I have been reading with interest the hype being created about the hardship that students, teachers and staff are going through due to the government’s decision to attach new IITs to existing ones till the new campuses come up. Unfortunately, most of it is is ill-founded.
It is not the first time that academic institutions are starting their work from temporary, loaned or make-shift structures. Roorkee University, the oldest engineering university in India, made a humble beginning from a small class room in 1845 and grew to become India’s first engineering university in 1949. The university —born out of a need to train youth in the basics of civil engineering who could help build the Upper Ganga Canal, vital for the country’s survival — is today an IIT. Roorkee’s beautiful campus spread over an area of 350 acres wasn’t built overnight, it came up in stages and is still being built more than 160 years after it was started!
Roorkee University is not the only institution which started that way. IIT Kharagpur, the oldest among IITs, commenced its operations from 5 Esplanade East, Calcutta in May 1950. It later moved to the Hijli Detention Camp in Kharagpur,West Bengal, which was home to it for several years till it moved to its new campus in Kharagpur. In the first year, IIT Kharagpur had only 224 students and 42 teachers. Today, the institute is big enough to accommodate 2,700 students, 450 faculty and 2,200 employees on its campus, which is virtually a township with 15,000 inhabitants living in an area of 2,100 acres.
IIT Kanpur too made a humble beginning in 1959 from the premises of another technical institute called the Harcourt Butler Technological Institute in Kanpur with only 100 students and a small number of faculty. Today, IIT Kanpur has its own campus spread over an area of 420 acres with 2,255 undergraduate students, 1,476 post-graduate students, 309 faculty and more than 900 supporting staff.
Engineering colleges are not the only institutions to make a beginning from temporary buildings. The Management Development Institute in Gurgaon, rated among the top B-schools in India, also functioned from private houses in south Delhi for several years before moving to its sprawling 60-acre campus in Gurgaon. The same is true of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade which functioned from a commercial complex in south Delhi before moving to its new campus, also in south Delhi.
Roorkee, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Kanpur or MDI. They all started the same way. That they rank among the best institutions in the country is a result of the hardship their students, teachers and staff had to go through during their formative years. Institutions are not built overnight and creating an institution is always more difficult than running an existing one.
In my view, the whole issue of new IITs functioning from existing IITs has been blown out of proportion. The government’s decision to set up new IITs could be political or simply a move to produce more quality engineers and scientists to take care of India’s growing requirement for such professionals. Whatever it may be, there is nothing we can do about it. So, instead of wasting our time on meaningless discussion, we should try and ensure that students enrolled by new IITs are able to adjust to their new surroundings and start concentrating on their studies.
Engineering was never meant to be a “soft” profession. Engineers are trained to work in the extremes of heat, cold, noise and seclusion, and this quality is drilled into them right from their first year in college, the workshops and laboratories being proof of that. Eighty students sitting in a classroom meant for sixty, or four students living in a room meant for two is a small price that students have to pay for being a part of the IIT legacy. The same is true of faculty as well. Instead of complaining about the extra teaching load, they should consider themselves fortunate for being given the opportunity of creating world-class institutions. My advice to all concerned: stop complaining and get on with the job!
The author is a former professor (Marketing), MDI Gurgaon
6 months ago