IITs: Training winners for global market

Monday, 20 January 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: For five decades, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have quietly produced thousands of engineers, many of who now occupy the top slots in the global technology and corporate industry.

It has indeed been a long journey for the institute, the mecca for aspiring engineers, since it opened in 1951 in the small town of Kharagpur in West Bengal in a complex that was a prison during the British raj.

Today, the country boasts of seven IITs, among India's growing centres of educational excellence, six of which are ranked among the top 10 science and technology schools in the Asia-Pacific region.

This weekend, Bill Gates, U.S. ambassador to India Robert Blackwill, Stanford University president John Hennesey and hundreds of prominent IIT alumni will gather in Silicon Valley in the U.S. to celebrate 50 years of IITs.

"IIT students have done exceedingly well, both in India and abroad. The label IIT encompasses a dedicated faculty, a good ambience, well-selected disciplines and peer learning," gloated R.S. Agarwal, acting director of IIT-Delhi.

"IITs have always been getting the best students, the most brilliant and competitive with a strong will to succeed. Our students are the cream of the crop and given the right environment they will succeed anywhere," Agarwal told IANS with justifiable pride.

It is no surprise that graduates of the institute have come to play such a prominent role in global business, not just in tech companies.

The sparkling alumni roster includes Vinod Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, N.R. Narayan Murthy of Infosys Technologies, Desh Deshpande, the founder of Sycamore Networks, and Suhas Patil, the founder of Cirrus Logic.

Rajat Gupta, the worldwide chief executive officer of McKinsey, Rajat Gangwal, former president of U.S. Airways, Rono Dutta, president of United Airlines, and Victor Menezes, the co-CEO of Citibank are also IIT graduates.

IITs hold a proud spot in the country's history. India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, set up the first campus in 1951 to churn out engineers to build big public-works and infrastructure projects.

The IITs were "to provide scientists and technologists of the highest calibre -- to help build the nation towards self-reliance in her technological needs," Nehru had said.

As centres of excellence for higher education, research and development in science, the first IIT at Kharagpur was followed by IITs in New Delhi, Chennai, Kanpur, Mumbai and Guwahati.

The institute, which added one more chapter by converting a regional engineering college in Roorkee last year, offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

The success of IIT's graduates in the global marketplace, which has helped the institutes earn the title Millionaire University, inspires a host of school students to appear for the exam every year.

For middle-class Indians a diploma from IIT is a passage to affluence, in India or abroad. The parents start goading their children to prepare for the admission tests three to five years ahead of the time they become eligible for the exam.

In New Delhi, Vipul Sinha 12, has already got himself enrolled for a postal coaching course for the rigorous test of IIT although he will appear in an exam this March to get into ninth standard.

Vipul will appear in the admission test of IIT only after passing out from standard 12th.

"We make sure that he spends at least two to three hours everyday preparing for IIT exams. When he steps into standard ninth he will have to spend more time for this," said Sneha Sinha, Vipul's mother.

Only the top students, however, manage to join the millionaires' honour roll. The 200,000 applicants each year must first pass exams in chemistry, physics and mathematics before they can sit for a second set of gruelling analytical tests.

The 20,000 who make it to the second test stage compete for 3,000 entry spots. Those with the highest scores get first pick of their major course of study.

"It is like swimming against the tide. If you get there, there must be something in you," said Y.P. Singh, who has spent 41 years in IIT-Kharagpur - five years as a student and 36 years as a faculty in electrical engineering department.

"The admission test of IIT is in itself so tough that after clearing the exam you know how to work hard and achieve what you want to achieve all through your life," Singh added.

Agrees Y.P.S. Suri, an aluminous of IIT-Kharagpur. "The intense selection process guarantees that those admitted to the institute are smart and hardworking. Then the boot-camp atmosphere toughens them for business battle.

"Most IIT-ians don't have a problem dealing with cutthroat global corporate competition after going through the grind in IIT," said the 1975-batch mechanical engineering graduate who runs an e-commerce firm in New Delhi.

Many IIT graduates continue higher studies either in IIT or other global prestigious institutes such as Stanford University to improve their technical skills.

"Our name has huge brand equity in educational institutions everywhere in the world," says Singh of IIT-Kharagpur.

Those graduates who head straight to work have plenty of offers. In the U.S. they can command starting salaries of $50,000. IBM, Intel, McKinsey, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems have all recruited from the IITs.

Source: IANS
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