The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ex-students focus on brand IIT

Bangalore, Feb. 17: They came here from across the globe to raise a toast to a “brand” that all of them have come to represent and thus celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Indian Institute of Technology, one of India’s greatest institutions of learning.

Among the participants were over a 1,000 IITians who had studied at the seven branches of the institution in the last 50 years. The list of participants revealed what this centre of learning means to India and the world.

Technology masters such as Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani, professor Ashok Jhunjunwala and Reliance Telecom CEO B.K. Syngal rubbed shoulders with IIT mates who have made a mark in politics, corporate business and the media.

Leading this “other” pack were Goa chief minister Manohar Parikkar, Congress’ economic advisor Jairam Ramesh, Tata Sons executive director R. Gopalakrishnan and journalist Sandipan Deb.

Dr Seshagiri Rao, too, was present. He had attended the convocation address delivered by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at IIT Kharagpur in 1956.

The occasion saw much “backpatting” for IITians having created a global market for themselves and their contributions to various walks of life.

The institution’s limitations which affected “the nation itself”, too, were discussed at length at a business session titled “Role of IITs in Nation Building”.

The discussions tracked IIT history from the establishment of the first branch at Kharagpur in 1951 and went on to the fears whether the present style of the institution’s functioning was commensurate with the founders’ original vision.

At the end of it, there was a consensus that IITs and IITians needed to do more for nation building in spite of the former students’ remarkable global success.

It was also emphasised that the IITs continued to be islands of undergraduate excellence.

Among the shortcomings mentioned were geographic and disciplinary migration of the alumni leading to internal and external brain drain, the diminishing emphasis on post-graduate education and research and the widening gap between science and engineering.

The gathering agreed that IIT and IITians should explore new opportunities in biotechnology, medicine, agriculture and policymaking.

Vijayan Menon, one of the event’s prime organisers, told The Telegraph that the pan-IITianism that had come to the fore now would be used to achieve the new goals. “A formal body to coordinate activities on different fronts is being contemplated and should come into existence soon,” he said.

The formulation of this consensus was preceded by a number of high intellectual exchanges. R. Gopalakrishnan, who launched several successful soap and detergent campaigns for the Tata group, outlined precise plans to strengthen and advance the “global brand” called IITian.

Chokkalingam from Australia said “brand equity would get strengthened automatically if the product is good”.

Jairam Ramesh, like a true politician, focused on the need to develop mass excellence rather than elitist excellence by setting up hundreds of IITs across the country.

Ramesh emphasised that China was discussing with the US’ Mckinsey consultants -- which he described as an “adda of IITians” –- to set up 300 IIT-type institutions while “our elitists made a hue and cry when the seventh IIT was set up at Roorkee”.

Only 3,000 of 200,000 candidates get selected to the IITs every year, he said. “This number should be increased to at least 8 to 10 per cent.”

The “socio-psychological” problem of IITs not having enough girl students and “the long cyclerides he used to undertake to the railway station to see the female of the species” was the concern of D. Sengupta, who passed out of Kharagpur in 1961.

Professor H.K. Sharma, who became a psychologist after training as a physicist at IIT, said the lack of girl students was a serious problem with the institution.

Ramesh suggested that IIT managements should think seriously about “ affirmative action” to overcome this deficiency.

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