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Friday, August 26, 2011

IIMs want a gender-balanced classroom

Apparently, IIMs see a value in having a diverse classroom. In the front page news report, aTimes of India informs us that many IIMs will add up to 30 marks for female applicants, when they decide the merit list for admission.

This reminds me of a blog article that I wrote long time ago. In that article, the focus was JEE and admission to IITs, and I had argued that something had to be done to improve the gender ratio in our top academic institutes. One of the suggestions I had at that time was to add some marks to the JEE score of girl applicants.

I went through some of the reader comments on ToI website, and you find the expected arguments. If girls (may I say ladies, since all applicants to IIMs are adults) are good enough, they should come in on their own merit. They don't say it, but the obvious implication is that the ladies are not good enough. How come they score well in school, and their marks are marginally higher than the boys in school. There is an answer to that too. One comment says, "girls are good at cramming, while boys have better brains." I thought schools teach more of concepts, and coaching for admission tests teach more of tricks. But I let it pass.

Some others have commented that ladies are not interested in business administration. (Coming to IITs, it would translate to girls not being interested in STEM fields.) Of course, what is the basis of this sweeping statement. The comments are silent on that. Why would a girl who chooses to study science subjects in 11th and 12th class would suddenly decide in 12th class that she is not interested in pursuing under-graduate education in STEM fields. Is there any data to support such a statement (data showing that after 12th class, they change their discipline and study non-STEM fields). Well, the data from engineering admissions show that the problem of gender imbalance is only in the top 50-100 colleges. This debunks the theory that girls are not in IITs because they are not interested. I am sure similar data from management schools other than the top 50-100 would show that ladies are indeed interested in business administration, but they are not getting admission to top 50-100 schools.

One possibility that readers on ToI website would not want to consider is that perhaps the admission process inherently favours the men. One reader suggests that this is not the case by arguing that CAT is very simple exam. It checks things that any good student should know. Well, if that is the case, why is CAT coaching next only to JEE coaching in this country. And if the admission process has an inherent bias against ladies, then wouldn't it be in the fitness of things that that bias be counter-balanced by adding certain marks to ladies' score.

Of course, the difficulty that one faces is that there is no easy way to compute the effect of that bias in terms of marks. And hence, an academician would like to stay away from calling such a thing as an exercise in removing bias. Also, to suggest that this is being done to counter biases in the admission process, would imply that one admits that the admission process is not perfect. Any honourable academic should admit that there is no perfect admission process, since admission process amounts to predicting success of individuals in the long run, where the situation would be very different from the situation at the time of admission. And if I could see the future so clearly, I wouldn't be an academician. I would probably help more people (and make more money too) by telling them their future. But admission process is managed by a specialized breed of academicians, called academic administrators. And this breed finds it extremely difficult to admit even the obvious.

But what is there in the name. As Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." At least some academic administrators are showing leadership and solving a serious problem. Let them call it gender-balancing. Let them call it diversification of student body.

By the way, this method of countering the biases, is followed in all top schools in the world. If, from your admission application, it is obvious that you had a particular hardship or a situation which would adversely affect your marks, that is taken into account while deciding the admission. In India, we are so afraid of any subjective evaluation (for good reason, I must quickly add) that we can't do such a thing on a case to case basis, and therefore have to apply any process identically to a large group.

This method of countering biases is extremely powerful for the simple reason that you could identify a large number of biases and decided on a year-to-year basis how to counter for each such bias. I can see that in future, this has the potential to replace reservation system. I should ideally check for each applicant what all hardships one has gone through, and give additional credit to that applicant to counter the bias introduced by that hardship. So, one may give certain amount of credit, if the applicant did not have access to a city school. One may give some credit, if both parents are non-graduates. One may give some credit, if one of the parents was always away defending the borders in a warlike situation. If tomorrow, we come up with a transparent system of finding out the financial status of an applicant, then that could correspond to some credits. If we can do all this, then our education system becomes truly inclusive, and we will no longer need a reservation system which only looks at one parameter - caste. But that is a long way to go.


21 comments:

jayajha said...

There is no reason to believe that girls are not good enough or they are not interested in STEM/Business Administration fields.

But do we have an idea of what are the "biases" in the admission process that prevents them from entering the top institution? Without that any countering mechanism will be the reason of discomfort. Since we shy away so much from the subjectivity in the process, we can't even say that selectors are personally biased against women. Then what is it?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@jaya, I can talk more confidently about IIT JEE than any other admission process. The exam is such that it encourages coaching. And girls go through coaching much less than boys. Mostly, parents are not comfortable sending girls to Kota (and now Hyderabad). Even within the same city, parents feel uncomfortable with the idea of girls remaining outside home through out the day, most days of the week. And many a times, parents are not willing to spend as much money on coaching for girls as they would be on boys. If the admission process ignores such societal realities, the university is going to miss out on a large number of top class students. So, either you change your admission process to something which does not require as much coaching, or you compensate for lack of coaching of those who could not go through coaching. The discomfort will be there still, since even if you agree with all this, it would be still difficult to come up with a single right number. It would still be difficult to justify that a particular girl who did not have this handicap is also given extra marks. And the bottom line is that you either go completely to a subjective evaluation of all handicaps of all short-listed candidates, or you have broad rules which lead to greater good, but may not be fair in individual cases.

Ullas Sharma said...

I guess to understand the problem better, one has to analyze data. Without that, everything is just a hypothesis.

I would look for 2 things first:

1. The most obvious one - Compare the ratio of women:men who applied for CAT with the ratio of those who got selected
2. Co-relation between academic performance and selection to IIM for men and women separately for top 5000 or 10000 applicants.

The above excercise can be done by the institutes themselves.

If it is possible to gather data on coaching etc. for men and women and the co-relation between coaching and admission, that would serve as the next level analysis.

My experience is that the biggest handicap for people is because of their socio-econonic class. Hence, people coming from smaller towns/villages and from lower middle class or lower class face daunting challenges as compared to people from upper middle class families in big cities. What is also interesting is that women from disadvantaged socio-economic classes face far more discrimination as compared to their big city upper class counterparts. I have seen in organizations that tried to promote more women to Executive ranks, that the beneficiaries were women from the top strata of the society who probably faced little or no social discrimination. (I had recently gone to drop my daughter at the airport for a trip to Srilanka to participate in a Model United Nations program. The school had charged a tidy sum as they made good money out of it. Out of 8 students from their various branches in NCR, 6 were girls and only 2 were boys). I have no hesitation in saying that my daughter would have an unfair advantage due to the proposed rules if she decided to appear for CAT.

90% candidates selected for CAT are Engineers with a majority of them from IITs. If IITs themselves have a low percentage of women graduating, naturally, there is a problem at the input layer itself.

I am personally not in favor of providing a bad solution to a problem that should be fixed at the social level or at least not providing a solution until we have enough data driven insights into the problem that considers multiple dimensions including socio-economic class, big city vs small town vs village etc.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Ullas, The first data that you are asking for is essentially to eliminate the possibility that may be women are not interested in business administration. If there are very few women giving CAT, there would obviously be very few women getting selected. As I said in my blog, I don't have this data. But my point is that it is easy to verify whether women are interested in business administration or not, even without specific data from CAT. If we look at management schools which are not in top 50 or so, do we still see 90% students being men. If not, then it is obvious that interest is not the issue. And I point out in the blog that at least for engineering colleges, one sees that the serious gender imbalance is there only in the top 50-100 colleges. Regarding your second question, again, I don't have data from management schools, but in engineering colleges, I am aware of many people studying correlations between pre-engineering performance and college performance, and pointing out that the best correlation is between school performance and college performance (and not with JEE/AIEEE performance), and we all know that in terms of school performance, there is very small difference between boys and girls (and that small difference is in favour of girls).

I also checked with a few students who have been to Kota for JEE coaching, and they tell me that it is mostly boys who go for coaching to Kota. (Not very scientific way of gathering data, but I don't think you will doubt this. This is so obvious.)

In summary, I don't have any data for management schools. I do have some data for engineering colleges, and it convinces me that the admission process leaves out a lot of girls whose talent is no less than the boys who are getting selected. And therefore, a strong doubt that something similar may be happening in management admissions as well.

gautam said...

In JEE 2011, the percentage of girl applicants was 22% while the percentage that qualified was 11% (after rounding off).
If society is not willing to invest money on girls taking up coaching, should we not put pressure on "civil society" rather than berate "academic administrators"?
The percentage of girls in the NITs is higher than in the IITs ( i dont have data unfortunately) and it is even higher in private colleges. So the conclusion is clear: bias against girls by their parents. let us put pressure on them. Of course "academic administrators" need to reduce the impact of coaching on results and there is a lot of debate and effort on this right now.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@gautam, Sorry, don't agree. Academic administrators have to find ways to attract the best talent with the given constraints. If society and culture are constraints, they still have to see what best they can do, rather than hope and wait for those constraints to go away.

doiknow said...

Let me say upfront that I think women have to face more difficulties than men do for getting into Science in all parts of the world. But, I still think that "interest" plays a role. I speak with reference to my experience in doing Computer Science while pursuing PhD in Europe.

The argument that there are enough women in lower end colleges therefore women are interested in science should be taken with caution. For this argument to be valid, we also need to show that, in those colleges, women choose a scientific career with equal probability as compared to men and they are not there just because one goes to some college.

The meaning of word "interest" is complicated. A girl may be very much personally interested in Science. But due to lack of encouragement or perceived unattractiveness of the career, she may not pursue it. She may join in a lower end science college. Most likely, she will not end up being a career scientist. Cultural context suppress women participation not only physically or financially but also by manufacturing interests. Therefore, the "interest argument" should not be dismissed so easily.

In science, I have seen so many ethnic, race, gender, and nationality biases. For example, I know many Iranian scientists but no Saudi Arabian. I do not think that all biases can be explained by physical, political or financial conditions. I believe that the effect of a cultural and social context is very significant. These biases may not be uniform. For example, I have seen more women in Biology than Computer Science.

In Europe, the condition of women is much better. Here, I have never heard of any financial or physical hindrance for women to do science. But, we do not see many women in top technical universities. Even though, technical universities in Germany have active programs to attract high school girls to do science. On the other hand, almost all university administrations are filled with women. At least, I have never met a male administrator in universities (Note that there are fewer women at top level of administrations). One may argue that being administrator is “in Vogue” for European women but science is not yet. I do not know why European women are not doing science. But, It looks to me that the "interest argument" has something to do with it.

In the cultural context, Science should be a "cool thing" to do for kids such that they join science courses to make a career out of it. I guess among girls “Science” is not that cool yet.

iitmsriram said...

Adding to gautam's data, at IITM, 15% of incoming JEE candidates are girls and this is growing every year; for the state of Tamil Nadu as a whole, the engineering enrollment has been hovering around 35% girls for the last 10 years or so. In the more accessible colleges (like Anna University main campus), girls have been about 50% of the class for some years now. It is the more remote and more residential type colleges that have IIT type gender ratios, bringing the state average down to the 35% level. WIthin colleges, CS, EE, CE typically have high female enrollment (often majority female) with ME types at the other end of the spectrum. What can /should academic administrators do to change any of this?

Abi said...

@Dheeraj: The trouble with cram schools extends also to those in places other than Kota and Hyderabad: Classes end go on until 10 pm, or start as early as 3 am. There was even one reported case where classes started at 9 pm and went on until 7am! These features render them essentially a boys-only affair.

Of course, the main problem is that JEE has strayed far from its mandate to standardize across school boards, and into the realm of prize exams (like the Olympiads) that demand intensive coaching. It is also such a shame that it has been converted into a battleground where IIT professors need to prove their superiority over cram school professors -- year after year ...

Vikram said...

I think that 'interest' does play a very strong role in the demographics of educational institutions. For example, there is very little bias against girls in America, but women still prefer majors other than engineering. Here is a breakdown of enrollment in UT's various colleges by gender:

Architecture: M 162, F 171
Business: M 2125, F 1918
Communication: M 1246, F 2608
Education: M 647, F 1513
Engineering: M 4343, F 1240
Fine Arts: M 406, F 766
Geosciences: M 169, F 121
Liberal Arts: M 4223, F 5041
Natural Sciences: M 4476, F 4583
Nursing: M 90, F 687
Social Work: M 59, F 256

Engineering does not seem attractive to females in the same way nursing, education, social work and communication do not appeal to males. The route to a more diverse campus might be more diverse course offerings.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@sriram and @vikram, I think the foremost question to me is whether it is the job of academic administrators to be pro-active about attracting the best talent to its university/department/program, or is it alright to just select the best amongst those who apply. Even in the selection, is it the job of an academic administrator to find out if the selection process is indeed giving them the best at least amongst those who apply, or should they be satisfied with the process being certified as reasonably free of intentional frauds.

Today, IITs (and most other good institutes) are happy if their selection process is free of provable fraud. So talking about a pro-active role is a distant dream.

But, I believe that academic administrators have a pro-active role. If the girls are not joining Mechanical since they fear that the only jobs are shop floor jobs in shifts and would be difficult to handle such careers with family, they need to be told that such jobs are only a small set of things that Mechanical Engineers do. This type of counseling is completely missing in our academia, and I have talked to 100s of faculty members on this. Most believe that it is not their job to attract students.

Once at IITK, I invited one good speaker from each department to talk about the passion in their discipline to a bunch of students, just a few days before they were to fill their branch change forms. The result was absolutely amazing. All the so-called unpopular branches got filled up that year, and while there was no vacancy in CS, there were vacancies in EE, ME, etc.

So it is possible to attract, to influence "interest", by giving honest information, examples, and role models.

In US, it is common for a university to be pro-active about attracting less represented groups in the class, by holding seminars, going to schools, inviting them to campus for visits, and so on.

Shishir said...

I have noticed that discussion on 'gender balancing' always assume that the low percentage of girls in IIT/IIM/NITs are always because of relatively less support to girls from their families for engineering education.

In fact, I tend to somewhat agree with Dheeraj that since the admission process requires coaching (Kota or Hyderabad!)and may parents are unwilling to send their daughters to that environment, the girls fail to cut the glass.

The above hypothesis is also supported by a fact that at BITS, Pilani, the percentage of girls was around 30% when the admission was based on Class 12th marks. When they switched to competitive admission test, the percentage fell down to around 15. So the coaching factor does play a part.

However, I have a hunch that the social or family pressure to make the grade is not as much on girls as on boys (though this is changing in urban areas and to a lesser extent in rural areas also). This results is the absence of extra effort on the part of girls which is there in case of boys.
If you compare the school performance , where students generally perform normally (with normal effort and innate intelligence), girls outshine boys , even in top ranks.

Though , I don't like the idea of propping up girls by giving extra marks, I am unable to think of anything better .

Of course, as was suggested by Gautam, the greater awareness of sense of gender equality among the members of society will create an environment where boys & girls will be given fair participation in the admission process.
Obviously , simple procedural correction will be useful only to some small extent.

Shantanu said...

Dear Sir,

Are you sure about less girls in IITs just because of coaching institutes? Well the impact of coaching institutes has increased in the past 10 years or so (or that is what most of the professors believe), though I have a very different take on this but I don't want to argue on this right now as it can go on and on. What I am trying to say is that IITs never had a high percentage of girls( even in 60s and 70s). I am sure if you can get the data for JEE in 70s and 80s and compare the ratio of women applicants to the total number then to that of today we can get some idea of whether coaching institutes have impacted the number of girls. Also I have been following your blogs for quite some time and I do believe partly in the "coaching mess" but I think you give it too much weight. I believe the major problem is that schools around the country now are more interested in spoon feeding than conceptual clarity. I doubt that 2 years of coaching can degrade your reasoning to such levels. Also what I don't understand is on what basis can we say that coaching impacts only the quality in IITs. In fact if there is one exam I would say is relatively immune to coaching culture, it is JEE. Don't you think that "traditional" papers that come in AIEEE, BITSAT and boards are more susceptible to coaching and tutions (who can then model themselves on them as they don't change overtime), than JEE which actually tries to introduce new concepts. I believe if IITs are suffering from coaching mania then NITs and BITs should be dead by now. I believe the problem lies at a level far before +2 and not at the +2 level itself.

Shantanu said...

Also to note I am not actually convinced with the fact that "if some one scores more in board exams" he/she is necessarily better. My point is board exams check your presentation abilities more than your concepts. I mean if someone asks me to write Newtons law of motion or ask whether a reaction is SN1 or SN2 (questions ask in boards hover around this level) it doesn't require a clarity in concepts. Presentation matters more to go from 91% to 97% in boards. This presentation could be taken care of by tutions and coaching institutes.

There is another point which I want to make (I know it would attract a lot of criticism) is that I believe an examiner is more lenient in giving marks to girls. This is invariably the case that performance of co-ed and girls schools is generally better than boys schools (in board exams). I am a firm believer that board answer sheets should not reveal the gender or the name of the student to the examiner (somewhat like it used to happen in JEE when it was paper based). Though I believe girls can perform at par with guys given equal opportunity but considering the population of our country if any such reservations are provided the beneficiaries of such reservations would be girls with access to all the "facilities" that are important (or rather you think) for admission to IITs or IIMs.

Shantanu said...

Lastly I believe the best place to look for this comparison is possible the NTSE examinations. I am not sure about today but at least the year I qualified it (2000-2001) the coaching impact on this examination was zero (no coaching for NTSE) . Girls did give this examination in huge numbers and it was a proper aptitude test (with appropriate weightage to school subjects as well)and still out of the odd 400 people who used to clear it at the end we had hardly 30-40 girls. Now this is a very unscientific way of presenting data but I remember the list of selected few when it was published in employment news and very few girls names were there on the list. I believe NTSE examinations are more unbiased when compared to boards or JEE (as you say). I am not too sure you can say board results are free of any biases. Though good students will always score well in boards, bad students may also score good marks and some good students may score badly as well (because of their handwriting or presentation abilities).

rahul said...

@Abi- ( It is also such a shame that it has been converted into a battleground where IIT professors need to prove their superiority over cram school professors -- year after year .)

I don't think JEE is responsible for coaching centers. If IITs don't allow finance companies to hire students through campus placement or IIMs start giving undergraduate courses in management, I can guarantee that the number of coaching centers for JEE will come down by 70% as 80% of the people come to IIT to earn more than their parents ( in fact the term engineering has been so much misunderstood in India that some people believe that it is a nonscientific field and MBA is the only option after finishing engineering ) . So even if IITs abolish JEE and select students through board exam performance, the students will continue considering their official curriculum a waste and start doing the so-called extra-curricular activities to showcase in their CV.Also these finance companies select those students who neglect their academics and participate in these so-called extra activities.

The best method is abolish the campus placement system at IITs. An IIT student should be able to find a job for himself. Also India government should do something so that a student doing humanities or commerce will also be able to earn as much a person with engineering degree so that people who r really interested in science and engineering will come to IITs.

The double major system should be introduced at all IITs. Pure science courses should also be offered ( no IITs have biology department and they offer courses in Bioengineering ). With out natural sciences, there is no engineering.

Shishir said...

My hypothesis is that the girls are not encouraged socially and hence not pushed by their families to follow the professional careers(It is changing though ). This results in the girls also accepting it as truth and they don't push themselves to become competitive in studies.

This explains the low percentage of girls in IIT and lower percentage in earlier years (70s to 80s)

Coaching process essentially is a part of 'pushing the child' which usually applies to boys than girls, given our social culture. I am told the percentage of boys at Kota is overwhelming large compared to girls.

Somehow, 'educating the girl' has caught the imagination of our people and normal schooling (or college) are part of this process. Therefore the girls are wholeheartedly into it and generally do well.

Once professional education becomes culturally acceptable , I'm sure the girls' percentage will zoom up.

Till then , Dheeraj's prescription , though a big anathema to my sense of fair play, may provide some relief. (However , it shouldn't be taken too far to its logical (or illogical) extremes for changing the society etc.

Rahul Gupta said...

In professional success it is not only enough to have clarity of concepts, but it is indispensable to have good communication and presentation skills, creativity and ability to think outside the box. Failing to meet any of the above can be a serious blow to wholesome personality of a student and career in turn. It is very pathetic to see that JEE does not focus on anything else except good familiarity with concept.
Another important factor is exposure. More variety of things you are familiar with, more likely you will be able to show creativity . This are the things which are hard to be taught at coaching and can be nurtured only in good learning environment.

A good entrance examination should select their student on the basis of their communication, creativity, knowledge and exposure level. These are factors which will be going to determine a student's success in undergraduate program. Focusing on verbal and communication skills will give females an extra edge which they might be losing at concepts.

IIT admit students in Design department through CEED which focus a good deal on creativity and analytic skills. And yes, they have boys-girls ratio of 50-50 in department.

Shantanu said...

@Rahul ... you are missing the point. I totally agree with you in that only conceptual skills or aptitude skills are not what are required for one to succeed in the long run. Communication skills,presentation skills (not same to presentation I mentioned for board examinations) and social skills are also required. First of all define communication skills to me? Most of the people have this wrong perception that if you speak good english, your communication skills are excellent. One can easily be a good communicator in any language. You need exceptional social skills (which is built over a period not only in +2 and IIT) and should know where to speak what. Most (note most not all) of our so called bright IIT students have a reputation in their own family of a "studious guy" who doesn't know the way of the world. Communication skills is a trait and hence it will never be that you are exceptional at communicating professionally but you are pathetic socially. The problem is again as a society we further education way to much and give it more importance that social communication. No wonder people who excel in academics (IITs or/and board toppers) generally end up with mediocre or inferior communication skills (not english speaking skills). But I believe four years is enough for an innovative institute to at least inspire people to work on their communication skills. IIT administration is interested though more in finger pointing rather than concrete ground work.

Take an example and go to this link
http://home.iitk.ac.in/~psraj/mth101/lecture_notes/ Have a look at the course taught in one semester in IITK mathematics. Now this is just part of 5 courses that you are taught in 1st semester. The same course material is covered in three different courses in DU Mathematics (where many board toppers and so called "real" IITians go--> (Calculus,Solid Geometry and Real Analysis). Similar is the case with NITs where course is more evenly divided. How much "personality development" are you going to look into after you subject students to such enormous syllabus. In fact the concept of cramming ,I believe works more in IIT Kanpur than all the coaching institutes that have been blamed in this blog.
Also JEE can never be CEED. The reason why CEED is working is because competition for CEED is no where near compared to that of JEE. If JEE gives this kind of paper then more than 4000 may score full marks and it would be difficult to differentiate among students. Also CEED tested your design aptitude and no where your IQ, Analytical skills and creativity as has been pointed out by you. JEE is for testing "engineering" aptitude which points towards mathematics and hence comparing JEE to CEED is wrong.

Sushant said...

Okay, the education system leaves out many deserving candidates in girls owing to societal factors. Going down to the root levels, there is sufficient proof that girls outshine boys in academic performance. But there is a reason to that too, and it definitely supports the argument that there is no point giving advantage to a whole section of the society (in the form of girl candidates) since so few apply (show interest or are allowed to in the first place, let's say) to begin with.

Girls outshine boys in the school level exams (which here form our gauge of their performance and presumably superior wit) because they take the exams in such small numbers. The percentage of boys failing will always turn out to be larger because so many of them take the exam and fail for some or the other reason (again difficult to see on a case by case basis). If one sees the number of girls and boys passing an examination, it almost always turns out to be about the same. Then why try to force a system which could keep a deserving male candidate out solely on the basis of gender when the girl candidate might have been lucky (I think what this word implies here is amply clarified by the social conditions applicable) in securing the said admission?

This should amount to gender bias and not gender balance- with all due respect to the efforts ongoing and equally necessary in this direction given our very skewed gender ratio.

Neeraj Gupta said...

There is a good case for 'special favored treatment' for Girls. Girls face bias when it comes to spending money on their education. This coupled with safety concerns are huge bottleneck in their education.Ever since private engineering institutions came up in Rajasthan, the percentage of girls taking admissions in engineering programs have increased.