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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sought After,but Given up Easy - Indian Express

By Diana Sahu
Published: 31st August 2015 06:00 AM



Started with an aim of fostering excellence in technical education, grand brand IIT is gradually losing its sheen. While faculty crisis and decline in the quality of courses have always remained a matter of concern for the country’s finest technical education chain, the new problem that is making the IITs’ bag of woes heavier is the student dropout rate.

Union Human Resources Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani informed the Lok Sabha recently that in the past three academic sessions, 2,060 students dropped out of various IITs. While 757 students dropped out in 2014-15 in the middle of their course, the number was 697 in 2013-14 and 606 in 2012-13.

The reasons, as the HRD Minister put it, are many: from shifting to other institutions to studying abroad or getting jobs during MTech and extreme academic stress.

While academicians agree with Irani, they add that the dropout number is low as far as undergraduate courses are concerned. 

Director of IIT-Roorkee Prof Pradipta Banerji says of the 575 students who opted out of the institution in the last three academic sessions, undergrads were a miniscule percentage. “A majority of this number are actually students who had enrolled for MTech or PG programmes in IIT-Roorkee, who got jobs or cleared the Indian Engineering Services. Many MTech students consider the IIT platform as a stopgap arrangement till they get their desired job,” he said. The institute, which was the seventh IIT to come up in the country, had recently expelled 73 BTech students for scoring a CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) that was less than five, in their first year.

Students quitting mid-course has become a veritable trend, according to Director-in-charge IIT-Delhi, Prof Kshitij Gupta. The man at the helm of the institute that had 448 dropouts in the past three years, said, “In the undergraduate level, every student who joins an IIT is usually a topper. However, when he/she steps into the institution, they face a feeling of being one among many and that is coupled with the pressure to perform.”

Down South and in the East, there were only eight dropouts from IIT-Madras in 2013-14 and as far as IIT-Bhubaneswar is concerned, 16,15 and four students dropped out of the institution in 2014-15, 2013-14 and 2012-13 academic years respectively.

Prof Ratnam V Raja Kumar, Director of IIT-Bhubaneswar, said that there are instances where even after qualifying for the IIT, students sometime take the JEE again for a better rank or a preferred branch. “We have also come across some students who after admission mention that they cannot financially afford education at an IIT. In my opinion, this is affordable and there are avenues like bank loans and merit-based scholarships available for a significant percentage of them; financial weakness need not be a reason,” he stated, adding that lack of communication skills and inability to cope with the academic rigour leads only to a small percentage of the dropouts.

Communication Chasm
Language is a barrier for students from SC, ST and OBC categories, as they usually come from a Hindi medium background. Although they score well in the IIT-JEE qualifying examination, they do not perform well in the classroom because of language issues. “Such students find it tough in following the lectures, as the medium of instruction in IITs is English and the books are mostly by American authors. But if counselled properly in the first year, they are able to overcome this,” explained Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director of IIT-Madras. He suggested that hand-holding exercises like organising language proficiency classes for such students is the need of the hour — as this can cut academic stress massively. Ramamurthi added that while the average graduation grade in the four-year BTech degree is around 7, students from reserved categories score around 6.5.

pressure points
Following a spate of suicides in the IITs, the HRD Ministry constituted a task force, chaired by veteran educationist, M Ananda Krishnan. The Ananda Krishnan Committee had in its report in 2012 pointed out that stress due to personal problems, family issues, poor results and inability to cope up with the IIT education system were major reasons behind the suicides. Apparently, the Union HRD Minister also pointed out that academic stress continues to be a reason behind the dropout rate. Often, students even opt out to join lower tier institutions.

IIT-Bhubaneswar’s Director feels that a small percentage of them who are weak in conceptual understanding in Plus Two education do find academics stressful. “Such students would discontinue studies after a few months or after the first semester or the first year of education at an IIT but certainly not before registering for other courses,” says Prof Kumar. He, however, adds that such cases are rare as IIT regulations provide a good scope for weak students to tackle things at a slow pace. “Such students can take a few years more than the stipulated four years for BTech degree and do it at their own pace, subject to a maximum permissible period,” he explained.

While the committee had called for the appointment of counsellors in all the IITs, the directors said measures to meet the counselling needs of students are already in place in their institutions. “At IIT-Bhubaneswar, we are going to arrange prior counselling by senior students and faculty members for those who get selected. After their joining, we will identify those who are academically weak, keep track of them and provide remedial education to see that they do not go off track or lag behind,” says Prof Kumar, adding that it is desirable that students give importance to their own choice of subjects while picking a branch of study rather than going by what peers or seniors say.

To ensure that no one loses out due to students quitting, the IITs have had an ‘exit policy’ in place since 2012. Under this, if a student surrenders his seat, his registration fee will be refunded. The seat can then be allotted to another student in the waiting list. However, as catching up with the course is difficult, not many candidates in the waiting list join the elite institutions.

spreading worry
It isn’t just the IITs that have trouble. A whopping 2,352 students dropped out of the 30 National Institutes of Technology (NITs) during the three-year period. However, the dropout figure came down to 717 in 2014-15 as compared to 785 in 2013-14 and 850 in 2012-13. Will the tide be turned against this outflow soon?

— diana@newindianexpress.com