POV: Has brand IIT weakened?

By Ashwini Gangal and Satrajit Sen , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Others | July 11, 2013
Given that hundreds of students have secured yet rejected IIT seats, this year, because they don't trust the newer IITs, we asked education experts and IIT alumni, who currently occupy top media/marketing positions whether brand IIT has weakened.

Indians are hierarchical about many things. Take the way we rank our educational institutions, be it engineering or management. In the case of the former, while so far it was about the IITs versus the rest, it is now about the old IITs versus 'the other IITs', the other IITs being the new ones that have been added to the mix over the last few years, including those at Indore, Mandi, Ropar, Jodhpur, Bhubaneshwar, Patna, Hyderabad, Varanasi and Gandhinagar.


While one would assume this additional supply of IITs, something test takers craved for not long ago, would be embraced by IIT aspirants with open arms, this is not the case. A recent media report states that hundreds of students have secured ranks to make it to one of these new IITs but have opted not to. This could be due to several reasons - many of the new IITs function in 'borrowed' campuses, welcome students with low all India ranks, or because big companies still prefer to recruit from the old IITs (at Mumbai, Delhi, Kanpur, Chennai, Kharagpur, maybe even Roorkee and Guwahati, the more recent among the old lot) either because that's where they studied or that's where they assume the top talent lies.

Given these facts, we wonder whether brand IIT has weakened. While some say it has, others feel it's a matter of time before the new ones match up to the glory. "There was a time when we had just IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Kolkata. IIM Bengaluru went through a similar learning curve to adapt to the market before coming up as a very strong brand in itself. So, yes of course, as a new brand, you would take some time to establish yourself. That's part of the ramping up process. The same holds true for ISB Hyderabad and the newer Mohali campus," says a former IITian, now in-charge of a leading digital brand.

Here's what the other former IITians and education experts we spoke to had to say.

Nitesh Tiwari, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett India (IIT Mumbai alumnus)

Nitesh Tiwari

Prof M Anandkrishnan

Alok Agarwal

Vikram Sakhuja

Prof. R Natarajan

MG Parameswaran

Somewhere, something tells me the impact has been diluted, partly because it used to be a really elite club when I was attempting JEE. There were only five IITS at the time. And, the perception was such that the toppers would go to the top four IITS -- Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kanpur. Kharagpur was opted by those who had much lower all India ranks.

This also has a lot to do with the kind of job offers you get when you study at an IIT. The credibility the top four or five IITs have when it comes to one's career, or even internationally, is high. Now, that exclusivity seems to have gone down; from having merely 2300-2500 students being taken from all over India, today the number has increased to God knows how much! So earlier, you'd have just a handful of IITians. Now everybody can become an IITian. The charm and exclusivity have completely gone for a toss. And nobody has any idea how reputed the other (new) IITs are. That also puts a doubt in one's head.

I am assuming the placement issue is one of the reasons for this. Most of the plum jobs in big companies still go to people from the top four or five IITs. I am not sure whether big companies opt to place students from the lower ranking IITs. The students who today make it to the lower ranked IITs would've gone to the other regional engineering colleges, a few years back. Today, picking up students from the lower ranked IITs is as good as going to regional engineering colleges to recruit -- this is what the perception of big companies could be.

Prof M Anandkrishnan, chairman, IIT Kanpur

The increase in the number of IITs has enlarged the scope for students to get enrolled in these institutions. Earlier, there were limited seats and hence the rush to get admission, but now the scenario has changed. With the increase in population, it is necessary to have more 'better' institutes in the country. But for these institutes to gain name and fame, one has to give them time.

Speaking about the brand value of IITs, it will be wrong to say that it has weakened or diminished. If that was so, we wouldn't have seen five lakh odd students battling it out in IIT-JEE exams for around 10,000 seats and the number of seats left vacant would have been much more than the 800 odd mentioned. Moreover, the admission process is not over as yet, so after the completion of the process, I am sure, there will be no seats left vacant. In fact, it is a general routine, it happens every year and that is why we conduct admissions in several rounds. This ensures that students willing to take admission get a fair chance.

Alok Agarwal, director, marketing, eBay India (IIT Mumbai alumnus)

No, it has not. It is as strong as it was and I would still look an IITian with as much respect as I would earlier. I am presumably a loyal IITian! While I would like to see the data and then draw a conclusion than base my view on a media report on the issue, I'll say this -- it is still a great institute for learning.

Vikram Sakhuja, Worldwide CEO, Maxus (IIT Delhi alumnus)

As an IITian, I think we were very proud about being from an IIT; when I was in IIT, there used to be a total of five IITs. And it used to promise and deliver on a reasonably quality education. And, I would like to believe that most of these five have been able to retain their sheen. I honestly don't know how the new ones have been able to develop themselves. At the end of the day, people want a quality education. So, if people are actually turning down an IIT seat, I would be worried if I was managing the IIT brand. At face value, if people are turning down IIT offers from some of the new IITs and choosing the so called next level of engineering colleges, it's clear writing on the wall that these other IITs are yet to prove themselves. And over time, this could impact the overall IIT brand name. It could be a cause for concern. At this point in time, though, I'd like to believe the sheen of the top five IITs is still pretty much intact.

Prof. R Natarajan, former chairman, All India Council for Technical Education

It would be wrong to categorise all IITs in a single bracket. The stories about 769 students giving IITs a miss have mostly come from ISM Dhanbad and IIT-BHU. Now these are newly formed IITs and will take time to come to their full glory.

Moreover, IIT as a brand has been built with a backing of 50 years behind it. So it is not easy to say that brand IIT is dead. Of course it is not. But we also need to consider that the newly formed institutes can't achieve that glory in just five years. This won't be fair for the institutes as well as the students studying there. One should not forget the fact that these institutes have been selected to get IIT status and that is not easy. So of course these are good institutes and will become better with time.

IITs presently offer around 10,000 odd seats across the country. Considering the size of the educated population that is looking for higher studies, the number is very low. But we can't have institutes like IITs coming up quickly, so the process of identifying more opportunities is on and it will take time.

MG Parameswaran, executive director and CEO, Draftfcb Ulka (IIT Chennai alumnus)

I was fortunate to have my undergraduate education at IIT Madras and I consider those the best five years of my life. But those days we had just five IITs and each accommodated just 250 students in the B Tech program each year. So I think the objective of extending the IIT brand to other cities is indeed a noble one, a challenge and an opportunity. I am not surprised to hear that some of the IITs have had students rejecting the offered seat. This is nothing new since students who have their mind set, on say Computer Science, would rather do Com Sci in another reputed engineering college than do Metallurgy in an IIT, old or new. So before we start ringing the bells one needs to analyse the nature of 'rejection' and then see what could be done to reduce it. No seat should go empty at an IIT since expensive engineering education is subsidised by the government. Just as in the case of any brand extension, there will be challenges. The right time to evaluate the brand erosion issue, if any, would be a full decade later. Great institutional brands are not built or undone in a year.

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