The attitudes of Indian Universities

July 26, 2021

I have a hypothesis that most universities and colleges are merely vessels for awarding degrees, and providing traditional careers for people. Essentially, vocational schools, but pretentious. They do not believe in the original idea of universities, which is a community of scholars and teachers, that explore and learn, and make the world better with the sparks of innovation that result.

I may, of course, be off the mark, but to test my hypothesis, I'm using a simple principle: what do universities or colleges have to say about themselves? It may not be accurate, but it's a simple litmus test. So the heuristic is going to be the university's official mission statement. If there is no mission statement, I shall see what they say in the "about" page on their website. So here goes.

(note: I am only targeting engineering institutions for now)

Let's begin with my own university, PES University, from their about page:

PES University, located in Bangalore, India is one of the country’s leading teaching and research universities. The University is committed to providing “education for the real world” that inspires students to realize their potential.

Our students graduate with the ability to adapt to an intellectually and technologically changing environment.

 "Education for the real world" and "graduating with the ability to adapt to an intellectually [...] changing environment". Reading between the lines, it seems to signal towards "we help students secure jobs". Sure, it may be a biased reading, but my bias comes from the countless lectures of the Pro-Chancellor, and the emphasis is pretty much always placement records.

Manipal University's mission statement:
  • Be the most preferred choice of students, faculty and industry
  • Be in the top 10 in every discipline of education
    health sciences, engineering and management.
I roughly interpret this as "our goal is to be liked and well-ranked". Talk about a measure becoming a target.

Let's go with institutes in India that are "higher-ranked". First is BITS Pilani's mission.

BITS mission is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.

The Institute is committed to generating, disseminating, and preserving knowledge, and to working with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world's great challenges. BITS is dedicated to providing its students with an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community. We seek to develop in each member of the BITS community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.

No complaints with this one. Seems pretty good as a mission statement, even if really long-winded. BITS passes my heuristic.

I'll try two of the classic IIT's.

IIT Kharagpur:
  • To provide broad-based education, helping students hone their professional skills and acquire the best-in-class capabilities in their respective disciplines
  • To draw the best expertise in science, technology, management and law so as to equip students with the skills to visualize, synthesize and execute projects in these fields
  • To imbibe a spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in its students
  • To undertake sponsored research and provide consultancy services in industrial, educational and socially relevant areas
Fails my heuristic without a doubt. This mission statement belongs in a vocational school, not a premier institute. I probably hate this one the most out of all the ones I've read so far.

IIT Bombay:
  • To create an ambience in which new ideas, research and scholarship flourish, and from which the leaders and innovators of tomorrow emerge.
  • To address problems faced by the nation and the world through the talent we nurture and the research we do.
  • To provide an education that transforms students through rigorous coursework and by providing an understanding of the needs of society and industry.
  • To collaborate with other academic and research institutes around the world to strengthen the education and research ecosystem.
I really like this one. I am not surprised that among the engineering colleges in India, this one ranks the highest. Unfortunately, here, it seems to me it is revered for the wrong reason.

The inconsistency between the two IIT's is interesting.

Now, let's see what the top ranked institutes of the world say, for comparison.

MIT:

The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.

The Institute is committed to generating, disseminating, and preserving knowledge, and to working with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges. MIT is dedicated to providing its students with an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community. We seek to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.

Wait a second, this seems familiar... did BITS Pilani just copy MIT's homework? BITS, I'm going to have to fail you for plagiarism. Sigh.

Stanford school of engineering:
  • Conduct curiosity-driven and problem-driven research that generates new knowledge and produces discoveries that provide the foundations for future engineered systems
  • Deliver world-class, research-based education to students and broad-based training to leaders in academia, industry and society
  • Drive technology transfer to Silicon Valley and beyond with deeply and broadly educated people and transformative ideas that will improve our society and our world.
Carnegie Mellon University:

To create a transformative educational experience for students focused on deep disciplinary knowledge; problem solving; leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills; and personal health and well-being.

To cultivate a transformative university community committed to (a) attracting and retaining diverse, world-class talent; (b) creating a collaborative environment open to the free exchange of ideas, where research, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship can flourish; and (c) ensuring individuals can achieve their full potential.

To impact society in a transformative way — regionally, nationally, and globally — by engaging with partners outside the traditional borders of the university campus.

These are as expected, quite good. They represent the whole idea of "building a community of scholars for the advancement of knowledge and innovation". Something that I feel Indian Institutions are not interested in. I do not advocate for Indian institutes to imitate these other top institutions. But at least be interested in a system that pushes our society ahead?