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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Proposal for Lateral Admission in IITs

Several years ago, I had written a blog article suggesting that IITs offer lateral admission. Whenever I have discussed this with people, a few questions have come about - how would you compare students from different colleges, would you have another form of entrance exam for entry into 2nd year.

My response has been that if we are convinced that lateral admission is good for IITs and good for students, then we will find a way out. So before asking for implementation details, are you convinced that it is a good idea. The obvious win for IITs is that the single exam misses out on a lot of meritorious students, and we get a second chance to identify them and recruit them. And this second chance, if designed carefully, will involve not just an exam on one day, but looking at their one year effort, and hence a better predictor of future success than a single exam can ever be. The obvious win for the students is that they get a second chance to get into the institutions of their choice. And, of course, if some student is not convinced that this is good, they don't have to apply.

Good thing about lateral admission is that we don't need all IITs to agree on this. A single IIT can choose to do it. There is some agreement that we will all do silly things together when it comes to admission to first year of under-graduate programs. But there is no such agreement for lateral admissions, and there have been lateral admissions in 60s, 70s, and 80s.

The only top tier institution that admits students laterally (that I know of) is IIIT Hyderabad. They admit students only to dual-degree (BTech+MS), from those who have completed 2 years of engineering in some other college, and these students have to spend 4 years in this program. The idea is that if these students were to complete their bachelors in their current college, they will take 2 more years and then if they were to do a Masters program, that will be another 2 years. So anyone who is looking for doing both Bachelors and Masters is better off doing a much stronger Bachelors and an integrated Masters. Of course, someone only interested in a UG degree or hoping to do a Masters from abroad or from top IITs/IISc in India will not be too keen on this program. So they have ensured that they are not inundated with thousands of applications, and they can choose those students who are well prepared and are ready for a research degree.

We may have to think of our own goals for lateral admission. But the IIITH model is a good one. Many IITs have backtracked on admission to dual-degree programs through JEE because it has been felt that a 12th class student should not be forced to choose a Master's program in an area when s/he is not aware of anything in that area. IIT Kanpur is one of those IITs. And we are noticing that few students voluntarily take up dual-degree programs. As a result, we have a shortage of good quality MTech students, and a shortage of good Teaching Assistants to support our UG teaching. But offering dual-degree after 2nd year of college is fine since the student has been exposed to the discipline, and has a good idea of whether s/he may be interested in Masters program.

We could, therefore, seek admission from students who are about to complete 2 years in their respective colleges. Ideally, we could ask for all the details of projects, internships (if any), other activities in college, and short list on that basis, followed by an interview. But since many of my readers would not trust IITs to be objective, or would fear that this may lead to corruption or at least court cases, may I suggest a test as well. If we could negotiate with GATE that they can allow 2nd year students to give GATE, and also specify a part of the curriculum which is meant for them, it would solve the problem of an objective test. Since GATE is now an online test, such complications can be easily handled. A second year student will be shown only half the paper which is of topics which are pre-announced, and will get a score different from what senior students get. And we could shortlist students based on this score. We could even have some topics/questions which are meant for only these students. In an exam which is taken by 12 lakh students, some additional students will not be a major challenge. (Actually, this could be GATE as well with no changes at all. But that might give some advantage to students from colleges which have more core courses early on.)

So we shortlist students on the basis of this version of GATE. And then we interview and do whatever else we normally do in our MTech admissions, including looking at their two years' record. Once we admit the students, we could go through their transcript and decide what courses in IIT can be waived for them. If we have a doubt about the quality of the course, we could have a small test to check the academic preparation. After 2 years of studies and a good GATE score and good performance in interview, at least one year worth of credits will be waived, and hence this is advertised as a 4-year program. But for some students, many more credits may be waived, and they may even complete their dual degree earlier than 4 years (even in three years, for that matter). We could even consider those who are in 3-year programs in universities (and hence have done less engineering courses).

We could also have lateral admission after 1st year. Here, we could offer a 3.5 year BTech or a 4.5 year dual-degree. To reduce the number of applications to a level where an IIT can handle them without having to conduct a national wide admission test, we could go back to JEE - only those students are eligible who had a JEE rank of less than 50,000 (or whatever will give us reasonable number of applications). And then from those small number of applications, look at all aspects of student life, performance in 1st year, and have an interview. If we have enough seats for this round of admissions (and in several IITs), we could even encourage most students to not repeat JEE but join a good college, since the probability of success after JEE may not be much higher than probability of success in this round, particularly for those who missed coming to IIT by only a few marks.

While we are at it, let me also write about the scheme that Kakodakar Committee had suggested, which isn't lateral admission, but something similar. It suggested that IITs could admit students who have completed 3 years of UG. These students would do one year of UG in IITs, but will promise to stay on for 2 more years doing MTech (and hopefully, PhD). To enable this, IITs would enter into an agreement with colleges (it suggested only NITs, but could be expanded to any university) where the colleges agree to transfer credits done at IITs and more importantly, agree to not give UG degree till a year later, because otherwise, the student may just do a one year of UG at IIT, go back to his/her college, get the UG degree and never come back for MTech. (I wouldn't mind that at all, but that is what was proposed.)

So we could admit students in not just 1st year of UG, but in all other years of UG as well.


iitmsriram said...

I thought the Kakodkar committee recommendation was only for admission to PhD from 3rd year UG. IITM has signed MOU's with all the regional NITs plus some in the NE, but the off take is minimal (half a dozen students per year). NITs are not very receptive as there is really nothing in it for them other than enabling something for some of their students. In fact, several NIT colleagues have remarked that by doing this, we are taking away some of the best NIT students at their most productive phase away from NIT and into IIT, why would they support this?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Sriram, My memory says that the student only committed to be in IIT for 2 years - one year to do the final year of UG and 1 year beyond that. That NIT would give the degree one year late. And it was upto IIT to convince the student to do PhD. The student could get out with an MTech. But I could be wrong. I know NITs feel that their best students are being taken away. But they really should do an introspection and see how productive they are within NITs. I guess, they are referring to BTPs in the final year. Are they really doing great research that gets published in decent places, for example. The loss in such schemes is very minimal. On the other hand, you get happier alumni who would be an asset in future. You can advertise that your quality of education is such that IITs take away many for MTech/PhD. You can further advertise that your program is so flexible and student-centric. So, I think the advantages are much more than the loss that they are claiming. These are mostly ego issues at the end of the day. I have tried negotiating such agreements on behalf of more than one institute, and the first response is: we need reciprocity. If my student goes to you, I want your student to come to me. We don't even think if there is a win-win situation in an asymmetric agreement.

sarvottam said...

Is this a possibility?

Deepak Bhavnani said...

Mr Sanghi, what about providing lateral entry of students completing diploma engineering to second year of B Tech at IITs. Normally the colleges run by state governments do allow so. Then why not at IITs/NITs. It has been a belief of academicians for long time that diploma route is the best way to do engineering as your are learning the relevant subjects right from beginning. I hope the government is also considering the same