Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Liberal Program Changes 2018

This year we have allowed change of program to 87 students in a batch of 821 students. Also, we allow program changes even after 3rd and 4th semester. I am quite sure that at least 25-30 students will get their programs changed in the next two semesters. This means that almost 15 percent of the batch would have their programs changed. That is a very large number (though I will never be satisfied, I think there is still scope to tinker with the rules).

I wrote a blog yesterday in which I mentioned this, and there were requests to make public more details of program change at IITK. Hence this article, and here are the rules:

Each program strength can go up by 2 (from the maximum of current strength, or the number of seats announced for admission). This means that there are at least two vacancies in each program. Other vacancies get created because an odd student does not join, and a few students' programs have been terminated at the end of 1st year due to poor academic performance.

Each program strength can go down to a minimum of 55 percent of the number of seats announced for admissions. This means that the least popular program, which happens to be Chemistry, some low CPI students will have difficulty in leaving for a new program.

Program changes can be done at the end of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th semester, strictly in the order of CPI. CPI is computed based on all courses of 1st year. This also means that if you haven't passed all courses, you are not eligible to change your program. And indeed there are students who do not go for morning exercises but have a decent CPI, and are not eligible for program change, since morning exercises is a compulsory course in the first year.

If there is only one vacancy in a particular program but more than one student who have the same CPI and want to change to that program, all of them will be granted change to that program. (This allows a large number of students to get Computer Science, since all of them have a CPI of 10.0 while there are only 2 vacancies in the program.)

Following is the statistics for program change this semester (only for those who got admitted in 2017 and have completed 2 semesters):

CSE, 2 vacancies, 10 in (last at CPI 10.0), 0 out, no vacancies left for next semester
EE, 2 vacancies, 10 in (last at CPI 9.5), 7 out, no vacancies left for next semester
ECO, 2 vacancies, 2 in (last at CPI 9.0), 0 out, no vacancies left for next semester
MTH, 3 vacancies, 6 in (last at CPI 9.0), 1 out, no vacancies left for next semester
ME, 2 vacancies, 10 in (last at CPI 8.8), 6 out, no vacancies left for next semester
CHE, 2 vacancies, 11 in (last at CPI 8.4), 9 out, no vacancies left for next semester
AE, 2 vacancies, 6 in (last at CPI 7.7), 4 out, no vacancies left for next semester
CE, 2 vacancies, 11 in (last at CPI 6.2), 9 out, no vacancies left for next semester

PHY, 3 vacancies, 7 in, 5 out, 1 vacancy left
MSE, 5 vacancies, 12 in, 13 out, 6 vacancies left
BSBE, 3 vacancies, 2 in, 6 out, 7 vacancies left
ES, 3 vacancies, 0 in, 11 out, 14 vacancies left

CHM, 3 vacancies, 0 in, 16 out, 19 vacancies left, No one else can leave Chemistry due to 55% rule.

The last student allowed to leave Chemistry has a CPI of 6.5. A student at 6.4 CPI has not been allowed to change. Only one more student can leave Earth Science to hit 55 percent rule.

Note that new vacancies can get created next semester because someone leaving IIT (voluntarily or involuntarily) and also in some cases a student seeking a change from a more popular program to a less popular program.

I mentioned in the beginning that there is still scope for tinkering with the rules. One rule is that a student can get program change only once. This makes the system a lottery which is highly undesirable. So, if you are in Earth Science, and you have a decent CPI that can get you Mechanical after the second semester, should you apply for it now, or hope that after the 3rd or 4th semester, an additional vacancy will get created in a more popular program and there will not be as much demand then, so one waits. But of course no additional vacancy may get created and you didn't get Mechanical either because not this too is full.

Also, one can allow additional program changes at the end of 2nd year. Someone who is willing to work extra hard to do a program of his/her own interest, can be encouraged.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Marketing New Programs at IITK

The year was 1976. We had been running an inter-disciplinary M.Tech. program in "Computer Science and Engineering" for a few years. Even earlier, we had a specialization in Computer Engineering as part of Electrical Engineering department. We had been running short term courses in computing right from 60s. Pretty much every one connected with computing in India had attended some program at IIT Kanpur. And yet, the general feeling in the country was that Computer Science would never succeed in a poor country like India where the labor was so cheap. The Government would not allow use of computers since that could only reduce jobs.

The faculty took a very risky decision. They will offer an under-graduate program in Computer Science and Engineering, the first in the country. This was bound to fail, critics warned. We will get only those students who cannot get admission to any other program. The Senate refused to allow this. After a lot of persistent effort by the then CS faculty, it was finally approved to start in 1978 with just 20 students. Prof. Rajaraman went to several cities just after the announcement of JEE result and met students and parents and convinced them why Computer Science had a bright future ahead. Faculty members also went to other IITs on the day of counseling to answer any questions that students and parents may have.

When the counseling results came out, this new program which was predicted to be a failure had closed ahead of all existing programs in all IITs at that time.

Today, we think that "marketing" is a four letter word.

Economics program was started in 2005 after Mr. Arjun Singh, the then Minister of HRD made a public statement that IITs should widen their offerings and he particularly mentioned Economics as one program that we could offer. I was quite excited about this program. If this program was available in my student days, may be I would have seriously considered it instead of Computer Science. But it was a risk that IIT Kanpur was taking. We had a small faculty, and we really were not prepared for it. The students and parents were not ready for it. Most people were of the view that those who give JEE want to do engineering. Some of them do science because they had done science in 11th and 12th and enjoyed it. But things that they had not done in school and are not engineering, they would not be interested in. It was pointed out that other such programs like Architecture, Pharmacy, and certain science programs like Geology had extremely poor closing ranks compared to other programs. And Economics was going to be right there, at the last.

I talked about it on my blog and encouraged people to opt for it. I was sure that after some teething troubles, this will be a great program. Frankly, I had very little support till Prof. Vimal Kumar joined the department in 2009. We worked together on social media, reaching out to students and parents, answering their queries. It helped that the first batch graduated in 2010. He was also able to rope in students. And slowly Economics has become a reasonably popular program. I am convinced if people like Vimal were there in the department in 2005, this would have been a top choice right in the beginning and continued from there onwards. If a program is not a top choice in the beginning, fighting the argument of last year's closing rank is extremely difficult.

Next program to start was Earth Science in 2016.

Lest I should be misunderstood, I am not at all suggesting that marketing is all we should do. I am only suggesting that we share our passion with future students. And I am also saying that "Marketing" is not a 4-letter word, but a 9-letter word. :-)

People believe that good things will happen when they see faculty members are passionate about those things. To give an example of this, when I was SUGC Chairman, I organized a session on "branch change" where I invited faculty members from each department to talk about their discipline to first year students. At the end of a couple of hours, we distributed the branch change forms. That was the first time when Maths was more in demand than Electrical Engineering. Never happened again.

While I have written about under-graduate programs, the same is true for graduate programs as well. As a Dean, I started insisting that during admission time, each department must provide the name of a person and his/her phone number on Dean's website for any admission related query. Most departments gave the number of an office clerk. A couple of them gave the number of a graduate student, and a couple of them gave a faculty member's number. It took a lot of cajoling to get a faculty name for all programs.

I have often heard in various forums that it is not the duty of faculty members to attract students. I am glad that the pioneers of Computer Science at IIT Kanpur did not share this view.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

No one in top 100 JEE rankers comes to IITK

It is becoming routine. Every year, the closing ranks for our programs decline. A few people complain. A few will explain that it is all due to geography and there is very little we can do to change geography. A few will blame the students and parents for not realizing how great IIT Kanpur is and will pronounce that it is their loss and not ours. And after a few days, we will forget about it, till the next year.

So, very little outrage this year when IIT Madras closing ranks are better than those of IIT Kanpur for every department. After all, we were expecting this to happen for the last few years and were ready with the excuse - IIT Madras is in a Metro city like IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi.

We will also hear, like every year, that there is no difference between a student with rank 100 and one with rank 150. And I would argue like every year that the problem is not the closing rank only, but the fact that even rank 150 student is here because his top 5 choices were not available to him and hence we are admitting mostly those students who are unhappy to be here at Kanpur. (That they might become happy over the four years is immaterial.)

Something else seems to be happening. IIT Kharagpur is closing on us. This is something that cannot be explained purely on the basis of Metro versus non-Metro. We are certainly a far better geography from any perspective. Some people would try to look into data to see if there were more selections from West Bengal/Odisha, etc. They will fail, of course, as the number of selections from North India are very high this year. So, what is happening.

In one word, it is called, "Leadership."

Do we listen to our students and potential students. Do we even know what they want. One colleague complained that social media is too full of negative news about IITK. I haven't felt that way, but do we understand why some of our students feel that way. Do we do anything about it.

My gut feeling is that the leadership at IIT Kharagpur for the last five years has been listening to students and making changes to accommodate the aspirations of their students while we aren't so pro-active. Just to give one example, given that CS and computing in general is what attracts students, can we compare how many students are able to do branch change to CS, second major/minor/dual-degree in CS at both Kharagpur and Kanpur. I am told that the numbers in Kharagpur are better.

Every time during registration, the students complain about lack of real choices in open electives. The number of faculty members who allow non-department students to do their courses is small. Have we done anything about it. The humanities and social science courses are becoming increasingly important for engineers and are no longer just for breadth. Do we have any strategy to enable students to do HSS courses of their choice and in smaller classes.

One of the ways to enable flexibility was to offer summer courses. But the summer term has not been leveraged as it should be.

There have been cosmetic changes in the curriculum over the last several decades. While no one denies the necessity of breadth at the UG level, but forcing a large number of compulsory courses isn't how that breadth is provided by most good universities. Can we offer more contemporary courses and as electives.

We have many strengths, and we don't talk about it. We do not organize open house for JEE selected candidates. We have a very large number of merit-cum-means scholarships. This year, we have started many merit-based scholarships. And for the first year students, merit is to be seen in terms of JEE ranks, which means it would be easy for top rankers to get those scholarships. But we don't even mention them anywhere.

Why do we not focus on admissions. The simple reason is that it is not worth it in the short term. And it is difficult to plan for long term. The closing ranks in UG admissions change slowly. Most students and parents fill choices based on last year's closing ranks. A small perturbation happens because more or less students get selected from different regions every year. On top of that, there will be small change based on a variety of information that these candidates may come across on social media, websites, open houses, friends and relatives and so on. So you do a lot of effort and the closing rank pretty much remains the same, what is the conclusion you would draw. Obviously, that effort did not yield desired result. So why repeat it. But that effort is still necessary because its impact will be seen over 10 years, and not over 1 year. At least you won't be declining every year, if you were to be serious about admissions.

I recall that the issue of IITK not attracting top students through JEE was first raised more than 15 years ago in our Senate. A request was made that a committee be formed to look at whether there was something we could do to arrest the slide. Senate refused. The issue surfaced again a few times, and each time, Senate, in its wisdom, deciding that it does not merit any investigation. That, to me, reflects the quality of its leadership.

Blaming geography, blaming social media, blaming students and parents, yes there are lots of potential targets of our blame game. But none of them would help us move forward. There are lots of low hanging fruits. If we pluck them, we would make our system so much in line with the aspirations of our students, and that is the only way to move forward. The issues are internal and not external. And that is why leadership is so important.