Friday, 11 May 2012

Higher Education: Aims and Objectives

 In response to Mr. S.R. Durai Eswaran's letter published in Reader's
 Mail section of New Delhi edition of The Hindu dated November 07, 2005
   Reader's Mail (The Hindu)
                      IIT Roorkee's ways

   I joined the M.Tech course in the Earthquake Department of IIT Roorkee in June 2004 after clearing GATE with a score of 92.85. GATE-qualified candidates are eligible for an MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development) stipend of Rs.5,000 per month. Then I came to know that in the Earthquake Department during the previous year the professors had detained and sent out 50 per cent of the students registered with the department (including many with GATE scores above 99), wasting their one precious year. They were asked to pay back the total stipend to get their GATE score card back!

   As I was not ready to take the risk of wasting one precious year, I left that course and took another course in the Civil Department in the self-financing category. I thus lost my monthly stipend of Rs.5,000 because of the arbitrary policy of the Earthquake Department. How can they detain 50 per cent of the students thus?

 S. R. Durai Eswaran,
 F-105, Jawahar Bhawan, 
 IIT Roorkee.


It is indeed heartening to note that the students at IIT Roorkee feel
free to voice their opinion publicly on issues pertaining to academic
matters of the institute. This proves that I.I.T. Roorkee has
succeeded in creating an open environment on the campus in line with
Sri Rabindranath Tagore's dream (as envisioned in his celebrated
poem--Gitanjali). Unfortunately, Mr. Durai Eswaran has chosen to
imbibe only the freedom of expression and seems to have given the
emphasis on knowledge and tireless striving a complete go by. Mr.
Durai Eswaran has not presented the facts correctly and seems to have
concluded hastily on the basis of inadequate/wrong data.

We wish to put forward the following points to ponder in view of Mr.
Durai Eswaran's comments.

Factual Errors:

The figure of 50% of the registered students being sent back is
not correct. The academic programme of a total of 6 students
out of 21 registered that year was terminated at the end of
first semester on account of poor academic performance. The
Grade Point Average of these students was in range 1.3-4.67 as
against the institute requirement of a minimum of 5.00 (out of
a maximum of 10.00) for continuation of programme. Such a low
grade point average clearly indicates these students had
serious difficulty in coping with the academic workload and had
performed poorly across the board in all courses including one
offered by the Department of Mathematics. This is particularly
so when the evaluation for a course in I.I.T. is done
continuously over the entire semester and is not based on the
performance in just one final examination. Given the heavy
subsidy that goes into funding of the higher education, the
students are expected to earn their assistantships--not claim
it as a matter of right!

Difference between Undergraduate and Postgraduate Education:

Each milestone in the process of learning is associated with a
set of target skills and values. While the undergraduate
education is all about development of problem solving skills
with the application of existing knowledge, the emphasis of
postgraduate education is on the development of analytical
ability and capability to develop new knowledge and
methods/techniques. Familiarity with the fundamental concepts
in science and engineering is considered as a given in
postgraduate education. It is the students' lack of
appreciation of the objectives and aims of postgraduate
education that leads to a miserable performance in postgraduate
courses even though they had demonstrated excellent problem
solving skills (a.k.a. high GATE scores).

High GATE score: Is it a valid measure of intellect?

The GATE score is just an index for the purpose of admissions
to academic programmes. It is--like any other objective measure
of intellect--not without its limitations. Like the Joint
Entrance Examination for admission to undergraduate programmes
in I.I.T., several coaching centres provide intensive coaching
to secure high score in GATE--an examination to test the
problem solving skill achieved at the end of undergraduate
programme. This does not necessarily imply that a person with
high GATE score will have very good analytical skill.

We are thankful to Mr. Durai Eswaran for giving us an opportunity to
address our concern at root of this problem of non-performance of
supposedly good students in some postgraduate programmes. The quality
of undergraduate technical education in the country has been declining
steadily over the past several years. Most of the students that we
admit to our postgraduate courses are completely blank about the
fundamental concepts. This complete lack of analytical ability is
possibly caused due to encouragement of learning by rote in most of
the universities and colleges in this country. The picture is rather
gloomy as the academic performance of a student in most of the
universities and colleges is measured on the basis of scores in final
examination which encourages memory driven approach to taking
examination--not quite sustainable in the long run!

Finally, we would like to point out that mere securing admission to an
institution of higher learning does not guarantee the award of a
degree from that institute. The students have to earn their
degrees/diplomas and having earned them they should feel proud of

Inequitable distribution of teaching responsibility: Follow up

Some time back I had raised the issue of apparent disparity in the teaching load of faculty members in academic departments of the institute and the rules for sharing of teaching responsibilities amongst faculty colleagues. I did
not receive even a single response pointing to a regulation governing the
distribution of teaching load! Subsequently, I collected information about
the distribution of teaching load in a typical semester in various
departments and prepared a summary which is appended at the end of this
text. In working out these numbers, I have given a greater weightage to
the lecture hours followed by tutorial and practicals in that order to
decide the listing under Minimum/Maximum load. Further,
the hours devoted to B.Tech./B.Arch. projects have not been counted in as
this information was not available for all departments. While statistics such
as these provide some basis for comparisons they donot protray the whole
picture. A major omission is the latent effort put in by the course instructors
in core courses with large under-graduate population. The massive effort that
goes in the evaluation of students registered for these courses is not
reflected in these cold figures of weekly contact hours (L+T+P).

As far as the total contact hours are concerned, the disparity is most
glaring in the Architecture and Planning Department. The Professors put
in about 8 Hours (L+T+P) per week on average while Asst. Professors put in
about 18 Hours on average. Moreover, the Professors are primarily involved in
teaching of Post-Graduate courses while the youngsters take up the bulk of
under-graduate courses. Regarding practicals/tutorials in architecture, I
can say from my limited exposure to architecture during my undergraduate
training that these are not "canned" practical sessions based on
experimentation, observation, data collection and interpretation. Each student
needs to develop an independent solution for a set of design constraints. In
this respect the supervisory control and guidance to nurture the individual
thought process is very important leading to an increased involvement of the
course instructor/tutor.

In chemistry department, most of the senior colleagues engage only 1 or 2
lectures per week. Their contact hours are beefed up by a corresponding
increase in the practicals where---I am sure---they must be ably supported
by their research/teaching assistants. The younger colleagues are required
to put in more lecture/tutorial hours in comparison.

The younger colleagues also put in relatively more teaching effort in
Civil, Chemical, Mech. & Ind. Engg., Mathematics and Physics as the summary
suggests, whereas the electrical and electronics and computer engineering
departments appear to follow the policy of equal sharing amongst all faculty
members. However, the senior colleagues in electrical engg. and mechanical
& industrial engg. are primarily involved in postgraduate courses whereas
the undergraduate courses are handled by the younger colleagues. This
trend of senior colleagues distancing themselves from undergraduate
teaching is unfortunate in my opinion. The young and impressionable minds
of the undergraduates deserves the experienced handling of the senior

I hope that this summary and analysis will lead to an in-house discussions
and rationalization of the sharing of teaching responsibility between faculty
colleagues within a department.

    Weekly contact hours (L-T-P) of faculty members in some departments
Architecture and Planning
                         Minimum            Maximum         Average
Professor                  3-2-3             6-1-1          4.2-1-3
Assoc. Professor      1-2-6             3-2-6          2.4-1.7-6.7
Assistant Professor  2-5-9             4-6-6          2.7-3-11.4

Civil Engineering
                         Minimum            Maximum         Average
Professor                 0-3-2              4-3-0           2.3-2.2-1.9
Assoc. Professor      3-0-6              4-7-0           3.1-4.2-2.7
Assistant Professor  2.5-0-8            4-8-0           3.0-4.9-2.8

Chemical Engineering
                         Minimum            Maximum         Average
Professor                  3-0-3              3-0-6         3-0.5-4.8
Assoc. Professor      3-0-9              6-3-4         4.4-1.6-6.2
Assistant Professor  5-2-7              6-0-10        5.5-3.6-5.8

                         Minimum            Maximum         Average
Professor                  1-2-8              4-3-4         2-1.6-7.6
Assoc. Professor      3-0-10             5-3-4         4-1.5-7
Assistant Professor  2-4-10             5-5-6         3.4-7.6-7.7

Electrical Engineering
                         Minimum            Maximum         Average
Professor                  3-0-4              6-2-8           4-2-6
Assoc. Professor      3-2-2              6-3-6           4-2-6
Assistant Professor  3-0-8              5-6-4         3.1-2.2-8.2

Electronics and Communication Engineering
                         Minimum            Maximum         Average
Professor                 3-1-5                 6-0-5          4.7-1.2-3.4
Assoc. Professor     3-4-2                 6-2-3          4-3.3-2.7
Assistant Professor 3-3-5                 6-5-0          5-3.2-2.4

                         Minimum            Maximum         Average
Professor                 5-2-0              6-2-0           5.8-2.2-0
Assoc. Professor     6-3-0              6-3-0           6-3-0
Assistant Professor 8-3-0              9-2-0           8.4-2.6-0

Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
                         Minimum            Maximum         Average
Professor                 3-1-4              6-2-2           3.3-2-4.2
Assoc. Professor      3-2-6              6-3-6           4.4-3.4-4.8
Assistant Professor  3-1-8              9-2-8           4.9-1.8-7.1

                         Minimum            Maximum         Average
Professor                 4-0-2              4-2-3           4-0.9-2.9
Assoc. Professor     4-0-4              5-0-4           4.3-0-4.3
Assistant Professor 5-0-6              6-1-4           5-1-5.5