Yesterday, I made a post on my facebook page. This was a link to the article which gave information on how many women were admitted to different IITs last year. The numbers are abysmally low, less than 10 percent. And I suggested that this indicates that there is something wrong with the admission process of IITs.
Questions started coming in.
Could it be that women are not interested in engineering. How many women gave JEE.
I pointed out that 25% women gave JEE while only 10% succeeded. I also pointed out that in colleges which take admission through other routes, the percentage of women is significantly higher. I also pointed out that BITS Pilani saw a significant drop in women admission when it moved from admissions based on 12th class marks to admission based on an entrance test. All this does not seem to indicate that women are not interested in engineering.
May be women don't have merit. How do I know that women deserve to be in IITs in larger numbers.
Well, if we look at board performance across pretty much any board, in the top ranks, women perform better than men. You would find more than 50 women in the top 100, while the percentage of women giving the exam is significantly less than 50 percent. And the same is true not just overall, but specifically in science stream, where students have taken Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, the same subjects that JEE tests on.
But aren't 12th class board exams testing something different than JEE. And may be women are not inherently good at what JEE tests.
Let us assume that they are testing different things. Let us also assume that there is something genetic about women not doing well in JEE. Should not then one ask what is more important for IIT education. I pointed out that in 2011, when there were lots of debate on changing IIT admission process and including 12th class performance in some way, it was pointed out that there have been three studies done in three different IITs in terms of what is a better predictor of success in IITs - 12th class marks, or JEE performance, and all three studies said that the correlation between 12th class marks and IIT performance is higher than correlation between JEE performance and IIT performance. While I consider all three studies as too small a sample size, and not scientifically rigorous, they do raise a doubt on whether JEE Advanced (which is causing only 10% women getting admitted) is bringing in the best talent to IITs. And since this is serious enough matter, we should at least do more research into it, and do a bigger, more rigorous study.
(By the way, I would still not support incorporating 12th class marks in the admission process, since the foul play in boards will increase, and many other reasons which I had articulated at that time.)
Do you have any hypothesis that could perhaps be tested by a research team.
Yes, I do. I believe that today coaching has become absolutely necessary for good performance in JEE. And most families are reluctant to send their girl child for coaching, particularly out of town places like Kota. And that is the reason for their poor performance in JEE.
Should IITs be bothered about societal biases. Is it not good enough that the same question paper is given to all candidates, no cheating is allowed, and an objective merit list is prepared.
If IITs are interested in attracting the best talent, they should be bothered about societal biases and any other limitations that their admission process may face. They need to think whether the current admission process gets them the best students or is there any other way to get even better students.
Conclusion: My own conclusion is that less than 10% women in the incoming class is far too less and has not been adequately explained by any study so far. There is enough reason to suspect that certain societal biases could be limiting chances of women in the current admission process of IITs. And hence, IITs must share all their admission related data for research or conduct research themselves to find out whether there is a problem or not, and if there is no problem why women are less than 10% in IITs.
Interestingly, the responses on my facebook post yesterday (and indeed, I have raised this issue earlier a few times as well, and the responses have been exactly on the similar lines) were essentially saying that there is no reason to suspect anything and there is no reason to do any research. Note that I am not recommending any reservation, or affirmative action, or any reduction of seats for men as of now. I am only asking for more research to be done. And a majority of male respondents don't even support research to be done into this issue.
I checked the profile of these men. Most are students/alumni of IITs.
My own take is that most of those respondents have following problems with the idea of doing research in to this issue. One, they realize that a research is likely to show that indeed there is a bias against women. And, more generally, JEE rank is not the best indicator of merit. And most of IIT alumni immediately fear that this may mean that they themselves perhaps did not deserve to be in an IIT. So they would oppose any research or any major change in the admission process. Two, the male elite does not want to give up any of their territory without a fight. The issue is not of fairness, but why give up our entrenched benefits.
And we always blame the poor and uneducated for gender bias.
EDITED: Nov 5, 2015
After I published this, I was sent the following link about women not being represented fairly in business schools also.
Yo Chanda Kochhar, if there aren't enough women in B-schools it isn't because they can't do the hard stuff