Monday, July 28, 2014

Only two in top 100

So one more year of disappointment. Out of top 100 JEE rankers, only two have joined IIT Kanpur. For someone belonging to the era where more than 50 joined IIT Kanpur, this is shocking, but it has been this way for a few years. And last year it was actually zero out of 100.

Every year, after the JEE statistics are known, we have a discussion on the faculty mailing list. Some people will express shock while a majority would consider this insignificant.

Some would say that it is more important to attract good PG students than to attract good UG students. Alright, but are we attracting good PG students compared to those IITs who are attracting higher JEE rankers. I think there is a correlation between the two, since attracting students is a function of our perception in the marketplace. If students perceive us as good they will come, otherwise not. And hence it is necessary to worry why this negative perception about IITK. Also, do we have to attract either good PG students or good UG students. Can't we attract both. Shouldn't we attract both.

Then some fatalists would say that we can't compete with metro IITs. Students today are looking for something that only metro cities can provide. What is it that these students are looking for. It seems that when students graduate from here, most of them are pretty happy with their stay here and seem to genuinely believe that they got everything that their friends in metro IITs got and then some more. Can we not leverage this good feelings to attract top rankers in both JEE and GATE.

Some will argue that we can't compete with metro IITs in placement and that is all that students look for at admission time. Unfortunately, these faculty members do not even know our own strengths, and are giving up too soon. Our placements are actually comparable to other IITs, and in certain perspectives, even better.

Some would argue that there isn't much difference between top 100 and the next 100. Lets accept that, but then are we attracting the next 100. Are they coming to IITK because they found something great about IITK. Or did they come to IITK because they couldn't get into other IITs. Shouldn't IITK be bothered if in each of its program/discipline, students prefer 2 or 3 other IITs before IITK.

Some would argue that we should just do our job well, and not worry about perceptions. Good argument that. It is, of course, yet another debate on whether we are doing our job well. Whether the flexibility that our UG programs has on paper is for real. What percentage of our students are able to complete even minors, not to talk about second major, just to give one example. How many faculty members agree to let students from all departments to register in their courses. The add/drop period is on right now, and the number of queries I get from students asking me how to get any course in the Open Elective slot is not a small number. Of course, these are problems across the IIT system, and not specific to IIT Kanpur, as I found out recently in my meeting with Deans of other IITs.

And hence we have an opportunity. If we can somehow create a culture where most faculty members permit students from outside the department to register for their courses, resulting in more number of minors, a greater number of graduates with wider horizons, a more positive student experience overall, I am sure we won't have to do much more. So, yes, just doing our job well will attract more students.

Of course, this will not be the end of the argument. Since as soon as you talk about doing more as a teacher, a new debate on teaching versus research will get started. It will be forgotten that I am really not talking about a higher teaching load, but just a more diversified load. So, the issue is really not of teaching versus research, but just a better student experience. I am sure an improved experience will make all these students to attract next year's students and so on.

We could also take up the task of communicating our huge strengths to our potential students and their parents.Our internal stake holders too need to be aware of those communications.

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