The case for an IIT in Kerala- A Letter to the Chief Minister
Shri Oommen Chandy September 15, 2011
Hon'ble Chief Minister, Government of Kerala
We, the undersigned, are a group of intellectuals who have been associated with one or more of the Indian Institutes of Technologies in India as students, administrators, faculty or governing board members.
We are all keen to ensure that an IIT is established in Kerala too. We are aware that the Government of India is considering establishment of 5 more IITs in India. We are concerned that Kerala’s legitimate demand for an IIT will be overlooked this time also for political or other considerations.
We believe that the claim of Kerala for an IIT is more legitimate than even before and the clout of Kerala in Delhi is the highest ever. We have the same alliance as ruling party in both Center and State and we have representatives of the same party in the Education and Human Resources Ministries in Kerala and India respectively. We, therefore, believe that the time is NOW to make a determined effort to bring an IIT to Kerala.
We are, therefore, writing to you to seek your personal attention in doing the appropriate political and administrative groundwork to make a case for an IIT in Kerala. We know you need not be convinced about the legitimacy of Kerala’s claim, but in order to illustrate the need to bring IIT to Kerala and the strength of our case, we have put together some facts and figures. This concept note is attached for your kind perusal.
We, the members of a voluntary group, stand ready to assist you in any way possible, in making IIT Kerala a reality. We have been encouraged by hundreds of other intellectuals who have been associated with IITs and see the importance and legitimacy of our demand.
(A.E. Muthunayagam) (T.P. Sreenivasan) (Nivedita P. Haran)
(M.P. Rajan) (Muralee Thummarukudy) (K.V. Jayakumar)
(Job Kurien) (P.S. Robi ) (Narayanan Komerath)
(V.K. Mathews) (Ramesh Chandra) (C.M. Abraham)
IIT Kerala - A Concept Paper
Establishing an IIT in Kerala is a long standing demand and dream of highly literate Kerala for many years. Various Governments have taken the initiative to bring an IIT to Kerala, but somehow nothing has materialized yet. In support of the Government of Kerala's steps to bring an IIT to Kerala, a group of well-wishers has come together and prepared a concept paper. We trust that this will help the Government to look into the problem more seriously and make all the efforts needed to bring an IIT to our state. The committee listed below was formed by the group to prepare this concept paper, and acknowledges the support and input from other members and stake holders of the intellectual group of IITians from Kerala. Our concept paper addresses the following points:
• Does Kerala need an IIT?
• Does Kerala deserve an IIT?
• Does an IIT help the state in its future development?
• Steps to be taken by Kerala Government to get an IIT and finally
Members of the Committee
1. Dr. A.E. Muthunayagam, Former Chairman, Board of Governors, IIT Madras
2. Mr. T.P. Sreenivasan, IFS, Ambassador (Rtd)
3. Dr. Nivedita P. Haran, IAS, IIT-Alumni
4. Prof. M.P. Rajan, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Thiruvananthapuram
5. Dr. Muralee Thummarukudy, Chief, Disaster Risk Reduction, UN Enviourn. Programme, Geneva
6. Prof. K.V. Jayakumar, Executive Director, CWRDM, Kerala
7. Prof. Job Kurien, Indian Institute of Technology Madras
8. Prof. P.S. Robi, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati
9. Prof. Narayanan Komerath, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
10. Mr. V.K. Mathews, Executive Chairman, The IBS Group, Thiruvananthapuram
11. Mr. Ramesh Chandra, Managing Director, Ranal Ltd. Bangalore
12. Mr. C.M. Abraham, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Thiruvananthapuram
There have been sporadic requests in the past thirty years for an IIT in Kerala. However, of late we do not hear that. This is not because we have an IIT or a comparable technical institution in Kerala now. This is partly because we have been tired of asking for one during every expansion and being rejected. We were promised an IIT in the previous expansion but unfortunately we lost the battle to get this premier institution to our state.
The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) were established as the premier institutes of our country with the focus of training talented minds in becoming creative, top quality engineers and scientists . The intention was to generate high calibre human capital to help the nation in its socio-economic development. The IITs are governed by the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961 which has declared them as “institutions of national importance” with autonomous status. There are 15 IITs at present in India. A committee headed by Dr. Anil Kakodkar was constituted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India to suggest the road map to develop the IITs as world-class institutes for research and higher learning. They recommended another five IITs to be created within a decade. Now many states have an IIT, as per the data given below in Table I.
Name of the IIT
Table I: List of IITs in India
IT-BHU is in the process of being named as the 16-th IIT resulting in UP getting two IITs in the same state. But Kerala's dream of getting an IIT is still a distant dream. Should we not get one among the 4 being considered for establishment? If our state government does not pursue this matter urgently, we will once again lose a golden opportunity to get an IIT. The neighbouring state of Karnataka has also been asking for an IIT in their state for many years.
2. DOES KERALA NEED AN IIT?
Examples around the world show how a state gains economic advancement from having an institute that imparts and performs top quality education and research. Kerala now has around 120 engineering colleges, including many private colleges which are set up Capitation Fee business plans, one State University of science and technology, one National Institute of Technology, one Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, one Space Institute and one Indian Institute of Management. However, competing with the best in the world, requires a merit-based, autonomous technological institution with world-class infrastructure. We lack that. The recenly-established IISER is promising, but is mainly set up for education in basic sciences.
IITs are known worldwide for their quality in technical education. The fact is that an IIT is not just a big engineering college, better NIT or a fully residential technological University. IITs are a group of autonomous engineering and technology-oriented institutes of higher education. As mentioned earlier, the IITs are governed by the Indian Institute of Technology Act, 1961 which has declared them as “institutions of national importance”, and lays down their powers, duties, and framework for governance. This Act provides IITs with substantial administrative freedom and total academic autonomy. This freedom has been zealously guarded by all the IITs for past 60 years. Most importantly, IITs have the faculty and administrators needed to enforce a proud tradition of purely merit-based admission and grading systems. This is crucial to providing opportunities and nurturing the best of India, regardless of non-merit considerations. Selection of students and faculty in IITs is done transparently leading to some of our best brains entering IIT as students and faculty. It is the combination of these factors which makes IITs one of the most prestigious and the only globally recognised academic institutions in India.
Each IIT has autonomous status, where admission for undergraduate and post graduate programs is decided through common admission tests. In addition to these each IIT also offers Ph.D programs. Since the IITs are Central Government institutions, the Government of India has deployed considerable resources to these institutes to give them the required physical infrastructure. The faculty-to-student ratio in the IITs is envisaged to be around 1:9. In order to encourage students from all economic strata to undertake higher studies, IITs provide scholarships to students to pursue M.Tech. and Ph.D programs, where research is an integral part of their education. The combination of the resources and branding ensured that the best students in the country were attracted to IITs. Academic freedom, availability of physical resources to undertake research and presence of quality students in turn attracted good quality faculty to join the IITs. IITs are also different from other engineering colleges or Universities primarily in the degree of autonomy that the individual faculty members have in framing the syllabus considering the latest technological trends, teaching approaches and evaluation methods. These features enabled IIT alumni and faculty, within a few short decades, to build the international brand recognition that the IITs enjoy today, on par with top institutions worldwide that have existed for hundreds of years. Below we review some of the features of the IIT experience.
Each IIT has an Academic Senate consisting of all Professors and student representatives with the Director as the ex-officio Chairman. The Senate controls and approves the curriculum, courses, examinations and results, and appoints committees to look into specific academic matters. The Senate also periodically reviews the teaching, training and research activities of the institute to maintain educational standards.
All the IITs follow the continuous evaluation system. The B.Tech course is based on 4-year program. In all IITs, the first year courses are marked by a common course structure for all the students. These include the basics from most of the departments such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, mechanical engineering, mechanics, electronics, biology, etc. All the students also have to choose between NCC, NSS, NSO to instil a sense of team effort and national pride.
From the second year onwards, the students study subjects exclusively from their respective departments in addition to some compulsory advanced courses from other departments in order to broaden their education. At the end of the third year, undergraduate students have to undertake a summer project in industry or at a reputed academic research institute as part of the curriculum. Most of the students are placed into industrial and research organizations during the last year of their studies through the placement cell. Each IIT has a central library holding a large collection of high quality books, journals, periodicals, multimedia facilities and electronic libraries. They also provide access to on-line journals and periodicals for use by students, and stay open late into the night.
The striking feature of all the IITs is the on-campus residential facilities for the students, research scholars and faculty. This feature facilitates all the students to concentrate on academic activities round the clock. The students can approach faculty members at any time to discuss academics and research. During their project period, the students can also work in the laboratories even during night hours. In addition, the gymkhana and sports facilities are an integral part of the IIT system, where the students get a chance for extra curricular activities and personality development.
The focus of the national institutes of importance such as IISER and IIM are scientific education and research and, management respectively. IIST, a supporting institute of ISRO, is focused on training personnel for ISRO, rather than on a broad technological education. The NIT has neither the infrastructure nor the other unique features of an IIT that would enable growth towards world-class recognition.
Science is the foundation of technology; however, technological innovation is what drives further scientific development as well as economic growth. The growth in scientific and technological development is an indication of the growth and development of a state or nation. Our state needs an IIT to help Kerala rise to our true potential.
3. DOES KERALA DESERVE AN IIT?
Out of 28 states and 7 union territories, 14 states and one union territory have IITs (see Table I). We analyse the question of Kerala's claim to have an IIT in the state using a few objective criteria:
• Population Size
3.1 Population Size of the State
With 14 of the states and one Union Territory already being awarded an IIT, and UP possibly getting second IIT shortly, let us look at the states which have not yet been awarded an IIT. It is also useful to compare Kerala's position with other states already having an IIT with respect to population size. Kerala accounts for 2.76% of India’s 1.2 billion population.
% in Total Population
Jammu & Kashmir
Table II - Population of states not having IIT
% in Total Population
Table III - Population of states having IIT but less than the population of Kerala
From Table-II and Table-III we see that four states with population less than Kerala already have IITs. Karnataka is the only state having population 5.96% , above Kerala in population; however, we note that Bangalore already has the world-renowned Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management. We wish Karnataka well, and point to the economic and technological development that these institutions have already brought to our neighboring state. The rest of the states have population less than Kerala. Hence, in terms of size of the population, Kerala certainly is overdue for an IIT.
Malayalees have always led India in our thirst for knowledge. Kerala has for a long time been the most literate state of India, even in the 1960s when our state was desperately poor. As per the 2011 census, Kerala still holds the first position with 93.91% compared to the national rate of 74.04%. Kerala thus will naturally lead the table of the states which do not have an IIT. Ironically, Kerala even tops the states which do have an IIT. With so much emphasis placed on education, it is only natural that Kerala should get due consideration for the establishment of the next IIT.
In order for a state to make full advantage of an IIT, it is important that it has an economy which is able to at least partly make use of the intellectual capital present and generated in the IITs. The new strategy for IIT expansion places an increased emphasis on academy-economy linkages. It is, therefore, useful to check how Kerala ranks among those states which do not have an IIT.
Size of Economy in Indian Rupee(10 Million)
%of Total GDP
Per Capita Income
Jammu & Kashmir
Table IV - Economy of states not having an IIT
Similar to population, it is also useful to check how Kerala ranks with those states which do have IITs.
Size of Economy in Indian Rupee(10 Million)
%of Total GDP
Per Capita Income
Table V - Economy of states below that of Kerala but having an IIT
The domestic GDP rate of Kerala is 3.7% holding 9-th position at the national level with average per capital income of Rs. 59,179. From Tables IV and V, it is clear that at least 8 states who had their economy smaller than Kerala have been granted an IIT. Moreover, Kerala holds second position in GDP among states that do not have IITs. A summary of the above discussion comparing Kerala's position with states having an IIT in terms of population, literacy and economy is presented in Chart I and a respective criterion comparison with states that do not have an IIT is presented in Chart II.
Chart I: Comparison with states having an IIT
Chart II: Comparison with states that do not have an IIT
3.4 Geographical Proximity
Government of India has sanctioned IIT in other states by taking in to account various factors. Regional balance is one of the important criteria that any Government may consider while making such an allotment. Since the most prestigious programme in IITs are its undergraduate programme, the geographical proximity to an IIT is critical in terms of parents feeling comfortable to sent their wards to IITs. Map I shows the location of various IITs in India.
Map I: Location of IITs in India
It also shows that the densely-populated, highly literate southwest part of India is devoid of IITs. Let us compare the geographical clustering of location of IITs. Kerala is the southern-most state of India. The closest IIT to Kerala is in Chennai, which is around 800 km from Trivandrum and on an average 600 km from anywhere in Kerala. The next closest one is in Mumbai followed by Hyderabad. If we look at Chennai as a hub of southern part of India, IIT Chennai is far away from Kerala. If we take Delhi as the centre of northern part of India, within 6 to 7 hours journey, there are at least 4 IITs. That is, within 300 to 400 KM circle there are 4 IITs. Within 500 km of Kolkata or Mumbai, there is more than one IIT making the IIT more accessible to students of those states.
Apart from all these objective criterion, Kerala holds the first position in the human development index. Kerala has achieved significant improvements in conditions of living, infant mortality rate and social development that are comparable to those of many developed countries, even though the state's per capita income is low in comparison. We also note again that although Karnataka does not have an IIT, it has a national institute of importance, Indian Institute of Science ( IISc ) which has undergraduate and post-graduate level degree programs in both Science and Engineering. That institute is at par with an IIT. Therefore, Kerala can be considered as the frontrunner of getting an IIT. Hence, Kerala's claim to have an IIT in the state is more than fair, it is urgent and undeniable.
4. DOES AN IIT HELP THE STATE IN ITS FUTURE DEVELOPMENT?
One of the major criticisms raised against IITs is that IITs are nothing but a processing centre for facilitating brain drain. The IITs have been successful in preparing students to compete with the best anywhere in the world. This is proven by the fact that many, in fact a good proportion, of IIT graduates have gone abroad or taken careers which are not related to engineering. Some argue, albeit without merit, that these alumni do not contribute to the original objectives of IIT or of the state. The concept of “brain drain” and the narrow vision of what an IIT graduate can do in life, are both outdated and discredited. It is worthy to note that IIT graduates are sought out as students for masters and Ph.D programs by the top institutions worldwide. Many have earned their higher education and returned back to India with that experience. IIT graduates who stayed back in India have chosen a range of career paths from Engineering to Management to Civil Service to Entrepreneurship. It is now well established that regardless of the path they chose, they have excelled in their career field and contributed to the confidence of emerging India. A few names noteworthy are: Shri N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys, Dr. Subba Rao, Governor of Reserve bank, Shri Anil Agarwal, Shri Nandan Nilekani, etc. In the following, we would address the key benefits of having an IIT in the state. Events in the past 20 years have completely debunked the “brain drain” superstition. The contribution of IIT alumni to the revolution in computer and information technology is well-known. The rise of India as a superpower in that field is directly attributable to the excellent preparation imparted by the IITs and IISc, as well as the contributions of their alumni who first showed that Indians could compete worldwide, then opened the doors for Indian workers and exports all over the world, and today they are building the most innovative industries in India. Today the revolution in manufacturing is spreading rapidly to all fields. It is hard to see how any of this could have happened so quickly, if Indians were unwilling, unable or too lazy and backward to venture out, perform and compete with the best in the world.
There is no system of state or regional reservation in the IITs. Having an IIT in Kerala does not guarantee any more seats for Malayalees than establishing a new IIT in the Andaman or in Jammu and Kashmir. Some might therefore ask "Is there any benefit to the State?". At the undergraduate level, the mere presence of an IIT would boost the motivation of the school students of Kerala to try for admission in IIT. For instance, it is a fact that IIT Chennai has many students who got admission from local Chennai colleges. The same is true of IIT Mumbai, Delhi and Kharagpur. The statistics of IIT Guwahati would reveal that there was a continuous increase in the number of students getting admitted to IITs from the north eastern regions since its inception in the year 1994. However, the benefit to a state from having a top post-graduate technological institution, can be easily seen from the growth stories of California and Massachussetts in the USA, and from Japan. There is no substitute for the advantage gained from having world-class research facilities and researchers located within easy access. Thirty years ago, Kerala may not have had the business capital and transportation access in the state to justify having such an institution. But today the story is very different. Kerala has excellent international airports, as well as world-class businessmen and the capital to put the best ideas developed here, to the best use.
Improvement in Higher Education System: Establishing an IIT in Kerala will give a big boost to the higher education scene in Kerala. The first change is in seriousness and professionalism. IIT students and faculty take education very seriously, and consider themselves to be competing or at least benchmarking not against the best in their home town but the best in the entire world. The first and most stunning impact that an IIT has on a new student from a small town or village is the experience of being surrounded by the best in India (and the world), and realizing that one has to perform at a level that is far different from what was sufficient in one’s previous school. In the old days, telephones, transportation and money were more difficult to access, so that there was no way to turn around and call for help or run back home, and merit was the only way to get good grades from IIT professors. Even today it remains true that one has no one to turn to except oneself to make the necessary changes to one’s discipline and level of effort. This basic difference in mindset brings several positive changes. To begin with we will have an institution with a global brand to which we can look up with pride. The flexibility for frequent course restructuring depending upon the current needs is the most advantages point in the IIT system. As IITs are networked with engineering colleges under a Quality Improvement Programme, they will boost the quality of teachers in engineering colleges all over the state. The engineering college teachers in Kerala will get a chance to carry out research in their institution in collaboration with IIT even while carrying out their normal teaching at their parent institute. The qualifications and quality of these teachers can thus be improved. With a few exceptions, at present there is a lack of qualified teachers in almost all the engineering colleges in Kerala. In addition, the presence of an IIT would help engineering colleges of the state to get better higher education by enrolling their teachers in the masters and Ph.D programs under various categories such as part-time, self financed, and sponsored candidates.
The Government of India is promoting the creation of increased collaboration between IITs and local industries as well as supporting the creation of industrial innovation units. Both of these give a boost to the industrial scene in Kerala in the Information Technology (IT) and manufacturing arenas. Most IITs also run specialized programmes for state services, such as pollution control boards, which also will result in capacity building in the state.
Socio-Economic Development: The above development in higher education will in turn strengthen Kerala's plan for creating a good industrial climate in the state. The higher education system especially plays a major role in economic growth and it is an indicator of the prosperity of a nation. Scientific and technical education is critical to India’s aspirations as a leader in the global knowledge economy and in social development. Having an IIT in Kerala helps the state to play an active role in national development. Kerala will definitely emerge as a preferred destination for quality education and research in the global map due to its natural beauty and geographical location.
An IIT in Kerala will naturally increase the number of young Keralites who will get into the IITs. This is so because the presence of an IIT in Kerala, and possibly having an opportunity to visit it or hear more about it will prompt more youngsters to work harder to get into the
IITs. Some students, especially from economically backward families, will find it more financially manageable if the IIT is in Kerala than in a distant place. Finally, women students, who are at least equally represented among the top rankers in mathematics and science in Kerala’s high schools, will find more opportunities to get the unique advantages of an IIT education because parents will find it much easier if they are attending an IIT inside Kerala.
IIT is currently a global brand in academic excellence and presence of an IIT in Kerala will act as a magnet to attract investment in high-tech industry to Kerala in the long run. It is well known around the world that when there is a critical mass of research activities, bright young people and atmosphere conducive to entrepreneurial activity, high tech industry will prosper in that area. While NIT, CUSAT and IISER all can contribute to forming that critical mass, only IIT can bring the global brand in terms of technology. So, if Kerala aspire to move into the big league in being the preferred destination for new generation of industries, we must have an IIT. The best technological institutions in the world today, all have highly successful “industry incubators” located on campus, to develop their ideas into competitive, well-paying enterprises.
General Impacts: Looking at a wider perspective, one has to accept that IIT is not just an educational institution imparting education. It also provides service to the society. Apart from teaching, the faculty members are continuously involved in research. University research is critically important because it
• is of strategic importance for the nation,
• contributes to the growth of the Indian industries,
• helps the local society by finding solutions to their needs,
• disseminates technology for the upliftment of the rural sector,
• provides consultancy services to industries and finally
• leads directly to the creation of innovative, leading-edge enterprises.
In India today, research projects train and employ a large number of technically qualified personnel. Working in these projects, qualified students from the local area get admission to M.Tech and Ph.D programs thereby they are able to pursue their higher education. Though there is no regional reservation for the candidates to take part in these activities, simple statistical data analysis would reveal that the candidates from the particular state hosting a particular IIT is benefited maximum due to the geographical location. The above features are true of any research, but the critical advantages of a world-class research program are yet to be realized in most of India, where research projects appear to make improvements to what is already being done elsewhere. One only has to wonder why the strongest and most innovative military and the most lucrative early years of new industries, always seem to come from places that invest in leading edge research.
3. STEPS TO BE TAKEN BY KERALA GOVERNMENT TO BRING AN IIT
There are few key things the state Government should consider while making an effort to bring an IIT in Kerala. In fact, a planned strategy is required. The key points to be emphasised are:
i. Availability of Land
ii. Location of the Institute
iii. Future of the Institute
Dr. Anil Kakodkar’s Committee has given certain guidelines to MHRD to start new IITs. The Committee clearly specified in recommendations that the objective should be "to add more quality IIT" rather than just another IIT. The objective should not be to duplicate an existing IIT but to establish institutions that will bring to the table something new that the established IITs could not do. More care and attention in planning is emphasised in the recommendations.
The first and foremost recommendation is identifying the site. The Committee mentioned that "The site should be near to an industrial area and or complementary educational institutions with good access including an airport." This Committee reemphasis this point.
Generally, an IIT requires about 500 acres of land in a single location as specified in the above para. It is not a difficult task for any state to acquire this much land for establishing an IIT. Location is most important in many aspects such as
i. Fast development of the institute
ii. Industry-academy interaction
iii. Collaboration between like-minded institutions
iv. Attracting the best faculty to the institute.
An institute starting in the outskirts of a city with good infrastructure, connectivity and industrial presence would give a boost to the development of the institute. The state Government will have to take a proactive stand in acquiring land without giving any preferences which are of a political, regional or personal nature. The goal should be to bring an IIT to Kerala. Hence we suggest the name as "IIT Kerala" like IIT Rajasthan. It should be an IIT for every Keralite. A new IIT should not be under the clutches of an existing IIT, but rather under a visionary Director with a team of dedicated task force that can make a difference. The best example is IIT Guwahati which came to existence in the midst of political unrest in one of the most remote and industrially undeveloped region of India. Looking in to its contribution in terms of development of the region, rural sector, educating the teachers of the region, industrial growth, human resource development, technology incubation centre, etc., IIT Guwahati within 15 years, has emerged as an institute which is on
par with the older IITs that were established around 40 years ago. Probably we should explore this aspect to make IIT Kerala as a world-class institute.
The time is ripe for the intelligentsia and politicians to make a determined push to get an IIT in Kerala. Almost all major states have one and there is no more serious competition. Secondly, there has been no time in Independent India’s history when Kerala had so much clout in Delhi in both political and administrative circles. Finally, the political constellations between the Centre, the State and the HRD ministries in both, are most favourably aligned. The Committee recommends that the state government should act quickly but with a determined and pragmatic approach keeping in mind that the state should receive the maximum benefit from this opportunity.