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.


  1. A very honest opinion and words by prof.Dheeraj. Leadership importance is proved in IIIT Hyderabad and IIT Gandhinagar cases, where world class universities were built.

    There may be some percentage attributed to location etc but not 100 percent failure to get top 100.

  2. I agree that leadership and listening to the students' aspirations matters in changing the perception about IIT-K.
    In the industry, IIIT-Hyd which was started about two decades ago has good reputation in few IT companies.