Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Branch Change at IIT Kanpur

In the Senate meeting last week, one of the agenda items was to approve the change of branch (program) of under-graduate students. 66 students were allowed to change their program. And, of course, IIT Kanpur is unique in further allowing change of branch in the second year. So the expectation is that about 100 students would be able to get a change of their branch. That is pretty liberal for a batch size of just above 800 students.

While one needed to have a CPI of 10.0 (on a scale of 10.0) to get into Computer Science, the next most popular programs were Electrical Engineering and Mathematics (and Scientific Computing). Both programs accepted students till a CPI of 9.4. Economics was the next most popular and closed at 9.1, leaving behind Mechanical Engineering at 8.9. Chemical was the only other program that needed a CPI greater than 8 (8.4, to be precise). Aerospace was available to students who just missed a B-average grade (CPI of 7.9). Civil managed to fill its quota (and the two additional seats that we allow at the time of branch change) though it did that at a CPI of 6.4, and Material Science was surprisingly full too at a CPI of 5.1.

Physics had its seats full though the additional 2 seats that we allow at the time of branch change did not have takers.

Programs in Biological Science and Bio-Engineering, Earth Science, and Chemistry had all lost lots of students to fill up the few vacancies in other programs and also the 2 extra seats in each program.

What are the implications of this.

First of all, students in least popular 6 disciplines, viz., Civil, Material Science, Physics, Biology, Earth Science, and Chemistry, could easily exchange their programs even with much below average performance in the first year. Last year, Aerospace had a closing rank of 2988 in JEE Advanced, and Earth Science had a closing rank of 7469. What the branch change statistics is telling me is that a rank of 2989 and 7469 made no difference to what you will eventually be able to study.

During the counseling period that just got over, people were so concerned about some of these programs. Should I take Earth Science at IITK or Civil somewhere else. Well, if you had taken Earth Science at IIT Kanpur, you would be able to change it to Civil at IIT Kanpur. You don't have to constantly think of those few marks lost and how you deserved a better rank and all that. Just take whatever you can get in IIT Kanpur and then change. Note that we are only talking about change within the 6 less popular programs, and to get a change to other 7 programs, you still need to work very hard, and you still need to have a lot of luck.

A liberal branch change policy has ensured that someone with a rank of 3000 and a rank of 7000 are on equal pedestal in terms of their choice of program. And therefore, if every IIT were to have similarly liberal branch change programs, the stress can be reduced tremendously all around.

The other interesting point about this data is that Economics is becoming the darling of many students. During JEE Counseling, when there is tremendous external influence on students, they seem to prefer Mechanical and Chemical over Economics. The argument is that we studied for JEE to be an engineer. But once they are away from that influence, they are willing to take an independent decision. In this it helps hugely that perhaps Economics is the only department on campus, which actually tries to answer all questions by students, tries to give a lot of information through social media, etc. I am sure that if other departments were to try talking to first year students, they too can attract more students.

The next observation is that while the order of popularity in branch change is different from the order of popularity in JEE Counseling (due to Economics), there are hardly anyone who has sought a change of program from more popular to a less popular program. That is disappointing. One would have thought that after one year, there would be at least one Electrical Engineering student who would want to study Mechanical or Chemical instead.

Maths, Economics and Computer Science are the only three programs from where not a single student has sought a change of program. And Earth Science and Chemistry are two programs where not a single student has joined the program. Earth Science has been a huge disappointment. As a new program, they were expected to reach out to students and excite them. But they have done nothing of the sort.

Last point, I think we must think of making the branch change rules even more liberal. As we can see, they reduce stress across the board, give more students satisfaction of following their interest (even if that interest is guided by that awful thing called money). In fact, when many people argue that we should have program selection only after one year, I tell them that a liberal branch change policy can achieve the same result with less stress.