New Delhi: The council of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) on Monday decided to increase the number of students admitted to the prestigious engineering schools by 60%, market brand IIT in India and elsewhere, and engage with global ranking agencies to improve the standing of the schools.

At the same time, the council, the apex decision making body of the 16 IITs, signalled that the schools would remain independent of government interference.

The decisions come on the heels of Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd’s ranking of the world’s top 200 universities which showed not a single Indian institution in the list. A separate list of the top 200 Asian institutions had 11 Indian entities, with three in the top 50. IIT-Delhi was at 38, IIT-Bombay at 39, and IIT-Madras 49.

The council, whose members include all IIT directors, chairmen of their board of governors’ chairmen, some industrialists and the human resource development (HRD) minister, decided that the IITs would not be reviewed by the National Accreditation Board (NAB) and that the directors of the University Grants Commission and the All India Council for Technical Education would have no say in the appointment of IIT directors any more—both moves designed to reiterate and reinforce the autonomy of the schools.

“The council decided that since IITs are brands, their internal review will be given to NAB and it will be accepted as accreditation. NAB won’t be able to sent its team to assess the IITs," M.M. Pallam Raju, the HRD minister, told reporters in New Delhi.

NAB accreditation is essential for India to be part of the Washington Accord that allows smooth student mobility from Indian engineering institutes to foreign institutes and vice-versa. It also makes Indian engineering degrees equivalent to foreign ones, helps institutes foster better ties in research, curricula and sharing of resources, and also improves a country’s image in the higher education league table.

The decision to increase the number of students in various streams, from average 7,500 per institution to 12,000, over a period of time, is certain to bring cheer to thousands of students who seek admission to the prestigious schools, say analysts.

“It will also improve their (the IITs’) earnings (from fees) as well as from non-plan grants from the government," said Alok Mishra, a director at the HRD ministry. The council said the increase would first happen in the seven older IITs at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kharagpur, Kanpur, Guwahati and Roorkee.

Although recognized around the world for the quality of its graduates, the IITs haven’t really focused on brand-building, said the minister. “Branding and marketing is important for any institute and IITs have not done this by themselves. Now all IITs will devise a way on how to improve their brand equity," said Raju.

Officials in the HRD ministry said the IITs could together even appoint a chief marketing officer to head this initiative.

The council also decided that the IITs would form a committee comprising administrators and members of the alumni network to engage with ranking agencies such as the UK-based Quacquarelli Symonds and Times Higher Education ranking.

“They have to give complete details of their programs, research and curricula. If IITs give everything up-to-date their ranking can improve by 50%," said a HRD ministry official.

The council did not decide to hike tuition fees as suggested by a committee headed by the scientist Anil Kakodkar that proposed charging under-graduate students 2.5 lakh a year. The IITs had increased fees from 50,000 to 90,000 a year in January. The government spends about 2.25 lakh on each IIT student every year. “It’s up to the IITs now (to consider a revision)," Raju said.

The council did not discuss the contentious two-tier admission process to the IITs that is currently before the courts.

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