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An IIT degree guarantees a great pay cheque, right? Wrong

File photo: Students celebrate  after the 48th convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi in 2017. Premium
File photo: Students celebrate after the 48th convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi in 2017.

  • Unless you’re into software, graduating from India’s elite engineering institute is no guarantee of a high salary.
  • After years of preparation and spending lakhs of rupees, some IIT graduates from non-computer science streams receive job offers with pay packages of less than 10 lakh

MUMBAI : Rashid Ali Faridi graduated from IIT Guwahati in 2016 as a chemical engineer. He had put in years of hard work to get into one of India’s premier engineering institutes. The diligence was due to pay off and the road ahead was supposed to be smooth. A 3.9 lakh loan that he had taken to fund his education wouldn’t be a speed bump as he was confident of bagging a high-paying job.

The reality, however, was crushing. “A salary of 6 lakh was being offered for my specialization," Faridi told Mint. With the loan suddenly looming large over his head, he instead opted to join a coaching institute in Kolkata. “I was offered 10-11 lakh," he explained. Ironically, he ended up helping students prepare for the IIT joint entrance examination (JEE).

Graphic: Mint
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Graphic: Mint

Himanshu Khandelwal, an IIT Hyderabad graduate, who won a scholarship for his studies in the institute, fared a tad better than Faridi. He got an 8 lakh offer from Vedanta and worked in one of its subsidiaries till 2022. Today, the 27-year-old mechanical engineer from Jaipur works as a consultant for a Japanese company.

Faridi and Khandelwal epitomize the relative challenges faced by many IIT students. While the crore-plus salaries paid by investment banks, high frequency trading (HFT) firms and quant firms are highlighted in the achievement letters of the institutes—Mint reported last month that proprietary trading company Jane Street Capital offered a salary package of 4 crore plus to an IIT Kanpur student—there are many who end up in jobs that pay less than 10 lakh annually. Even those from the established IITs.

Software engineers rule

During the IIT placement season, which begins every year on 1 December and sometimes goes up to April, students from the computer science batch are wooed by many suitors, followed by those from electronics, electrical and the like. Civil engineering isn’t too hot. According to a placement officer in one of the newer IITs, chemical engineering isn’t either. Faridi attests to this, saying that in his time, a chemical engineer was not the most sought after: “The coders and computer science students were getting the high salaries."

The desperation for placement rises when the batches have to be placed amid recessionary winds or an unprecedented calamity such as the covid pandemic, when companies struggle to retain their existing employees and new hires are struck out of the plan.

Experts and IIT alumni say the wide variance in salaries is simply a reflection of the market and the demand for certain skills. “The salaries are dependent on skill sets. And core companies often get candidates for 7-10 lakh. There are students who lack soft skills and although they take courses in IITs, there is a need for more webinars and workshops," said a chemical engineer from IIT Kanpur, who did not want to be named. Students need to have projects and pursue elective courses that will help them build skills to match industry needs, he added.

“There is a very broad salary spectrum for fresh graduates at IITs, which is very much in line with how salaries behave in the new age/tech and R&D driven Industries. The compensation/CTC at IITs can vary from 8 lakh to 80 lakh per annum. There are a lot of top-notch employers hiring the best talent from IITs. And yet, they are not the ones paying the highest salary," said Anshuman Das, chief executive officer and co-founder of Careernet, a talent solutions provider. Careernet has a team that tracks IIT salaries.

The old order rules

The kind of IIT that the student graduates hail from is also a factor. India has 23 IITs, with the newest ones being IIT Palakkad (Kerala), IIT Dharwad (Karnataka), IIT Jammu and IIT Goa. According to Aon data, the median salary of the IIT batch of 2022 was 14 lakh, a 7.8% increase from 2021. Placements for the Class of 2023 are on.

Students said the newer campuses are also having a hard time attracting recruiters, especially amid fears of a global recession. “A campus recruiter will get his pick from an IIT Madras, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Bombay, Delhi and may even travel to nearby IITs. But those at a distance get left out," said a placement team member of IIT Kanpur.

Other premier engineering colleges, such as the National Institute of Technology (NIT) chain, also have companies offering high salaries, though they may not be as high as the top IIT packages.

The pay offered to students of the lesser institutes, of which there are thousands across the country, is worse. However, companies large and small come calling even at these institutes and pick up the brightest with offers of modest pay packages. For instance, large IT services firms such as Wipro, Infosys, Tata consultancy Services and HCL hire graduates from smaller engineering colleges for a salary paying 4 lakh. Their IIT offers are, however, much higher.

What the institutes say

We never publish that we have received 100% placement. That is not our job," said a senior placement officer in one of the older IITs, who did not want to be named. “There are more than 90 programmes and all do not get the same focus. Some companies offer 7 lakh as well."

The placement officer said there are case-study workshops and communication and resume making workshops but often, students do not show up.

“The students have to show some interest and click on online modules. The IITs exchange notes before and after the placement season is over and we take feedback but we never claim to give jobs to all," said the executive.

“The office of career services (OCS) at IIT Delhi consistently works to provide students avenues to increase their employability skills by arranging workshops, expert interactions, alumni interactions, etc," added Anishya Madan, head, office of career services, IIT Delhi.

Faridi is not sure how much that would have helped. “I could have taken up coding classes to get a better job, but even those classes taught by the placement cell teams would not have led to a good job," he said. Companies who wanted coders also looked at projects and internship profiles; a short-term course would not have led to a better placement, he insisted. After five years of teaching IIT aspirants, he is now pursuing a PhD in IIT Bombay, in the hope that his prospects will brighten.

“Those with a lower CGPA (cumulative grade point average—used to measure overall academic achievement in an engineering course) face a challenge since companies want upwards of CGPA 6," said Jyoti Singh, who is in charge of IIT Goa’s placements. “We have tied up with external parties, who help prepare students for the placement season. But there are companies that have hired for 6 lakh when we stressed for 10 lakh as minimum."

Years of preparation

The poor salaries are a bitter pill to swallow after years of preparation and a four-year engineering programme. To enter the hallowed corridors of an IIT, students often begin preparing from class IX onwards, attending “coaching" classes. Kota, the Mecca of coaching in India, will see about 200,000 students troop into the city to train for the national entrance tests that promise to open the doors to career success: JEE Main (engineering colleges) JEE Advanced (for IIT admissions) and NEET (for medical admissions).

About 155,538 students appeared for JEE (Advanced) in 2022. According to data from the Joint Seat Allocation Authority 2022, the total seats available were 16,598. Only a handful manage to bag the seats that are not reserved (more than 50% of seats are reserved for candidates from the disadvantaged sections of the society). And even among them, there are many who wait for another year, and make another attempt in the hope of getting the specialization of their choice.

Students typically have to pay between 1.2 lakh and 1.5 lakh for a year on coaching classes. If they manage to get into an IIT, another 6-7 lakh is the fee for a four-year programme in the government aided colleges. Thus, after investing at least 8-10 lakh in coaching and an IIT degree, a job offering 6 lakh leaves students struggling.

According to placement rules, in most engineering and B-school campuses, once a student gets an offer, he/she is barred from sitting for another company’s interviews. This rule forces some to give up the company of their choice, especially when the number of companies is limited and the roles on offer are fewer than the number of students looking for placement.

When Himanshu Khandelwal sat for his job interview at IIT Hyderabad in 2018, he was keen on joining a public sector unit (PSU), as the state-owned units had better profiles. So, despite having an offer in hand from an audit firm, he asked to be let go. “I then sat for Vedanta and got through with an 8 lakh package. The PSUs that I had wanted came in but by then I had the Vedanta offer and could not sit for those firms," said Khandelwal.

IIT Hyderabad, in the placement statistics on its website, stated that for 2021-2022, 77.29% of its students had been placed; the average salary was 20.73 lakh per annum.

Ongoing placements

The newer IITs with less than 200 students in a batch fare better, and some are tying up with companies to train their batches in mock interviews, resume building, etc. IIT Goa’s placement team told Mint that most of its batch of 120 has been placed. The median salary for computer science is 18 lakh and for the electrical and mechanical streams is 13-14 lakh at IIT Goa.

IIT Tirupati’s placements are better than last year. “This year is a dry one but we are working harder to get students placed. Although we have asked for 10 lakh as the minimum compensation for recruitment from our campus, there is one company that has hired for 6.85 lakh," said J Prabhu Kiran, placement officer at IIT Tirupati.

A couple of weeks ago, Kiran told Mint that 138 of the 280 students were placed, partly because it is always easier to place computer science students. “Those in the mechanical, civil and chemical branch (90 students) also want compensation that matches those of their classmates, who are in computer science (190 students). The former are often willing to join an edtech startup even if the profile does not match but the salary is better," said Kiran.

The need for a higher salary over profile or matching skill sets is leading to the edtech and startup rush. Hence, despite the sector suffering from a funding crisis, which has led to nearly 20,000 layoffs, many IITans are flocking to edtechs.

IIT Tirupati’s median salary is 16 lakh as of now but Kiran cautioned that there will be students who will not get placed.

IIT Roorkee did not want to comment on salaries but said its placement team is “continuously working hard on building connections with organizations through LinkedIn and the alumni network".

Entering the gates of an IIT as a student is a rite of passage for thousands of Indians—it is a ticket to success. While engineering seats in private colleges are expensive, and a tiny fraction can pay their way abroad, getting a seat in an IIT is seen as an accomplishment in itself. The problem really is in what awaits some students at the exit gate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Devina Sengupta

Devina Sengupta reports on the shifts in India Inc’s workplaces, HR policies and writes about the developments at India’s biggest conglomerates. Her stories over the last decade have been picked up and followed by Indian and international news outlets. She joined Mint in 2022 and previously worked with The Economic Times and DNA-Money.
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