Sumeet Kaul

Mumbai, May 14

AT the Mecca of engineering, the times are a-changing. Top-notch firms are wooing brand IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) like never before. This and a host of other factors have lead to a decline in the number of students opting for `higher studies abroad' - a euphemism for a master's degree in the US.

While official figures are hard to come by, only 15-20 per cent of IITians - maybe, even lesser, are opting for what was earlier a rite of passage. "Jobs in India are of a better quality now," says Prof Ashok Misra, Director, IIT Bombay. The year 2004-05 saw IBM offering 31 on-campus jobs to final-year IIT Bombay students. Oracle (with 25 job offers) and Intel (with 16 job offers) were the other major recruiters. "The number of major companies exploring India is growing," says Prof Misra.

While IT continues to be the holy grail of jobs, major consultancy firms like McKinsey and investment banks like Morgan Stanley have also started to make talent-shopping at the IITs a yearly ritual.

And the salaries are good too. "IIT Bombay saw the average salary increase to approximately Rs 3.5 to Rs 4 lakh per annum from around Rs 3 lakh per annum last year," says Mr Anip Sharma, a student placement representative for IIT Bombay. Prof Narendran, Department of Management studies, IIT Chennai, who also doubles up as placement advisor, puts it more starkly, "The choice (for the students) could be between spending their dad's money for a master's and earning Rs 4.5 lakh per annum here."

Following the dot-com bust in 2000 when a lot of fingers were burnt, job security became a buzzword, and 2001 saw a surge in applicants to US universities. But since then, the tide has turned once again, with more and more students now opting to work right after college.

The `dual degree' programme introduced in some branches of IIT has also helped. IIT Bombay, for instance, offers an integrated bachelor's and master's degree along with its regular B.Tech programme. So, for these dual degree students, doing an MS abroad isn't all that useful.

According to Prof Narendaran, assistantships not being available abroad very easily and the trend of more US students opting for master's programmes could also be factors responsible for this. "Some of our students think it's a good idea to work now and then consider doing an MS or MBA after a few years," he says.

Arpit Midha, a final year student of IIT Bombay's dual degree course, explains this with characteristic engineering flair. "There is a push and a pull factor. Pull is that companies are offering good salaries here and the push factor is that our seniors say that getting jobs in the US is difficult."

Adds Sudhanshoo Maroo, his colleague in the Computer Science Department, "From 2002, jobs have increased, and the last two years have been very good."

However, there are some dissenting voices. Prof Kushal Sen, placement in-charge, IIT Delhi, doesn't see any distinct trend of fewer IITians doing their master's. "Fifteen-20 per cent of IITians have always been going abroad, and to draw any conclusions is difficult."

In any case, there is always a stubborn group in every batch that refuses to follow the tide. Prof Narendaran says some students are determined to go abroad to study the subject of their choice. Market forces, it seems, have their limits too.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 15, 2005)
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