Monday, April 10, 2006

Mother India : An Eternal Beggar?

There's two conflicting effects that any reservation policy would have: a negative impact on the meritorious and a positive impact on the backward masses - for argument's sake assuming that the caste based reservation system is an appropriate way to judge one's backwardness - something that many people (including yours truly) vehemently disagree with.

Certainly, India's masses need upliftment and encouragement - some preferential treatment is necessary to level the playing field. Some amount of reservations could be an incentive to pursue higher education.

But in a nation of limited resources, denying education to the genuinely deserving will result in a severe under-utilization of Human capital. Lots of future Homi Bhabhas, Adbul Kalams, C.V Ramans, J.C Boses etc. shall be denied access to quality education. Mother India shall have to beg for Nuclear Technology all over again.

But this could be a blessing in disguise. It is a bloody shame that we Indians rely on politicians to set up institutes of excellence. Arjun Singh has no incentive to see India develop. He does not want so see a prosperous India. The average politician's vision is restricted to seeing himself in a position of power in the near future. Future is certainly never an issue - especially if all decision making offices are run by octagenarians who might conk off any moment. Development is a tough idea to sell to an electorate already so cynical of empty promises. Arjun Singh chooses populist appeasement instead.

On a more optimistic note, I believe there is an ample case in favour of private research based universities in India. Just imagine: Intel wants some academic research done on some fundamental cooling electronic cooling techniqes. It collaborates with, say, Texas A&M university. It gives a professor a grant of $2 Million to do it. And the professor has to buy experimental equipment, pay his electricity bill, give the university its hefty cut, hire some graduate students (and pay their tuition, fee and monthly stipend).

AMD also wants similar work done, but somebody in their ranks has heard of a univerisity in India that can do the same thing for $0.6 million - and that's inculding the airfare. After all, paying a graduate student Rs 20000 per month ($500) instead of $1500 would do in India; expert tecnicians would work for a fraction of what they would would for in the US. Sending eperimental apparatus to India shouldn't be too tough either.

So, the contention is that there is a massive case for research based universities in India. And once, these "universities" reach a critical mass, they will attract excellent faculty from all around the world ... maybe even from India (if there are any - the reservations notwithstanding). And good faculty means excellent classes. Slowly but surely, India can still emerge strong. The people can still prevail over populism. But that will take too long.

But the era of the IIT as an institution of excellence is over. It breaks my heart to see my alma mater fall into the all-encompassing rut of mediocrity that the political class craves to retain India in for all eternity.

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