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Monday, May 30, 2011

Are IITs World Class

Everyone has heard the honorable minister, and everyone has an opinion. I have been reading a lot of those opinions, and I thought I will add my voice to the clutter as well. Of course, I only know about IITs, and hence I will not talk about IIMs.

To me the answer is, "No, IITs are not world class, but it does not matter." The whole debate is not about what is world class, and whether IITs have achieved that standard. Whether we are in this list or that list. My belief is that such statements are often a reflection of the gap between expectations and perceived reality. And, when such statements come from people who ought to know, we should not dissect their words, but look at the causes of that gap.

May be the reality is much better but people don't understand. Well, isn't that a problem then. Shouldn't IITs work on that.

May be the expectations are too high. That, in my opinion, is a good problem to have, but may be IIT administration should do some expectation management.

But, may be the expectations are reasonable, and we still don't match them. That would be very worrisome.

Let me explain with an example. I have often written about JEE on this blog and elsewhere. One can argue that in the middle of huge scandals, IITs have largely been able to offer admissions on merit. JEE has not faced any major scandal (barring some doubts in 2006) over its 50 years of existence. And that is a HUGE achievement. And whenever I criticize JEE, people love to point out all this to me. But when I criticize JEE, it is with the knowledge of this background. I criticize because my expectation from the best institutes in India is much more than conducting a scandal free UG admission. I expect the top institutes to have a transparent admission process. I expect the top institutes to do some research into their admission process and figure out whether they are getting the students of the right type. I expect the top institutes to constantly debate alternative admission strategies. So don't point to me that IITs have the best admission process. They may very well have that. But I expect them to do better than the current best.

As long as there is a gap between what is expected and what is delivered, there will be criticism. IITs can keep ignoring this criticism and stay in their comfort zone. Or IITs can dissect the exact words of the Minister and say that if we get world class budgets, then we might improve. Or they can do some introspection and say whether they can do something within the significant resources that our country spends on them and narrow that gap of expectation and performance. Unfortunately, the last part is never done.

When someone says that IITs are not working with Indian industry, IITs can counter with the statistics of how many companies have given sponsored projects, how much funds they get in these projects and consultancy. But all that means nothing to the person who complained to begin with. Shouldn't IITs be doing much more than what they are doing. I recently wrote about the Waikato Institute of Technology at Hamilton, New Zealand, who are having amazing amount of focus with industry. I am not suggesting that IITs become as focused on industry as Wintec, but certainly there is a huge scope for improving industry interaction (and without increase of budget).

When someone says that IIT graduates are not exposed to live projects and the education is very theoretical, you can counter by telling about the latest equipment in your labs, and telling about the number of lab hours that students have to spend before getting a degree, but is that what I expect from the best institutes in my country. Why can't a civil engineering student be involved with a real civil construction project on campus, and all our campuses are having a lot of construction all the time. A student who has to spend just one hour every week with the site engineer would have a great experience and understanding of how civil engineering is actually practiced. Is it too much to expect that on an average, a CSE graduate would have written 20,000 lines of code in 4 years, and I am talking about original code, not code copied from Internet (while agreeing that Computer Science is much more than coding, just like Civil Engineering is much more than construction).

I also want to comment on the supposed selectivity of IITs. We are supposed to be world class because we are the most selective. Everyone in the country has heard the numbers, one out of 50 or something to that effect, while Harvard admits one out of 10. Are we really comparing apples with apples. Harvard tells you all the parameters that they will look at for admission. They give you statistical details of some of those parameters from last year's admission (parameters which are objective like SAT score). While in case of IITs, there is only one parameter, which is unknown at the time of application, which is the JEE rank.

Let us consider an experiment for IITs. Let them conduct JEE, announce the result, and then ask students to apply for admission, knowing fully well what the last year's closing rank was in each program. I don't think you will see even a ratio of 1:2. The large number of applicants for a small number of seats only means that people believe in randomness of the admission process. And if the process is based only on objective criteria, and there is still a large ratio of applications to seats, then it is nothing to be proud of. 4.5 lakhs JEE applicants are there because there is a general feeling amongst the students that JEE is a lottery, and on a given day, anyone with coaching can score high, and also, there are now some more institutions who have started using JEE performance for admission.

(By the way, the ratio of the number of candidates in AIEEE to the number of seats in NITs is much worse. Should we say that NITs have higher selectivity, and therefore, they are also world class.)

I think the problem with IIT system is that they are satisfied with being the best in the country. And whenever anyone points out that your parameters are not what the best in the world have achieved, there is a ready made excuse - money. Double our salaries, type of thing. IITs are not doing sufficient introspection to see if they could have met the expectation of our nation to a fuller extent within the same resources.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Guide to JEE Counseling 2011

Congratulations for performing admirably in the toughest rat race in the world, and soon, you will be one of us, the IITians. I am sure you are more thrilled on 25th May, 2011, than on 2nd April, 2011. (Don't remember that date. Well, when you were studying for JEE, the Men in Blue got a fake trophy called the ICC World Cup.)

But the problem with rat races is that you are never satisfied unless you are number one, and there can only be a single number one. So my first advice, you can become a cat only if you stop being a rat. Accept your result with grace. Being in top 10,000 in a country of 1.2 billion people (yes, they did count you even though you were hiding yourself amongst the books in that tiny space in Kota) is not a mean achievement, even if you believe that you ought to have topped the exam.

A few words about me. I am a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Kanpur, and have been here for most part of the last 17 years. I also studied at IIT Kanpur (BTech/CSE/1986), so have some appreciation for both sides of the classroom, though my experience as a student is too far back in the history. I have taught at IIT Bombay for a semester. I have had joint research projects with IIT Delhi. I am a Guest Professor at IIT Gandhinagar. I have visited a few other IITs as well. I have friends, collaborators, and acquaintances in pretty much all IITs. Here is the link to my webpage, if you are interested in knowing more about me.

Before I go further, let me claim the standard disclaimers. I have no association with JEE. I am not their spokesperson. They did not pay me to write this note, and indeed they would be happier if I didn't write this note. If any of my views here match the views of anyone in JEE or for that matter anyone in any IIT, that is purely co-incidental. What ever I say, take it simply as unsolicited advice, but take your own decisions. Do not hold me responsible for your decisions. If you agree with any suggestion on this page, follow it at your own risk.

While I have taken reasonable care to give correct data and processes, I take no responsibility for correctness of any piece of information on this page. Before you take a decision based on information provided on this page, please check from authentic source. Here is the link to JEE Website. This would have a link to JEE Counseling Online Portal, and that page would have links to all participating Institutes.

OK. Let us get back to what you have to do. You should be getting a Counseling Brochure from JEE explaining the various steps. But basically, your next step is to go online and register yourself in the JEE Counseling Online Portal. If you don't have Internet access at home, go to an Internet cafe. My advice to you, DO NOT share your password with others, and the password should be such that it is difficult to guess. After you have made JEE richer by One Thousand rupees, and also sent all sorts of sundry documents to JEE, you can use the portal to fill the choices.

So now, we come to the main point. How should you decide the order of those choices. Sorry, no simple answers. And let me warn you right in the beginning. This is a long note, at the end of which you will realize that I am not telling you the order of your choices anyway. So, if you are reading this to know what choices you should fill on that portal, you may cut your losses and stop here. (This is how we teach at IIT. We give 55 minutes long lectures, at the end of which you don't get the answer to the question that we started with. You only get hints on how to proceed to get that answer.)

JEE has an official stand on your choices. All IITs (and non-IITs) are equal. All programs are equal. But the egalitarianism stops here. I wish they also believed that all students are equal and hence any student can get any IIT and any program. But, alas, we live in an unfair world, full of discrimination. IITs will discriminate on the basis of your performance, not just at the admission stage, but till you manage to break free and get out with a degree. We will stamp you with a dreaded word called Cumulative Performance Index (CPI). (If you don't understand this word, read Chetan Bhagat's "Five Point Someone.")

Oops, I digress again. If you believe in official words of wisdom, your life will be very simple. Since all programs and all IITs are equal, the best way to choose is to draw lots. Write down codes for each program on a separate piece of paper. Put all such small pieces in a box. Take one slip out at a time, and write down the code in that slip on the JEE Counseling Online Portal.

Did not like that. You have company. No one in India believes officialdom.

So what do you do. First of all, ask yourself whether you are really very keen on a particular discipline. I don't expect many 12th class students to know their interests, particularly because you would have been terribly busy over the last couple of years in preparing for JEE. But some students do.

Sometimes it is a role model in the family or neighbourhood. Sometimes, you had an excellent teacher in Physics, Maths, or Chemistry, and hence that subject is what you want to pursue for your career. And, of course, there are many who always dreamt of becoming a computer scientist. Their first toy was a computer. Their class fellows in school envied them because they have 1000 friends on facebook. And if they did not have to study for JEE, they would have certainly made their parents proud by winning the state level championship on "AOE." All this justifies their passion in Computer Science. And finally, some of you know that you are not interested in engineering or science, but just want to own a piece of paper, which is the key to joining the IIT Old Boys Network (girls can join it too).

Whatever is the answer, be honest with yourself. If you have a passion, it is extremely important to follow it, Your career will largely depend on how passionately you do your job, and if you are not interested in that discipline, you won't perform well in IIT, you won't perform well in your job, and you won't have a good career. Remember, there are excellent careers in all disciplines.

So fill up the discipline of your passion as a choice in as many participating Institutes as you are willing to study in. If you can't get admission to that discipline in an IIT, see if you can study it in a good institute outside the IIT system.

But if you have not been able to identify your passion, do not worry. I have collected the questions that I have been frequently asked over the years, along with their answers. I hope you will find these helpful in taking your own decision about the order of choices to be filled in.

  1. Should I be selecting an IIT or a Discipline.
  2. I have decided the Discipline. Which IIT should I choose.
  3. I have decided the IIT. Which program should I choose.
  4. Should I prefer a Dual-degree program or a BTech program.
  5. If Dual-degree programs are so good, why is it that many people are not opting for it.
  6. Which IIT has the most liberal branch change rules.
  7. Which IIT is best for MBA entrance preparation.
  8. How are programs on Mathematics and Computing.
  9. How are programs on Engineering Physics.
  10. For Bio-related courses, is it necessary to have done Biology in the 12th class.

  11. I am interested in pure science programs. Should I prefer IITs, or IISc, or IISERs.
  12. I am interested in Aerospace related career. Should I prefer IITs or IIST, Trivandrum.
  13. I have heard that IT BHU will become an IIT soon. Will I get a degree from IIT Varanasi, if I join IT BHU.
  14. Is IIT Roorkee as good as original five IITs.
  15. Is it safe to study in Guwahati? Why do many people not prefer IIT Guwahati.
  16. I am convinced about IIT Guwahati. But my parents are not agreeing to let me go so far. What do I do.
  17. Should I opt for programs in one of the eight new IITs. Are they going to be as good.
  18. Which of the new IITs would you recommend.
  19. What discipline should I choose in ISM Dhanbad.
  20. What Institutes would you rank higher than new IITs.

  21. I have got a rank between 1 and 500 in JEE. Should I opt for Computer Science or Electrical Engineering.
  22. I have got a rank between 500 and 1000 in JEE. Should I take Computer Science in IIT Kharagpur or Mechanical Engineering in other four older IITs.
  23. I have got a rank between 1000 and 1500 in JEE. Should I choose Civil in Bombay, Chemical in Delhi/Kanpur/Madras, or ECE/CSE in Roorkee/Guwahati.
  24. I have got a rank between 1500 and 2000 in JEE. What are the prospects of Civil Engineering.
  25. I have got a rank between 2000 and 3000 in JEE. How are programs in Manufacturing, Industrial Engineering, Textiles, and Metallurgy.
  26. I have got a rank between 3000 and 4000 in JEE. What engineering programs (BTech) can I expect to get.
  27. I have got a 4000+ rank in JEE in my first attempt. Should I go for a second chance next year.
  28. I have got a 5000+ rank in JEE. Should I study abroad. I have an offer from NTU, Singapore.
  29. I have got a 6000+ rank in JEE. But I have a much better rank in AIEEE. Can you suggest a few good colleges.
  30. I have got a 7000+ rank in JEE. Why do IITs declare so many candidates as successful when the total number of seats available is less.

  31. How many options should I fill in.
  32. Can I seek refund, if I do not take admission.
  33. Tell me about second round of counseling.
  34. Will there be a third round of counseling.
  35. What are the colleges that admit students based on JEE rank, but are not part of JEE Counseling.
  36. If I need additional information about a specific program, whom do I contact.
  37. Can we contact you for more information.

  1. Should I be selecting an IIT or a Discipline.

    If you are passionate about a particular discipline, then programs in that discipline should be given higher preference. You should be even willing to consider good institutes outside the IIT system to study that discipline. If you are not sure of your interest in any particular discipline, then selecting an IIT is alright.

  2. I have decided the Discipline. Which IIT should I choose.

    I would choose IIT Bombay. In my opinion, which is based on lack of knowledge about things in most IITs, IIT Bombay offers a huge flexibility in their programs and curriculum. You can undergo BTech or BTech (Hons.) programs. Besides, you can either study for a second degree (MTech), or a minor in another discipline. I consider such a flexibility as extremely important, since during the next 4-5 years, your interests will change, and you will have better information to take decisions on your career.

    IIT Bombay has had the good fortune of having visionary leadership for a long time now, and they have really transformed the place in the last couple of decades. At IIT Bombay, they seem to believe that they can't be satisfied with being in top 5 in the country, and they need to compete with the best in the world, and they are not afraid of change.

    Let me also point out that you may not choose an IIT for academic reasons alone. It is ok to go with your heart (or heartthrob, if you have one) in such decisions. For example, some of you may select an IIT because it is closer to home (and you want to be able to meet family every weekend). Some of you may select an IIT because you want to go far off from your home so that your parents can't visit you frequently, and certainly not without a warning. Both are valid ways of selecting an IIT.

    You could also select IIT based on whether you want to be in a large city or a smaller place. Till a few years ago, I used to recommend non-Metro IITs, because Metro IITs attracted students from nearby areas, and hence were very regional in character. But, now Metro IITs are attracting students from all over the country and provide an equally diverse experience.

  3. I have decided the IIT. Which program should I choose.

    A more direct question that I get asked every year is what are the job prospects of various programs. And it is a sad question to answer, because it reflects complete lack of self-confidence even amongst people who have qualified in one of the toughest exams in the world. If they won't have jobs, then who else will.

    If you look at those students who are in the top 75 percent of their class, there is no problems at all in terms of finding a good job. Most graduates in the lowest 25 percent will also find jobs, but there could be cases, where one does not get a job in one's dream company, or does not get a salary in 7 digits, or one could not manage a job through the campus placement, but had to apply on one's own. But, really placement is hardly an issue in IITs. And if you didn't get a satisfactory first job, that is not the end of the world. Perform well in whatever you got, and then switch to something more to your liking.

    And on top of that, most IITians end up doing things completely different from what they studied at IIT anyway. So why worry about placement of a particular program. A large number of IIT graduates seem to be interested in doing an MBA these days. From that career perspective, there is no distinction between various programs. In fact, if you are a smart cookie, and you choose a program which all other smarter cookies will avoid, then you can have an easy life in IIT, spend more time on extra-curricular, developing your personality and soft skills, prepare for CAT, and have a better chance at getting admission to IIMs.

  4. Should I prefer a Dual-degree program or a BTech program.

    There are fewer dual-degree programs now. IIT Kanpur has decided that it will admit all students in BTech program, and the dual-degree will be an option, to be exercised by the student after 2-3 years in the BTech program. IIT Bombay has also closed a couple of dual-degree programs.

    But we still have a large number of them across many IITs. And the answer depends on whether you are talking about the two programs in the same department, or different departments. Let us take the two possibilities separately.

    If you are comparing Dual and BTech in the same department, say Dual (CSE) versus BTech (CSE), then the answer is very simple. Go for BTech. I think the dual-degree programs are fantastic, but why go for an early commitment. And if the MTech part of the dual degree is in a specialized area, that should be avoided. When students don't even know the difference between Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, asking them to commit that they will work on "Power" or "Wireless" or "VLSI" after three or four years is simply ridiculous.

    Now coming to the more interesting question. I prefer CSE over EE. But I am not likely to get admission in BTech (CSE). Should I prefer Dual (CSE) or BTech (EE).

    You could replace EE and CSE with any two departments, and the answer will be same. It depends on how strongly you prefer one department over the other (CSE over EE in this example). And to test how strongly you prefer one department over the other, I will ask a theoretical question. Be honest in answering it.

    Your BTech (EE) program will finish in May 2015. Suppose I were to offer you admission in BTech (CSE) on the condition that your program will be delayed by three months, and you will actually graduate in August 2015. Would you then prefer BTech (CSE) or would you still prefer BTech (EE).

    Basically, if you prefer EE in this hypothetical scenario, then it is clear that your preference for CSE is very minor, and you are not willing to pay even a small cost of three extra months to undertake a CSE program. Then you should prefer BTech (EE) over Dual (CSE).

    But if you preferred CSE in this hypothetical situation, then we can continue this game a bit further. Now, I further suggest that you invest 9 more months in the discipline for which you have indicated a reasonably strong preference. In these nine months, we will most probably give you more than one lakh rupees in cash, we will give you a degree that normally takes two years to complete, and a degree that opens a lot more doors for you in industry. At least in CSE, several multinationals have setup advanced R&D labs in India, and they hire MTechs and PhDs only, giving a very good work environment and a lucrative career. I am sure there are such labs in other disciplines as well.

    To me the decision is a no-brainer (though your mileage may vary). The future certainly belongs to more specialisation, and having an MTech degree will be an asset for everyone. Spending a few extra months in the same environment where you have spent four years is the easiest way to get an MTech degree.

  5. If Dual-degree programs are so good, why is it that many people are not opting for it.

    Two reasons. One, because it does not fit into the career plans of many students. Two, resistance to change. It is not easy to accept something new. Fear of unknown.

    Many students think that they might like to get a US degree after IIT. And the easiest US degree to get is a Masters degree. People feel shy of joining another master's degree after completing one.

    This used to be the only ticket to US a decade or more ago. Very few IIT graduates go abroad today for an MS degree. Most people who go to US today, go with business visa, but still old thinking die hard.

    Also, many students have already decided that they want a non-technical career. They would be interested in MBA after BTech, and they only want an IIT degree. They don't see a value of an additional year in an IIT.

  6. Which IIT has the most liberal branch change rules.

    Frankly, I do not know all the nuances of the branch change rules of all IITs. Also, there are some traditions, which are not codified as rules. My advice would be to not decide your choices based on a hope to get a change of branch. So it does not matter which IIT is liberal and which is not. But if you are interested in knowing more, please read the JEE Counseling brochure. It gives a reasonably good summary of all branch change rules.

    But I do know that IIT Gandhinagar has very liberal branch change rules. Last year, as per the information received by me, every single student who wanted a branch changed was allowed to change. On the other hand, IIT Kanpur has extremely small number of changes allowed. Till a few years ago, IIT Kanpur used to be amongst the most liberal, not any more.

  7. Which IIT is best for CAT preparation.

    There is MBA coaching available in every city and town. (May be not Mandi. But I won't be surprised if there is coaching there too.)

    If you are sure that you will like to go for MBA after your under-graduate program, select the program with the largest closing rank. Statistically speaking, it is likely to be least competitive. Since you are not interested in any program, and only want to be associated with IIT brand, choose a program with least number of years (4-years) and a program where very few top rankers are likely to be present.

  8. How are programs on Mathematics and Computing.

    In many IITs, there are programs on Mathematics and Computing. Please note that in all cases that I know of (but please check individual website), the program is offered by the Department of Mathematics and not the Department of Computer Science. It means that the major component of the program will be Mathematics, and the Computing component will be significantly less than what a pure Computer Science program would offer. But if you are very keen on anything related to computers, and you can't get the full-fledged program on Computer Science, then these programs are the next best things in life. You, of course can get into software industry, though you will find it difficult to get a job in research labs of IT companies. Also, these programs are popular wih financial firms.

    And while they may be poor cousins of Computer Science programs within the IIT system, I would tend to favor them over a CS program outside IIT system, even for those who are sure that they really want to be in Computing as a career. First, in some IITs, a few courses in the program may be offered by Computer Science Department. Please check their website, or ask a faculty member in the Mathematics department. Second, most IITs give you opportunities to do elective courses from outside the department, and hence you may be able to do a few courses from Computer Science Department (other than those which are compulsory in the curriculum).

    Also, if you are serious about a career in computing, then you should be planning to do an MTech later on, irrespective of whether you do a CS degree from a non-IIT, or a Maths and Computing degree from an IIT. And both will stand an equal chance for admission to most MTech programs.

    And, if you have something inherently against a five-year degree, or if you have something against an MSc degree, you can consider IIT Guwahati's offering, which is a BTech program in Mathematics and Computing.

  9. How are programs on Engineering Physics.

    The programs on Engineering Physics differ significantly from one IIT to another. These programs invariably include several Physics courses, but what differentiates them from MSc (Physics) courses are the courses from other disciplines. Some IIT may have substantial amount of Electronics in the curriculum, while another one may have material science, and yet another one may have courses from a diverse set of disciplines.

    So, please read the JEE brochure, or visit the website for more details before deciding which program matches your interests. But, in general, they are great for those who really wish they could study Physics, but parents are forcing them to study "Engineering" and everyone else is telling them how important it is to get a "BTech" degree as opposed to an "MSc" degree.

  10. For Bio-related courses, is it necessary to have done Biology in the 12th class.

    To the best of my knowledge, there is no requirement of passing Biology in the 12th class for courses on Bio-technology, Bio-chemistry, Bio-sciences, Bio-medical, and so on. I did not see any such requirement mentioned in the JEE Brochure.

  11. I am interested in pure science programs. Should I prefer IITs, or IISc, or IISERs.

    I would suggest Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, followed by those IISERs who have already shifted to their permanent campus. Both IISc and IISERs have extremely flexible programs, where you don't have to decide your major discipline right now. This, as I have said above, is a great flexibility to have. Also, their curriculum exposes you to all branches of science, not just the discipline you will get a degree in.

  12. I am interested in Aerospace related career. Should I prefer IITs or IIST, Trivandrum.

    Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology,
    is still too new to really know how it will pan out. While IITs (that offer programs in Aeronautical Engineering) have well established departments. However, IIST has a close association with ISRO. And that association would mean that this Institute would always have enough faculty, resources, live research problems, practical training, and so on. In my opinion, that is a huge plus.

  13. I have heard that IT BHU will become an IIT soon. Will I get a degree from IIT Varanasi, if I join IT BHU.

    This is a question that has been on everyone's mind for many years. Now, finally, the bill is with the Parliament. Lok Sabha has passed it, and Rajya Sabha will consider it in due course. I don't wish to assume what Rajya Sabha will do with the bill. But the chances are that IT BHU will become an IIT soon. It probably will be known as IIT BHU.

    However, I would like to caution that even assuming that the IIT status will happen soon, it will take quite some time for its impact to be felt on the quality of education. So, if you believe that IT BHU was not preferred in the past only because of branding, but its quality is as good as any other IIT, then you can take the chance, and fill up IT BHU programs in your options. But if you believe that IT BHU was not preferred because its quality of education (including infrastructure and other aspects) was less than other IITs, then a name change should not make your choices any different.

  14. Is IIT Roorkee as good as original five IITs.

    IIT Roorkee is doing well. They do have some weak spots. In Computer Science, for example, I would definitely rank IIIT Hyderabad higher than IIT Roorkee. In general, look at the website. Do they have enough faculty members in that discipline. IIT Roorkee has its strengths. And the original five IITs have their weaknesses.

  15. Is it safe to study in Guwahati? Why do many people not prefer IIT Guwahati.

    To the best of my knowledge, it is as safe to be in Guwahati as in Kanpur or Mumbai. Yes, it does have an image problem. A lot of geography-challenged parents cannot differentiate between Guwahati and the rest of North-East India. Even an occasional law and order problem in North-East is immediately linked to Guwahati in their mind. Please don't worry. It is a beautiful campus, right next to the mighty Brahmaputra. You will enjoy your stay there.

    The problem with Guwahati is really its connectivity. The number of trains from Guwahati to the rest of the country is rather small, and you need reservations much in advance. The connectivity has been improving over the years, and simultaneously, the closing ranks have been improving as well.

    Of course, they do have less faculty in some disciplines than what they would like. But as I said elsewhere, look at their website to get exact data, and then make up your mind. In terms of infrastructure, I don't think they are anyway less endowed than others. It is cheap to build infrastructure.

  16. I am convinced about IIT Guwahati. But my parents are not agreeing to let me go so far. What do I do.

    Argue with them. Convince them. Put them in touch with some faculty member in IIT Guwahati. Tell them that for your job, you might have to go abroad, even farther than Guwahati, and for people in North India, IIT Guwahati is not farther than IIT Madras.

  17. Should I opt for programs in one of the eight new IITs. Are they going to be as good.

    As I said elsewhere, building infrastructure is cheap. So there is no reason for not having as good facilities in new IITs as old IITs have. Of course, it will take time. All new IITs are in temporary campuses, and many of them do not even have their land allocation done. And in a temporary campus, facilities cannot be what one can have at one's own campus. But still most new IITs have built good facilities at the temporary locations. Please do visit their respective websites to find out more about them.

    I have no reservation suggesting that you consider programs in new IITs seriously.

  18. Which of the new IITs would you recommend.

    I am extremely hopeful about IIT Gandhinagar. It will be in the same league as older IITs soon. The activities there clearly shows how important leadership is for any organization. They are trying to bring innovation to every aspect of institution building. You will certainly enjoy and learn well in such an environment. Out of three new IITs that I have visited so far, they have clearly impressed me a lot more than others.

    I will bet on IIT Hyderabad next. They have been very successful in attracting quality faculty. They have the advantage of being close to a Metro city. They have an excellent website, which gives you a sense of excitement on the campus.

    Good air connectivity coupled with strong leadership (no malice towards leadership of other new IITs) would ensure that these two IITs improve much faster.

  19. What discipline should I choose in ISM Dhanbad.

    If you think you only want a degree from a good enough place to pursue a non-technical career, and degree is only a line in the resume, then you need not join ISM Dhanbad. My suggestion would be to give higher preference to programs within the IIT system.

    But if you are genuinely interested in Mining related programs, then ISM is a good place to study. And remember that mining is getting hot these days, so there is really no shortage of good jobs in mining. For mainstream disciplines like Computer Science, Electrical, Mechanical, etc., my suggestion would be to compare these programs at ISM Dhanbad with those in other fine institutions, including those which are outside the IIT system.

  20. What Institutes would you rank higher than new IITs.

    It is difficult to say for other disciplines. But in Computer Science, I will certainly consider IIIT Hyderabad as having emerged as a top class IT Institution. IIIT Delhi is only a 3-year old institution, but it is one you should watch out for.

    I am told that School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, is excellent for the study of Architecture.

  21. I have got a rank between 1 and 500 in JEE. Should I opt for Computer Science or Electrical Engineering.

    Difficult question. But an easy answer: I don't know. (This is really the case with most questions.)

    I don't know enough about EE, but from outside, it appears to me that EE is a much more difficult and challenging program, while anyone can do Computer Science. We in CS departments believe in inclusiveness. Everyone who can think logically, is welcome. But these EE types want only those who are good at Mathematics. I find EE guys to be always serious, while computer science guys are always looking for more fun. (My bias, of course.)

    But more seriously, the world is fast becoming inter-disciplinary. After doing Electrical Engineering, you would be able to pick up Computer Science stuff easily (we are accessible to everyone, remember), but not vice versa.

    And, here is an interesting tale:
    Electrical Engineering versus Computer Science

  22. I have got a rank between 500 and 1000 in JEE. Should I take Computer Science in IIT Kharagpur or Mechanical Engineering in other four older IITs.

    If you are keen on Computer Science, also consider other IITs like those at Guwahaty and Hyderabad and Roorkee. Otherwise, you could go for Mechanical Engineering in other older IITs.

    I have a serious concern about IIT Kharagpur. The attention of IIT Kharagpur leadership has remained divided because of several allegations of wrongdoing in the last few years, starting with the JEE 2006. These things do affect the focus on academic excellence, and it shows in the declining number of top students going to IIT Kharagpur over this period. You may also refer to my blog on trends in JEE Counseling over the last several years.

  23. I have got a rank between 1000 and 1500 in JEE. Should I choose Civil in Bombay, Chemical in Delhi/Kanpur/Madras, or ECE/CSE in Roorkee/Guwahati.

    Since you are asking this question, it is clear that you do not have any deep interest in any specific discipline. If that is the case, as I said above, my personal preference is for IIT Bombay. After that, I will prefer to be in a metro. But your interests may be different. Do go through the websites of all programs. Think of all pros and cons from your perspective. And then take YOUR decision.

  24. I have got a rank between 1500 and 2000 in JEE. What are the prospects of Civil Engineering.

    I guess the "prospects" is a code word for "how much salary can I expect at the end of four years." If you are only interested in knowing whether there are enough jobs in Civil Engineering, then I can tell you that there are more than enough jobs in Civil Engineering. But what would be the salary levels 4-5 years from now. How will you perform in the Civil Engineering program, and whether you will have enough skills to get a job, I cannot predict all that.

  25. I have got a rank between 2000 and 3000 in JEE. How are programs in Manufacturing, Industrial Engineering, Textiles, and Metallurgy.

    Again, simple answer. I do not know. But why are you not considering new IITs. You could get to study a discipline, which you might be more interested in.

    But if you are keen to study only in old IITs, you should know that pretty much everyone in an IIT is likely to get a job, and a large number of persons would not be in their discipline soon after their graduation, anyway. So in that sense the discipline does not matter. What IITs give you is not just learning in a particular discipline, but train you for life-long learning. The kind of learning environment you will find in IITs is difficult to replicate elsewhere.

  26. I have got a rank between 3000 and 4000 in JEE. What engineering programs (BTech) can I expect to get.

    You are likely to have a large number of options. Lots of programs in new IITs should be available. Though IT BHU closing ranks may improve this year, but still a large number of their programs should be available. There would be some programs like Naval, which should be open at these ranks. Many Bio related programs should also be open. But remember, if you are looking for programs in pure science, consider IISc and IISERs as well.

  27. I have got a 4000+ rank in JEE in my first attempt. Should I go for a second chance next year, or should I join whatever I am getting this year.

    It is a very personal decision. (Aren't all decisions personal.) I am, by and large, a risk averse person, and I believe that success in JEE requires that God be with you on that day. A slight headache, and a couple of questions wrong can set you back by a large number of ranks. Given that chance plays a significant role in JEE selection, I wouldn't advice anyone to take that chance again, if you can find anything of your interest in an IIT. (And remember, if you accept admission at an IIT, you are not allowed to give JEE again.)

    Of course, if there was a medical reason or some other strong reason that caused you to score much less than what you think you would have done in the absence of such a reason, then you may give the exam again.

    There are several programs that based on last year's closing ranks are likely to close after 4000. Then there is Design program in IIT Guwahati, which is very good. You should study the Counseling Brochure carefully to find out the likelihood of getting a branch by looking at the last year's closing ranks. Please note that last year's closing ranks are just guidelines, and in some cases, the closing ranks can vary substantially from one year to the other.

  28. I have got a 5000+ rank in JEE. Should I study abroad. I have an offer from NTU, Singapore.

    If you have decided that your passion lies in a particular discipline, then you have to look at your options and decide the best place to study that discipline. How does it matter whether that place is in India or abroad. (Of course, you should be able to afford it.)

    On the other hand, if this was a trick question (like the kind we ask in JEE), and you really intended to ask me to compare Computer Science in a foreign university with a less popular discipline in an IIT, then it is complicated. IITs' brand value (and that helps in career, as I have said before) is much higher than most academic institutes in Asia for under-graduate studies. And the other is the cost issue. Can you afford to study abroad, and even if you can, is it worth that much investment. On the other hand, the advantages of studying abroad are that you are getting international exposure at an early age, which has a significant value. Also, you are getting to study that you prefer. These are the positives and negatives. Now you decide for yourself which factors you are going to give more weight.

    Let me also add that compared to the best institutions in the world, IITs' quality of education is good but not great. Our graduates do well because we take the best, and a small amount of value addition can turn them into gold. But if you consider the value addition that many good US universities provide to an average student, no Indian college can come close. You study in IIT because they provide the best education in India, and they have the best brand name, provide access to Old Boys' Network, and is almost free compared to the cost of providing that education. But purely in terms of quality of education, many universities in US will be better. For almost a decade, we had kept open a channel of admission for NRIs through SAT scores. None of our illustrious alumni settled in USA thought about sending their sons and daughters to IITs. (I did my MS and PhD from University of Maryland, College Park. Quality of under-graduate education there was certainly better than at IITs.)

  29. I have got a 6000+ rank in JEE. But I have a much better rank in AIEEE. Can you name a few good colleges, in case I don't get admission to any program in an IIT.

    Please read my article on how to choose a college.

    You may also want to read my blog entry recommending a few colleges for CS/IT only.

  30. I have got a 7000+ rank in JEE. Why do IITs declare so many candidates as successful when the total number of seats available is less.

    There are many candidates who prefer to join other colleges if they can't get a discipline of their choice through JEE. Because of this, JEE declares many more candidates successful than the number of seats. The total number of successful candidates is about 1.15 times the total number of seats available (including reserved seats). It means that depending on how many candidates choose to not take admission through JEE, some of the successful candidates may not be offered admission to any program.

  31. How many options should I fill in.

    You should fill in as many options such that the total number of available seats in all these programs put together are more than your JEE rank. DO NOT consider last year's closing ranks as the guideline to fill in choices. You should not assume that this year's closing ranks will be similar. There is no harm in filling up a large number of options.

    Of course, if you are not interested in some options, you must not fill that. If you are only interested in a few programs, then you fill only those, but then you are not guaranteed an admission. Remember that if you take admission in an IIT, you cannot give JEE again.

  32. Can I seek refund, if I do not take admission.

    You cannot get refund of counseling fee, even if you are not offered any seat. The counseling fee of Rupees One Thousand is only to allow you to participate in the counseling process. It does not guarantee that you will necessarily be offered admission to any of the programs.

    You will be asked to pay the admission fee of Rupees Forty Thousand (Rupees Twenty Thousand for SC/ST candidates) only after you have been offered admission. If you pay that fee, then you have accepted admission. If you wish to withdraw later, you will not be given any refund. (Last year, apparently, there was some confusion in the language, and it seems that JEE did refund the admission fee. But this year, they have been very clear in their language and are not likely to change its policy. But, if Ministry puts pressure, one never knows.)

    Please check the JEE website for authentic information.

  33. Tell me about second round of counseling.

    Since last year, IIT JEE has been conducting a second round of counseling to fill up seats that are left vacant after the first round. Please go through the JEE Counseling Brochure and the website to get authentic information. I am only mentioning here my understanding of the system, which may have inaccuracies.

    Those candidates who accept the program offered in the first round of counseling (by paying the fee) and those candidates who did not get any program of their choice in the first round, will be eligible for the second round. Note that if you do not like the program offered to you in the first round, but want to be considered for the second round, you must still accept the offered program, and pay the required fee. (So, be careful while filling the choices. If you are sure that you won't join a particular program, do not fill that as an option.)

  34. Will there be a third round of counseling.

    As per my information, no third round is planned even if substantial number of students do not accept the admission offers, or do not join even after accepting the admission offer by paying the fee. It is expected that individual IITs and other participating institutes will take independent decisions on this issue. But keep visiting the JEE website for updates on this.

  35. What are the colleges that admit students based on JEE rank, but are not part of JEE Counseling.

    There are a few institutes that use JEE performance for admission. These institutions include five Indian Institutes of Science, Education and Research (IISERs) at Mohali, Pune, Kolkata, Bhopal, and Thiruvananthapuram, respectively. The others include: Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology (RGIPT) at Rai Bareli (UP), and Indian Institute of Maritime Studies (Merchant Navy). LNM Institute of Information Technology (LNMIIT), Jaipur also admits some students based on JEE performance.

  36. If I need additional information about a specific program, whom do I contact.

    Certainly, not me. I know somethings about Computer Science and IT. I have some general knowledge about various other fields, but no detailed knowledge. If you want to know what do they teach in that program, or which companies came last year to hire, I would not know any of that stuff.

    Please visit the website of the department who is offering that program. Find out email addresses of some faculty members or even students. Send your query to one or two persons only. Please Do Not Spam.

  37. Can we contact you for more information.

    I will be glad to answer your further questions, if time permits. But I do not wish to discuss JEE Counseling on phone. Please do not call me. Please contact me only on email, and that too only on my personal email id, and not on the IITK email address. You can send me email at: sanghi[AT]
    (Remove [AT] and replace it by @.)

    Even on email, I will not be able to answer all the queries. I get far too many emails, and I prefer to respond to those emails, which are easily readable, and where the question is very clear, and not something that I have already answered in this page. Please don't ask me what can be available at what rank. First read the JEE Counseling Brochure for 2011, which you should be getting soon. Also, there are websites on the Internet where people have put up the closing ranks of last year. My guess at how closing ranks will change this year will be as good as yours.

    Further, if you send me an email, please note the following:
    • Emails with SMS like language are not readable.
    • Emails with all capital letters are not readable. (It amounts to shouting.)
    • Use of Roman script for Hindi words is discouraged.
    • Use proper puntuation marks, and capitalize the first letter of every sentence.
Best wishes.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My visit to Wintec: An Institute focused on industry

Today was the first day of my 2 week visit to Waikato Institute of Technology, Hamilton, New Zealand. And I am impressed. The focus is solely on supporting industry and on doing things that would help improve the economy of the region. They do all the things that a normal university would do - teaching, research, extension activities, consultancy, etc., but everything has to have an industry focus.

The institute offers degree, diploma, and certificate programs in various fields. What program to offer has to be based strictly on the need of the industry - what kind of human resources industry needs in the short term, and what kind of skill up-gradation needed for people currently working in industry. The folks from industry have a say on the overall curriculum of a program, as well as the plan for an individual course. Most of the programs can be done in both full-time mode and a part-time mode, through evening/weekend instruction, to support working professionals trying to upgrade their knowledge and skills.

The institute's research programs are totally focused on problems faced by industry. They don't shy away from admitting that doing blue-sky research is not their focus, and take pride in the fact that their research helps industry in short term.

In every discussion, for every idea, there was this constant question - how is this relevant to local industry. The local chamber of industry office is on campus, which helps in constant interaction between industry and the institute. Also, the government's agency for promoting industry is also housed on campus. I have not seen such a strong bonding between the government, the academia and the industry.

The Head of the Institute is not called Vice Chancellor, but CEO. And the CEO could be either a person from academia or from industry.

To help solve small problems of their Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), they have a research fund of their own. So a company can walk into their research office, giving them a problem and if it is not a routine business problem, but really requires some research, and Wintec has academic staff in that area, then they will not even charge anything from the industry if the total cost of research is up to 5000 NZD.

It is required that the bachelor's project of all students be done while interacting with industry, and must either solve an industry problem, or develop something that industry can use immediately.

ALL Academic Staff are required to spend a minimum of one week working in industry every year. That is how they will know whether the research they are doing is relevant to industry.

All the work they do is disseminated to industry through magazines and other medium. All the conferences they organize will have industry participation.

Apparently, there are several such institutes of technology in New Zealand in different regions of the country. They are distinct from universities (though they are themselves degree granting institutions), in that universities are supposed to have a wider role - greater number of disciplines, greater focus on basic research, etc. They have grown out of polytechnics which used to prepare technicians for different industry segments, and now, instead of just imparting skills training, they do a lot more, including applied research.

My first reaction after going through the meetings of the day: I think we need to have a few such places in India as well.

There is lot more to write about Wintec, and I will do that in due course.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

AICTE mandates 50 percent minimum marks in 12th class

AICTE has a mandate to improve quality of engineering education in the country. Its functioning over the years, particularly allowing mushrooming of colleges and lack of proper monitoring of these colleges has been strongly criticized. But this year, AICTE did one thing which will surely improve the quality of education. It mandated higher minimum marks for admission to Engineering Colleges. The new requirement is 50 percent for the Unreserved seats, and 45 percent for the Reserved seats. (It used to be 45 percent for Unreserved seats.) I definitely see merit in the new cut-off marks.

However state governments are not amused. They are under pressure from the private engineering colleges to do away with any minimum requirement of marks so that the load factor :-) can be increased in the highly competitive marketplace. In fact, some state governments have refused to accept AICTE rule and gone ahead asking the colleges to admit students with lower marks.

It is not clear whether the state governments can over-rule AICTE legally, but it is clear that AICTE cannot do much, if the state governments do no cooperate. AICTE cannot de-recognize all those colleges in a state which admit students with less than 50 percent marks, since that would be closing down most colleges, and playing with the career of lakhs of students already studying in these colleges. State governments know that, and therefore, can openly allow colleges to violate AICTE rules.

This is a dangerous situation. If states can play this game, knowing any step by the regulator will be so unpopular that it will not be able to do so, then states are essentially trying to get out of regulation altogether. Now, if these state governments were setting up their own regulation which was better than a central regulator, I could see a point (even then I would prefer that a legally acceptable mechanism is created for giving primacy to state government regulator). But if state governments will regulate using political process, that is, the minister and bureaucrats will take a decision to just ignore uncomfortable AICTE rules, then it is essentially saying that we will follow only those laws which we agree with. Just imagine what will happen to a country, if every citizen were to say this. There will be no rule of law.

So what can AICTE do. I suggest that it stops permission for all new colleges, all new programs in existing colleges, all increases in number of seats in existing programs, in the state that does not agree with the 50 percent minimum marks. After all, if you look at the logic given by state government, it is essentially saying that there is already excess of seats, and we must find ways to fill up those seats. If the state governments are publicly saying that there are excess seats, then AICTE should not allow any more seats in that state. Those who wish to start new colleges can do so across state boundaries, or need to wait for a couple of years, by then the pressure on the state government from the good colleges and from those who want to start new colleges will become more than the pressure from poor quality colleges.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

IIT Kharagpur Suspends a Professor

As per this ToI news item, IIT Kharagpur has finally decided to suspend Professor Rajeev Kumar. It was coming. IIT Kharagpur has been in the news for the last five years for all the wrong reasons. And generally government organizations tend to believe that we must shoot the messenger, rather than take care of basic problems that are being raised. The leadership is very unlikely to question itself. And the service rules for government officers are such that if Government wants, it can find ways to harass any employee. So, given this power equation, we were just waiting for this event to happen.

But it is sad. IIT Kharagpur was the first IIT, and has been the harbinger of quality engineering education. With such an illustrious history, it has to stoop to the level that it has gone to, is really sad and reflective of the quality of leadership that it has had in the last decade or so.

Let us look at the charges against Prof. Kumar, as reported. He had alleged that there is mass copying in IIT Kharagpur, could not prove it, and this tarnished the image of the faculty and students, and lowered their morale. Similarly, he made allegations about some wrongdoing in the laptop purchase process of the Institute.

How can an allegation of mass copying lower the morale of the faculty. Suppose I were to allege that Indian Army has killed 1 crore civilians in Jammu and Kashmir. This would tarnish the image and lower the morale ONLY IF people believe it. Otherwise, it would be treated as a stupid joke, and I cannot be punished for stupid jokes. On the other hand, if what I say is largely true, then I cannot be punished for just making a statement of fact. The only time I can be punished for tarnishing image is when what I say is wrong, but still believable. I am sure that IIT Kharagpur faculty (and academicians and other interested persons elsewhere) did not take his charge seriously. (And if several faculty members of IIT Kharagpur faculty did take the charge seriously, and actually got demoralized by it, students must avoid going to IIT Kharagpur to be taught by persons of such fragile egos. They will mistreat you also.)

There is a bit more problem with the laptop purchase in the sense that the model that IIT Kharagpur was planning to buy and the model that Prof. Kumar was planning to buy were not identical. They were very similar in specifications, and there could have been a confusion in the beginning. But as soon as it was pointed out that they were not identical, he should have apologized and closed the chapter. But think about it. This charge has stuck a bit more compared to the previous charge, because there is an element of truth in it. The way IIT Kharagpur treated his request, and tried to malign him on account of his asking his son to get an additional quotation, was not worthy of a world class institution. They made some statements and then retracted. They were not fully transparent either. Later, MHRD had to intervene and asked them to stop purchases of those laptops. Is this matter so serious and so one-sided that a Professor be suspended. Sorry, that is too draconian a step by IIT Kharagpur.

It is true that IIT Kharagpur reputation has been going down consistently since 2006, when Prof. Rajeev Kumar exposed the serious problems in the way IIT Kharagpur conducted JEE that year. In my earlier blog, Trends in JEE Counseling, I had mentioned that IIT Kharagpur has seen the sharpest decline of closing ranks of various programs amongst the oldest five IITs in the last five years, and my conjecture is that it is at least partly due to the bad press that IIT Kharagpur has received in this period.

IIT Kharagpur has received bad press on several counts. The issue of fake institute, which was apparently not just run by some faculty members of the IIT, but even alleged to have received some official support in the past. The issue of poor health facilities on campus, leading to death of a student, which resulted in Prof. Damodar Acharya submitting his resignation (which was promptly rejected after there was calm on campus). Director of IIT Kharagpur has been made an accused in AICTE Scam as per this ToI report. It may be noted that Prof. Acharya was AICTE Chairman before assuming the role of Director, IIT Kharagpur.

These issues have been far more serious, far more demoralizing, and tarnished the image far more than the laptop issue or the mass copying issue. But IIT Kharagpur is certainly not happy with the JEE 2006 case, which Professor Kumar has been pursuing for the last five years, and which has resulted in significant (but still not sufficient) improvement in transparency of JEE. So, they have now found relatively minor cases, which they can use to punish Prof. Kumar.

By the way, in the issue of Director being made a co-accused by CBI, which should demoralize the faculty a lot more, there is no move to make him resign, not just in IIT Kharagpur, but even outside. It is because, by and large, the academicians understand that an accusation is not the same as a proof of involvement or culpability. Everyone has to be presumed innocent, till proven guilty. But under the leadership of the same Director, IIT Kharagpur is now interested in silencing a prominent critic.

Educational institutions should not be seen as government departments. They must have value systems which are far more liberal than what may be permitted in other government departments. And, I am, of course, referring to the freedom of speech. Someone should read and understand what all is accepted by administrators of top universities in the world. The tolerance on IIT Kharagpur campus is really low at this time.

If IIT Kharagpur administration wants to consider itself as a Government Department, and therefore, charge-sheet a professor for talking to media, then it shows the vision of its leadership. Any potential student or faculty should think not just twice, but 10 times, before joining such an institute, which is agreeing through its actions that it cannot be a world class institute. Other IITs are at least trying.

There is another charge against Professor Kumar. He apparently threatened the Dean once. And as a proof, they have shown him a copy of the email that he sent. The email essentially says that because of the Dean's involvement in other cases, he should not be a member of the committee to investigate Prof. Kumar's letters, and urged him to recuse himself from the committee. Now, Prof. Kumar has mis-spelt the word and said rescue , which apparently is a threat word. You rescue yourself if you can, I will kill you, sort of thing. Can anything be more laughable, and does one still need proof that IIT Kharagpur is hell bent on destroying a career, because of the past genuine exposures of that professor.

What is the solution, now. I think it is clear that Prof. Kumar has gone overboard in some of his recent allegations. Also, there is too much negative feelings between him and a lot of people at IIT Kharagpur. This is not the environment where he can continue to live peacefully, and carry out his teaching and research. He and IIT Kharagpur administration should come to a settlement, which may include withdrawal of all charges and suspension against him, and he should immediately start looking for a job. With his credentials, he should not have any difficulty in joining one of the several other IITs. He could take VRS from IIT Kharagpur, so that he can get both a pension and a salary, which will be financially beneficial to him. IIT Kharagpur can then work towards finding other scapegoats for its problems.

But while all this play itself out, my message to JEE 2011 candidates: Avoid an institute where a significant part of time and energy of its leadership is spent on ensuring that its problems are not visible to the outside world.

Monday, May 16, 2011

JEE 2011 Admits Errors in Question Papers

JEE has announced the answer key on its website.

It took JEE only 5 weeks to announce the answer key. And it must have hurt the organizers of the world's toughest exam to admit that they had SEVEN questions which were either ambiguous, or had a printing mistake, or were simply wrong. And these questions are worth 36 marks. That is huge when 4+ lakh students are vying for less than 10,000 seats.

And this is not all. Apparently, there are more questions, even in Chemistry, where the "official" answer is being considered unsatisfactory by the students. But IIT will not take cognizance of these complaints. The answer key is final.

And one wonders why did IITs take 5 weeks to announce the marking scheme. If they had done so in 5 hours, they could have taken inputs from all, and then finalized the scheme. But now, they have to announce the result on 25th May, and they can't change the key at this late stage, even if some errors are genuine. The doubt about JEE 2011 will always remain.

Of course, given that they weren't interested in listening to the students to begin with, they did the next best thing, in terms of giving marks to all, or giving marks for multiple correct answers.

But doing the best under the circumstances does not mean that it won't hurt anyone. For the ambiguous questions, if someone found the answer, what is now deemed correct, but did not write the answer, the candidate does not get any benefit. Of course, the hope is that there are very few such students, and some unfairness to them is more acceptable than to redo the exam and delay the entire admission process by two months. (And I agree that one needs to be practical about these things.)

The Right to Information Act has forced JEE to give out some information in the last 5-6 years, and in each of these years, there have been some serious doubts about the conduct of the exam. It makes me wonder. Was I lucky to have passed JEE a few decades ago. May be they were equally inept at conducting the exam at that time too, and I was declared selected by mistake. I must thank my stars that there was no RTI then. Otherwise, someone else may have studied in IIT in my place, and that someone would have been writing this blog, instead of me.

I think IITs should seriously consider giving up JEE. They just can't handle it. A professional organization should be entrusted with conduct of such an important exam.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My 2011 List of Recommended CS/IT Programs Outside the IIT System

For last many years, I have been coming out with a small list of CS/IT Departments, which are in my opinion provide a decent quality of education, or have something interesting about them. I have formed my opinion about these departments, mostly through a visit, but sometimes by talking to alumni, other academicians, and reading information provided on their website.

This year, I thought I will put it on blog to have some amount of public discussion on this list. But "limited" is the operative word here. Please do not mind if I reject your comment, as I do not intend to make this a free-for-all forum.

I have primarily looked at CS or IT departments. In India, many Institutes (particularly NITs) built their reputation based on traditional engineering disciplines. When Computer Science was introduced to most of these institutes a couple of decades ago, they just could not find enough faculty, and most of the NITs (and many old government institutions) continue to have serious shortage of faculty. But the way things happen in India, if some institute is good in one discipline, we assume, without question, that that institute is good in every discipline. I have tried not to get influenced by the presence of good traditional departments on the same campus, and therefore, you would notice that some of the high ranking institutes are not on this page, because I believe that their high ranking is based on departments other than CS and IT.

I have also resisted the temptation of looking at the placement scenarios. I strongly believe that the placement is a function of current perception (which is no indicator of quality). One should be interested in long term career, and not in placement. Long term career is a function of quality of education (besides your own personality, hard work, life skills, and a good bit of luck). In my view (and I have talked to thousands of people on this), initial placement has no causal relationship or even a strong correlation with a good career. And hence I only look at parameters which ensure quality, primarily the quality of faculty.

But I also look at something interesting that the Institute is doing. So the list below does not just represent a set of Institutes with good CS faculty, but those who are unique in some ways.

Disclaimer: Do Not take this as my ranking of CS/IT Departments. These are good departments that I know of. I do not claim to know about all the Institutes in the country. And as I said above, I am also including some departments for their innovation, rather than an overall quality.

If I have not listed a department here, it can be for a variety of reasons. I may not have been able to visit the Institute in the last few years, and could not get enough information from the website. I may not have even tried to get information about the Institute, since it may not have been on my radar. And, of course, I may not have found anything exciting on my visit there, and I do not believe that they are doing a good enough job of education.

Other minimum requirements for listing here:
  • I only list institutes which are autonomous in academic processes (that is, they are either university themselves or a constituent college of a university). ( I am not listing colleges affiliated to any university.

  • I only list colleges which have an under-graduate program in Computer Science or IT. (So, great places like IISc, Bangalore, are not on this list.)
First of all, I would like to list four IIITs, that is, Institutes focusing on Information Technology, which in my opinion are providing excellent quality of education in IT related disciplines in India. You can jump to a brief note of each Institute by clicking on the name.
  1. International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-H), Hyderabad
  2. Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-D), Delhi
  3. Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology (DA-IICT), Gandhinagar
  4. LN Mittal Institute of Information Technology (LNMIIT), Jaipur
Of course, there are many others who have impressed me for something or the other. The list is as follows.
  1. BITS, Pilani
  2. NIT, Calicut
  3. Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  4. NIT, Hamirpur
  5. Institute of Technology, BHU, Varanasi
  6. College of Engineering, Anna University, Chennai
I consider IIIT, Hyderabad as the best alternative to IITs (from amongst the institutes I know or I have been told of). This Institute is already competing with IITs on attracting faculty, and every year it does attract some students who have got a good enough rank in JEE to get admission to IITs. They also get top students from AIEEE, and I believe that these students are as good as those in IITs. Basically, if you made a small mistake on the day of JEE, and did not do that mistake in AIEEE, you join IIIT Hyderabad. They have tremendous focus on research and human values. I have visited IIIT Hyderabad umpteen number of times, and I come back more impressed every time I go there.
IIIT Delhi is the newest amongst the IIITs. Though it has been in the existence for only 3 years, it has already started making waves. It has been able to attract excellent faculty, start strong research programs, have a great curriculum, and everything else that you would want from a good institution. It is supported by Delhi Government, though it is managed largely through a board which has very little representation from Delhi Government. Its Director, Prof. Pankaj Jalote, is a well known academician who has been writing a great deal about technical education for the last many years. He has a great vision and his presence as the founding director is really giving this Institute a great shape.
Another Institute, which is making an impact in IT education is DA-IICT at Gandhinagar. I am very impressed with the number of faculty members with PhD degrees from various IITs and decent US universities. And let me admit, being a faculty member myself, I think that an Institute which has so many of PhDs in their faculty, has to be on the right track. Of course, having "Dhirubhai Ambani" in the name of the Institute will ensure that the ADA (Anil Dhirubhai Ambani) group would never let it become a second-rate institution. Further, in their curriculum, there is a unique mix of Information Technology (CS) and Communication Technology, and depending on one's interest, one can go into the depth in either direction. And they seem to truly believe that under-graduate education is about broadening the horizons, and not become an expert. So not only do they have humanities courses in their curriculum, but they also have a six-week stay in a rural setting as part of curriculum.
LNMIIT is the fourth of the IT-focused institute which has potential to compete with the best in the future. The Institute has excellent infrastructure, beautiful architecture, and some of the best teachers in the country, who have retired from IIT system. Many of the young faculty members too have PhDs from IITs, IISc, and other fine institutions. Another great thing about LNMIIT is that they let you chose and change the discipline any time you want, with very liberal limits. You decide the discipline at the end of first year, and if after doing a few courses in that discipline, you think you like something else, just change it. They believe that a single exam on a single day should not determine the career of a young boy or girl. So they offer admissions through both AIEEE and IIT JEE. The curriculum is modern, and has only 40 odd courses. (Elsewhere, I have argued that a BTech curriculum should have no more than about 40 courses.) LNMIIT is a unique experiment of education in the joint sector. It is not a private college. It is a public private partnership between the Rajasthan Government and Lakshmi and Usha Mittal Foundation. And of course, Jaipur is arguably the best city to live in North India.
I admire BITS, Pilani for a lot of innovation that they have been doing in the engineering education. Whether it is the one semester training (Practice School) in the industry, or their online entrance exam, they always seem to be a step ahead of others in the new ways of doing education. They have an excellent dual-degree program, more flexible than any IIT can boast of. They have the best admission process, which takes some amount of language abilities into account. Of course, one concern that I have is whether BITS is spreading itself too thin by growing so fast. They have opened campuses in Dubai, Goa, and Hyderabad. Also, their focus on research seems less than other top class institutes in the country. (And, by the way, my strong recommendation is only for the Pilani campus.)
In September 2006, I had a chance to visit NIT Calicut, and I must say that I was very impressed. As you can see from the short list of institutes on this page, I do not get impressed easily. And let me tell you why. The first thing I noticed was that pretty much every faculty member in the department had a degree from either an IIT or IISc. They do hire people who have a BTech degree, but then ask them to do graduate education from outside. Most colleges run graduate programs (MTech or PhD) primarily to ensure that their own faculty members can get part-time graduate degrees. Even in NITs, most faculty members do MTech or PhD internally. But this in-breeding is dangerous for the quality of a department, and NIT Calicut has avoided the path of convenience to ensure quality. The maintenance of the campus is another thing that struck me as something great. The infrastructure is very good. The faculty is very cohesive. They have resisted the temptation of starting a program on IT. (Why shouldn't CSE and IT departments be merged in all NITs? There is hardly any difference in the programs, and these differences can be handled by offering electives.)
As one of the oldest engineering college in the country, Jadavpur University has made great contributions to the country. It was one of the early universities to start programs in computer science. It has a faculty, which includes 20 PhDs, which is rare, and almost impossible to find outside the IIT system. They have put out the number of their papers and other output on the website, which is good, though I would have liked to see the list of those papers, preferably with links to download them. The number of specializations is more than the number of faculty members. A large number of those PhDs are from Jadavpur University itself, and as I said above, I think there is something wrong with a department that encourages so many of the internal PhDs. This is particularly strange in their case, when fine institutions like IIT Kharagpur and ISI Kolkata are nearby. And the website is very poorly designed.
If there was an award for the most improved Institute in the country, it had to be given to NIT Hamirpur. Besides being the most beautiful campus that I have visited (and I have visited more than 100 colleges in the country), the improvements in the last five years are everywhere to see. You talk to anyone and they have a story to tell, a story of change, a change for the positive. The infrastructure improvement (computers, Internet bandwidth, buildings, and everything else) have taken place at a very rapid pace. It is no longer a sleepy NIT, with no link to the outside world. Now they welcome visitors from other NITs, IITs, and everywhere else. And once you go there, you are bound to fall in love with the campus. The curriculum has seen major changes (for the good). There is focus on hiring more faculty. They have started new MTech programs. They are starting to build relationships with their alumni. Everything that a college can and should do is being done at NIT Hamirpur, and it is no surprise to me that they have started appearing in some of the surveys of top engineering colleges. It also shows that while institutions are built through team-work, leadership makes a huge difference. Prof. I K Bhat, ex-Director of NIT Hamirpur, is one such visionary, who has made a huge difference. But the question being asked now is: Who after Prof. Bhat? The Institute has been without a Director for the past six months.
Institute of Technology, BHU, Varanasi has many strengths. It has been participating in the Joint Entrance Examination for several decades and that has really given it a good brand image. It is part of a great university and a great campus. That means that not only the campus has facilities of all sorts, but it also enables some cultural exchange between engineering students and non-engineering students, which is very good for wholesome education. And of course, it is expected that IT BHU will soon be converted into an IIT. The bill has already been passed by Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha is expected to pass it in the next session. And, as this list only contains institutes other than IITs, this is perhaps the last year for IT BHU to be on this list.
Another excellent place that I visited in 2006 is College of Engineering, Anna University, Chennai. The CS department has a fairly large faculty, and lots of them have a PhD degree. There is an active research program, and one can find several publications from that department in literature. It is an active and vibrant department. Also, they have a very interesting part-time under-graduate program. As I said above, whenever I visit a department, I am looking out for something unique, an idea which is worth emulating, and I don't know of any other place which has such a part-time under-graduate program. The curriculum is based on a credit-based system, which is a big positive.
If you have a suggestion for including another institute, please let me know. But back up that suggestion with data. Not placement data. Not India Today ranking, or any other ranking. Not the closing rank of AIEEE. But data about quality of faculty or something innovative about the program there.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Allow BTech Students to Graduate in Less Than 4 Years

Just read the ToI news about unfortunate death of a student of IIT Madras. Apparently he committed suicide because he would not have graduated in May but a few months later. He needed to do some more work on his project. He felt that he would lose his job, and the idea of staying back when a large fraction of his batchmates were graduating did not appeal to him.

The comments by the readers blame him squarely. It was just six more months. There are enough jobs for IITians.

There is no denying that graduating along with your batchmates and joining a job has become an extremely important goal for all students and the parents. Any indication that a student might not graduate in time introduces enormous stress, and every year, at the time of exams, one would find several bright young kids taking their own lives in different parts of the country.

How do we solve this problem. There are all sorts of suggestions on the readers' comments page. We must have professional counselors who would advise the students that six months is only a small fraction of the 50 year work life that they will enjoy. Even the professors should be trained to handle such students sensitively. The heads of the departments who are responsible to break this news to students must be trained to suitably advise the affected students. We must have Yoga or "Art of Living" as compulsory part of the curriculum. Basically, we must make sure that the student does not think of suicide when he comes to know that he has failed.

While all this must be done, there is an alternative, which might be easier to implement.

How about making sure that 80 percent of the batch does not graduate on a particular day. Or even 50 percent of the batch does not graduate on a single day.

Well, IITs have been offering the dual-degree (BTech and MTech together in 5 years) programs wherein the student does not graduate in the regular 4 years. They also have Integrated MSc programs. But that is not enough. A lot of people still graduate in 4 years.

We could ensure that less students graduate in 4 years, by offering more options to them: offer joint BTech-MBA programs, offer double majors (For example, BTech in Civil AND BTech in Mechanical), besides the BTech-MTech dual-degree programs. And then we advise the students that it is in their interest to go for this extra degree. But I suspect that this won't increase the number of students delaying their graduation significantly.

We should also introduce programs in which a student can have a break in studies after 4-5 semesters. He can work in industry or a research lab for a semester or two, get a wider world view, earn some money, and then get back to studies. These students would graduate later than 4 years. (At LNMIIT, we arranged some of the students to spend time at CERN, and other famous labs, doing cutting edge research.)

Another way to have less students graduate in 4 years is to fail a large number of students. But that would be rather mean.

So, we come to yet another (and my favorite) option to reduce the number of students graduating in 4 years - allow them to graduate in less than 4 years. It is high time that we shift to fully flexible credit based systems for all our degree programs. The graduation requirements should be in terms of credits that a student needs to earn, rather than the minimum number of semesters that he should have registered. (In my previous post, I had argued that if we move to credit based system, we would be able to offer an Executive MTech program, which is an urgent need of the industry.)

So students should be able to take an extra course (compared to the suggested program) in regular semester, and also do a course or two in the summer term. My expectation would be that there would be an odd student who would try to graduate in three years, but there would be 10-15 percent students would like to graduate in 7 semesters. Some more students would have done all course work, and would have left with only project work in the 8th semester, and they can graduate anytime during the semester.

So overall, we can have about 20 percent students graduate during or before 8th semester, another 20 percent students encouraged to go for dual-degree programs, and hence graduating after 9th semester or later, and about 10 percent students not graduating at the end of 8th semester due to failure in courses. All this combined would make sure that the number of students graduating at the end of 8th semester is only half the batch, or even less. And that would break the sanctity of a particular date of graduation in students' minds.

When that happens, graduation becomes a process and not a date, and a minor slip in that process will not be considered critical by the students and parents. Of course, industry also would have to become flexible in terms of its joining dates. But that is already happening. In most cases of a delayed graduation, industry is sympathetic and is able to adjust to the situation (at least in my experience at IIT Kanpur).

Of course, allowing early graduation also sends out a signal that we care about our top students. Currently, the feeling on campuses (at least amongst the faculty and the top students) is that all our time is spent on discussing how to help weak students. We must help weak students, but not by excluding good students from our thoughts and actions, altogether.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Idea of an Executive MTech Program

The MTech program in India is considered a research program, which one does leisurely over a two year period. There is a strong need, however, for different types of offerings at the Master's level, and the more innovative universities can create a program fulfilling that need.

NASSCOM (and many others who have studied quality of Indian higher education system) has pointed out that a large number of engineering graduates are not employable, and most of the graduates that the software industry employ, need significant training running into months. Companies also provide short-term training to their employees on a regular basis.

All this training ensures that the employees are aware of latest technologies and tools and they are able to execute projects incorporating those technologies and using those tools. However, after a decade of growth and promotions, many employees start reaching a plateau in the technical arena. If the college education did not teach basics well enough, all this training cannot take you too far.

For these employees, it appears as if the only way to climb the corporate ladder is to go through the management route. This perception of the employee is taken advantage of by the management institutes who have made executive MBA (or equivalent) options easily available. Management institutes have realized that it is unrealistic to expect a working professional to take a long break in career and do a degree at leisurely pace. But the MBA route to career growth is not a scalable option. As long as industry was growing at rates upwards of 20 percent, it could absorb large number of management graduates. But the need for people with higher technical knowledge is becoming acute.

As stated earlier, all the training that the companies provide cannot compensate for education that happens on a campus. A large number of current employees had gone through a relatively outdated curriculum from faculty members who did not know much better. If Indian industry has to go up in the value chain, they will need employees who are better educated, and not just well trained. This means that there is likely to be a large market for an executive (one-year) MTech program, and if some university starts it, it would be doing the industry a huge favor.

It is common in US universities (and elsewhere) to have multiple options for a master's degree. One can do very few courses and significant research work, or some more course work and a project, or even just course work. One can complete a course-based master's program in one year, though the thesis option would normally take six months longer.

If we look at the way MTech programs are structured in India, it is easy to compress them into a shorter duration programs. At IIT Kanpur (and I believe the credit requirement at other IITs would not be significantly different) one needs to do about 8 courses over 2 semesters, and a thesis work over another 2 semesters where the expected effort is equivalent to 8 courses (with minor variations across departments). Till a few years ago, the requirement was 6 courses and thesis equivalent to 6 courses, which could be completed in 3 semesters.

Why is it that a BTech student does 5 or 6 courses a semester, while an MTech student does only 4 courses a semester. Well, most of the MTech students are expected to provide some support to teaching or research to their department for about 8-10 hours a week. They get financial assistance for doing this work. Because of this requirement, they do only 4 courses. But, if someone does not want this financial support, and would rather do additional courses and finish early (and get a much higher corporate salary in the period that one saves as a result), it should be possible for someone to do 6 courses a semester. MTech students in general, and working professionals in particular are more mature than under-graduate students. They do not spend much time on partying, Internet surfing, movies, and games.

The rest is straight-forward. If the MTech program starts at the beginning of the summer term, a student does 2 courses in the summer, 6 courses each in the two semesters, and another 2 courses in the next summer, and in a total of 14 months, one has completed the 16 courses required for an MTech program. This does not reduce the credit requirement for the MTech program, only replaces thesis with courses, keeping in view the requirement of the industry.

Notice that it is possible to start the program in the beginning of the summer term, since the target audience are the working professionals. So no issues regarding having to wait for the result of the BTech program.

In fact, one can further reduce it effectively to one year, by requiring a project work to be done in the second summer, which would be equivalent to two courses. And this project work can be done in the company where the student is getting employed.

To run such a program at a very high quality, one can follow the ISB model. In the ISB model, one does not have an 18-week semester, but rather 6-week terms (including a couple of days break between two terms). So a student does not do 6 courses in parallel, but only 2 courses at a time, which get over within 6 weeks. It is easier to bring in high quality visiting faculty for 6 weeks, rather than for
a full semester of 18 weeks. So overall, the year is organized as seven 6-week terms. The exact dates can be tweaked to make it convenient for the visiting faculty. One could have a break of 3 weeks after four terms, which could be used for placement activities.

The puritans will balk at compressing the courses so much, but I believe that at the master's level, when one has only the motivated students and high-quality faculty, adequate learning can take place at the fast pace. But I concede that this may not work at the under-graduate level.

The program makes financial sense for all stake holders. If we assume that we would be able to attract high quality faculty by offering a compensation of about Rs. 10,000 per lecture hour, then the cost of faculty is about Rs. 4 lakh per course. If the physical infrastructure already exists in the institute, normally one would expect all non-faculty costs to be roughly equal. So the total cost to the institute for one course is about Rs. 8 lakhs. Assuming that there are only 40 students in a course, the average cost to the student is about Rs. 20,000 per course. If the student has to do 14 courses, the total cost to the student is only Rs. 2.8 lakhs. Even if we throw in goodies like a free laptop, invite a few foreign faculty at a higher cost, include personal costs of the student like mess food, the total cost to the student will still be within Rs.4 lakhs for the entire program.

In the current two year programs, typically the student earns enough during the program to take care of tuition and other expenses. So there is generally zero cost to the student. In the one-year program, the cost is Rs. 4 lakhs, but this is peanuts compared to what the student will earn in that one year that s/he saves.

Students will be attracted towards this program, if either their current employers promise to retain their jobs after they return, or there are other employers who have promised to consider the graduates for employment (of course, at a higher salary than what most of these students were earning). So one has to have agreements with employers for providing support to this program. Also, some students would have cash flow problem to pay high cost in the beginning. Therefore, arrangements have to be made with banks for student loans.

To summarize, universities need to innovate to solve real problems of industry in terms of not having sufficient number of people who can become technical leaders. The idea of an executive MTech is a step in that direction.