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Tuesday, Feb 18, 2003

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How to extend the IIT brand

Prabhat Kumar

A three-pronged strategy would help promote the IIT-brand. Internationalise the IITs beyond the Indian and American shores. A strategy must be in place for continuous improvement in the standards of the IITs. Also, the learning from the successful experimentation in creating the IIT brand must be used to improve the content of education at other engineering colleges.

WHILE addressing the IIT-50 conference at the Silicon Valley, the Microsoft boss, Mr Bill Gates, acknowledged the success of the Indian Institute of Technologies in terms of having created a "treasure house of best human capital". The purpose of a high-octane gathering was to promote the IIT brand globally by exploiting the combined resources of all the seven IITs and their alumni networks. According to one study, six of the seven IITs figure among the top 10 technical institutions in the Asia Pacific. Indeed, the ex-IIT-ians in the US have increasingly been playing a significant role in the emerging hi-tech economy.

A three-pronged strategy would help promote and augment the IIT-brand. First, internationalise the IITs beyond the Indian and American shores, so that they play a significant role in other parts of the world as well. Then a strategy must be in place for continuous improvement in the standards of the IITs, so that they can compete successfully against the best among their peers. Lastly, the learning from the successful experimentation in creating the IIT brand must be used to improve the quality and content of education and research at other engineering colleges in India.

Internationalisation would help IITs position themselves on the cutting edge of the technological revolution, particularly in IT and biotechnology. For this a number of steps can be taken, including collaborations with foreign technical institutions in teaching and research.

The IITs can also muster support from their previous collaborators in five countries — the UK, the US, Germany, France and Russia — to extend the brand. By enrolling international students, the IITs can earn a few extra bucks and goodwill from the foreign alumni network. Exchange programmes with some of the leading technical institutions such as Carnegie-Mellon in US could provide learning and international exposure to IIT students.

Second, working of the IITs must be continuously reviewed to improve their results and end products. IITs lack industry collaborations, as brought out in the ranking of colleges in the Asia-Pacific. Efforts should be made to ensure a synchronisation in the industry demand, the teaching curriculum and on-going research.

The curriculum should be re-oriented for students becoming entrepreneurs and engines of the emerging knowledge economy. Each IIT could co-opt celebrities such as Rajat Gupta and Kanwal Rekhi as brand ambassadors and bring them on the governing board, so as to benefit from their real-world experience to make these institutions market-driven. Recruiting world-class faculty, on terms and conditions as good as in any other country, could attract the best brains from around the world. They can be allowed to incubate their companies and run consultancies freely, as Western universities do.

Getting the most out of IIT brand calls for extension of the number of colleges with the IIT-tag. Presently, only about 1 per cent applicants succeed in the joint entrance examination (JEE) for seats at the seven IITs. Such reputed institutions as the BHU-IT, Indian School of Mines (these two are already clubbed with the Joint Entrance Examination for admission to the IITs) and BITS-Pilani can be conferred IIT status, as done for Roorkee University.

The IITs also have to embrace the latest technology in their internal operations. The recent policy of a shift in emphasis to post-graduate programmes may not strengthen the brand equity, as the advantage of the IITs lies in the B.Tech education.

Lastly the success factors, particularly the merit-based system of the IITs, can be replicated to improve the standards of technical education in other engineering colleges.

Each IIT can be a hub for other technical colleges in a particular area, so that successful experiments at the IITs can be replicated in other colleges. Creating a separate technical university in each state could be thought of, to de-link the technical education from the vagaries of uncertainties and strikes prevalent in non-technical colleges.

India has benefited from a strong IIT brand. Direct benefits have come in the form of investments by IIT alumni in the hi-tech sector and by way of promotion of science, technology and research.

Multinationals have come in to set up shop in the hi-tech sector, as they have seen hard-working and bright Indians in the US. The country is also being seen as tech-friendly. All thanks to the IITs.

(The author, an alumnus of IIT Delhi, is Commissioner of Customs and Excise. The views expressed here are his own.)

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