students in NITs and other top non-IIT schools in the country, who for whatever reason had not given GATE, but nevertheless are interested in doing PhD. And I said that IITs would not consider such students because they are too rigid about the GATE requirement.
When I made this comment, one person came on the stage, introduced himself as a Dean of one of the IITs, and said that I don't know what I am talking about. I am outdated and worse. He said that his IIT admits students without GATE, if the student has excellent academic record.
It was very embarrassing, and I really did not know what to say at that point. But just a couple of months later, a student came to my office. I was Director of LNMIIT at that time. This girl was the topper of the graduating batch (and indeed received the Gold Medal after that semester), and she had the best paper award in ICC, a tier 1 conference in Communications. She wanted to do PhD but had not given GATE. I promptly asked my friends in this IIT, where the Dean had proclaimed that they admit students without GATE.
I am sure most of you can guess what would have happened. I was told - no admission without GATE. When I pointed out to this incident in IISc Bangalore, I was told that that IIT had indeed admitted a couple of students in the previous year without GATE, and that is why the Dean was right in saying what he was saying, but they found the quality of those students not so good, and hence have decided not to admit any more non-GATE students.
So, here is a student, a topper of one of the best IT schools outside the IIT system, and who has got the best paper award in a tier 1 conference, and she cannot get admission in any of the 4-5 IITs that she enquired from. Forget admission, she was not even considered eligible to be considered. Now, how many times have you heard of an Indian under-graduate student getting the best paper award in a Tier -1 conference in the world. And if most IITs would consider her ineligible for admission, then the obvious question is, are we serious about PhD program.
One of my colleague once said that we talk about PhD program because it is in fashion to talk about research, and we need to justify not doing research. But we really don't want to admit more PhD students because we are afraid we will have to work harder. I didn't believe him at that time, but when this incident happened last year, I remembered his words.
I have since talked to many faculty members in different NITs and other good schools outside the IIT system. I am told that most of the top students don't write GATE. The form has to be filled up at a time when they are sure of a good job, and by the time they feel that they may consider higher education as an option, the deadline for submitting the form is over. And all these students are rendered ineligible as a result.
I have heard the primary excuses. Ministry of HRD insists on GATE requirement is the excuse offered most commonly. Well, MHRD only says that you can't pay assistantship from MHRD funds to a non-GATE qualified student. Today, all IITs have enough alumni funds to support a few non-GATE students. (And we are talking about supporting the student only for the first 8 months or so, since you can always ask the student to give GATE next year, and give financial assistantship out of MHRD funds after s/he gets a good GATE score.) The second excuse is that if we do not have "objective" barriers to admission, then there will be lot of poor quality admission because of "pressures." Frankly, if a faculty member feels that s/he can be forced to admit several poor quality students, then s/he is in the wrong profession. Should resign and leave.
I am sure there are other more innovative excuses. I am all for innovation, so please share your excuse with me. Write a common on this blog.