Mumbai: In an effort to produce more well-rounded graduates with diverse interests, the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are trying to get students out of the classroom.
Three IITs—Bombay, Delhi and Roorkee—have reduced the minimum number of credits that a student needs to graduate, while at least two other IITs—Kharagpur and Madras—are considering offering their students the same flexibility. IIT Guwahati and Kanpur say they have no plans to change.
The overhaul at most of the premier government-run institutes reflects a significant change: to break out of the rigidity of courses and curriculum, to ensure graduates are prepared for the demands of a new global economy and, in some ways, to ensure IITs still attract and retain India’s brightest students who might be wooed by foreign universities and more open educational philosophies.
“The BTech (bachelor of technology, the graduate degree awarded by IITs) education has so far been quite straitjacketed, but now we are making efforts to address that,” said Deepak Phatak, a senior faculty member at IIT Bombay. “This change in the course format will provide students some flexibility and freedom to structure their education,” he added.
Starting this academic year (2007-08), IIT Bombay has reduced the total number of mandatory credits that a student has to complete to successfully graduate, from 350 in four years to 250 in four years. Students who opt to do the full 350 credits in their chosen fields will be awarded an honours degree when they graduate. But those students who wish to use the extra time to pursue research or study another area of interest now have the freedom to do so; they will get a degree that reflects the major specialization as well the minor studies.
Students can also use their time to participate in organizing events hosted by the institute, such as campus festivals.
IITs attract the cream of Indian students opting for technical education. Each year, more than 60,000 students attempt to gain admission to these seven institutes, out of which only about 4,000 qualify. At the same time, an increasing number of students are spurning the education at these elite institutes, deeming them too difficult to get into or too rigid in academic structure. In the academic year ended 2007, there were more than 12,000 undergraduate students from India in the US alone.
Along with IIT Bombay, IIT Roorkee has also introduced some new programmes in the current academic year for students just admitted. G.S. Srivastava, dean of undergraduate studies at IIT Roorkee, said: “In this year, we have reduced the number of credits and have also provided students more course options.”
IIT Delhi, which was the first of the seven IITs to implement a reduction in credits in 2003, is quite happy with the results and may consider a further decrease. “The first batch that went through the new programme has just graduated and we see some improvement in the class’ cumulative grade point average,” said Santanu Chaudhury, associate dean (undergraduate courses) at IIT Delhi.
The cumulative grade point average (or cumulative performance index) is a measure of academic performance at IITs.
Chaudhury emphasized that it may take some time before IIT Delhi can conclusively determine the impact, but added that the institute sees some evidence of “reasonable success”. According to Choudhury, the basic premise on which the changes were made was that high quality technical education needed to follow a “time budgeting” principle. “For every hour of classroom contact, the student has to have a few hours of independent study. They need the time to ignite their own thinking without having too many pressures,” he said.
IIT Delhi’s success may be inspiring others to follow suit. At IIT Madras, a task force is deliberating the reduction of credits among other aspects of the institute’s future course. “Every five years, a task force is set up to chart out plans for the institute. One such committee is currently working on a plan and its report will be ready in a few months’ time. I believe that one of the things under consideration is the reduction of the number of credits for students,” said Santhakumar S., dean (academic courses) at IIT Madras.
The recommendations in the report, which is likely to be submitted by March end, will need various high-level clearances, including from the institute’s senate, before they are implemented.
The senate comprises professors and student representatives who control and approve the curriculum, courses, examinations and results. At IIT Madras, a revision in the course structure, if at all, may only be effective by 2009.
At IIT Kharagpur, the oldest IIT, finishing touches have just been put to a revised course structure. “We have reduced the number of course(s), especially breadth (equivalent of minor) and increased the number of depth (major) courses,” said S.K. Som, dean (academics) at IIT Kharagpur. The new course structure comes into effect in the next academic year.