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Saturday, June 23, 2012

JEE 2013: An Open Letter to Prof. Barua

Dear Sir,

I write to you about the issue of how admissions should take place to engineering colleges in India, and in particular to IITs. I am sorry for the length of this, but I wanted to cover the entire space around this controversy.

While I realize that changes to JEE has been an ongoing process, and there have been reports of Chandy committee and Acharya committee in the past, I will focus on the activities in the last 9 months, since a presentation was made to IIT Council in September, 2011, by Ramasami Committee.

While the initial focus was on finding a way to consider 12th class performance in the admission to IITs alone, the scope of the problem was hugely expanded by 2011. Ramasami Committee was not going to just look into the issue of admitting better students to IITs, but it would also look into the ways to reduce the number of exams, reduce the stress, improve school education all around, and kill the coaching menace.

The whole education system of the country was to be revamped - not by investing more resources, not by building more schools, not by hiring more teachers, not by mid-day meals, not by having a greater accountability, not by having better pedagogy, but by a simple instrument of controlling admission process of all engineering colleges of the country. Whether that is legal or not, whether that will really work or not, whether it will impinge on the autonomy of the universities, and whether that will kill the higher education while resurrecting the secondary education, these were minor points, which the members of IIT Council would find too trivial to spend their precious time on.

The chairman of the committee made a presentation to the council in September 2011. The minutes of the meeting welcomed the broad principles of the report, and asked the Chairman to submit the report within a month.

But something strange happened then. Minutes of the meeting were changed in November, 2011. The revised minutes said that the report was accepted.

I had raised this issue with you. How could a report which was not even submitted be accepted by the Council. You lied to me. You said that the report was submitted prior to the meeting. I had to send you a document from MHRD which clearly said that the report was submitted in November 2011. You immediately changed your stance. You claimed that it did not matter whether the report was submitted or not.

Of course, it did not matter to you. It did not matter to the distinguished members of the IIT Council. Whether the IIT system, or for that matter the entire higher education system in India, goes to dogs, you and other members of IIT Council are least perturbed about it. Otherwise, how could they accept a report which was not even submitted.

You, of course, had an explanation. The Chairman of the committee made a presentation and you and every other member of the Council had full trust in the chairman of the committee that the final report would be in line with the presentation made. I find it amusing. Devil is always in the details. Philosophy and principles are easy to agree on. But details are where disagreements happen. Since IIT Council accepted the non-existent report on that day in September, 2011, a large number of recommendations of the report have been changed, including the most basic recommendation on how to normalize marks across the boards. If there was no need to look at details before accepting the report, then why have all the recommendations been changed since then.

Tell me Sir, is this how things happen in IIT Guwahaty. If your MTech or PhD student just makes a presentation in front of an oral board and has not submitted a thesis, would your Institute give a degree to such a student in the hope that the student will actually submit a thesis later on, and that that thesis will be consistent with the presentation made by the student.

Would parliament pass a bill based on a speech made by the Minister and say that the exact language of the bill can be written by the Minister later on.

You may want to believe (as you wrote to me) that this was a minor procedural lapse. To me this shows the nature of IIT Council. To me, this is a conclusive proof, if any was needed, that members of IIT Council do not have excellence of IIT system as their agenda. They simply couldn’t care less.

Not only a non-existing report was accepted through the time tested method of issuing revised minutes, an implementation committee was also set up to start working on it, without waiting for any feedback from IIT Senates. Again, you argued that feedback had been received after the Acharya Committee report. Yes, of course, feedback had been sent and received, and that feedback pointed out the shoddy work that the committee had done. If the feedback suggests some minor change, then it is alright for the committee to incorporate some of it (or none of it). But if the feedback is substantial, then there must be another round of feedback after major changes have been made to the original report by the new committee. But why am I telling you all this. You are a seasoned administrator yourself. You know all this and you also know how and when to obfuscate issues.

I am not a very religious and a spiritual person. But I believe that if the origins of an action are in deceit, the action cannot lead to much good for the society.

But, still let us discuss what happened after the report was finally submitted in November, 2011.

Since the origin of all this exercise was to find a way to compare the 12th class board marks across the country, let us consider that issue first. The report gave some statistical justification about normalization of board marks. Apparently, the committee had sought an opinion from experts at Indian Statistical Institute. (Since, this is an open letter, for the benefit of my readers; I would like to point out that ISI is not an MHRD institute. While IIT Directors and Chairpersons may be afraid of backlash from their bosses, ISI has no reason to be afraid of MHRD.) They gave a report which said that more studies needed to be done with data from more boards for more years.

This had two problems. One, MHRD would have taken a long time to get all this data. As an aside, if you look at the board data on MHRD site, it is of the year 2008. That is just the number of students sitting and passing in the 12th class. Imagine how much time they would take for any other data. Two, and a consequence of the first, ISI would take a long time to give a clean chit, if at all they give a clean chit.

I am also told by my sources in MHRD that no changes can be brought in 2014, an election year. And all the great educationists that the IIT Council members are, they buy in a purely political argument, keeping aside all academic arguments.

Since ISI had not cleared Ramasami formula, a new formula had to be prepared. And this formula must not be validated by any statistical experts. Remember what happened when the feedback on Acharya committee report was taken. Remember what happened when feedback from ISI was taken on Ramasami formula of normalization. So absolutely no further feedback was to be taken from anyone. 2013 is sacrosanct.

Now enters Barua formula. Your formula, as you explained in IIT Kanpur, only changed the scale factor, and had a way to assign an average percentile score when a large number of students had the same score. Statistically, nothing new was done. If the statistical experts had not supported the earlier formula, it was obvious that the new formula will also not get unqualified support from experts. But just to check, IIT Kanpur asked a set of statistics experts to look at this formula. As expected, it got the same response that more data was needed.

Even though the experts had serious doubts about the normalization, IIT Council gives the normalization formula its approval. Why?

2013 is sacrosanct. Studies can wait. Data can wait. Analysis can wait. But the change cannot wait.

Sir, you came to IIT Kanpur as part of the team that was to "educate" the faculty members and Senators about the new scheme. While most faculty members boycotted you, I patiently heard you. The primary assumption that you had was the law of large numbers. The boards cater to a large number of students. The distribution of quality of education is same across the country. And hence percentile rank would be comparable. A 90 percentile ranker in one board has similar "quality" as a 90 percentile ranker in another board.

It was pointed out to you that all boards are not large. In fact there are boards with just about 100 odd students (in Science stream). Several boards had around 1000 odd students. The law of large numbers is not applicable when we have such small numbers. It did not bother you. You dismissed it as a small perturbation in the whole big scheme. After all, you have to get down to implementation.

2013 is sacrosanct. Studies can wait. Data can wait. Analysis can wait. But the change cannot wait.

Then I gave you evidence that CBSE board has a statistically better educated students than a typical board. Someone on my blog further pointed to a study that ICSE board is the best and that the CBSE is the second best. And that the gap between these boards and the state boards is HUGE.

First, in a style that has now become too repetitive and boring, you dismissed the whole thing. That it destroyed your argument for comparing boards was very obvious to you, and you did not know what to say. In such a situation, a typical academic would say, let me study it more. A typical politician would sidetrack the issue. You chose to act as a politician. This won't make a difference to IITs, since all top 10,000 CBSE students will be selected in 50,000 anyway.

I gave a reason why we will need to have at least 2 lakh students selected for the second exam to have no impact on IITs, but you chose to not respond to it.

The issue was, in fact, not about 50K or 2L. That would have been a very minor point. But IIT Council has approved that all engineering colleges in the country must give at least 40 percent weight to the 12th class marks. For admission to all these colleges, students from “better” boards like ICSE and CBSE would have a significant handicap. This was a serious challenge to Barua formula. So you had to come up with a new explanation.

At this point you said that we should not look at the marks that one receives in some exam, but should look at "native" intelligence. I then asked you whether the percentile in the board marks is a reasonable indicator of "native" intelligence. On one hand you are dismissing marks in favor of native intelligence. On the other hand, you are using percentile ranks which are based on marks. I am sure all this was crystal clear to all members of IIT Council, the great educationists that they are. But I am afraid, it was confusing to lesser mortals like me.

When I persisted with my questions, you came up with a startling revelation.

You said that you always knew that CBSE board is better than the state boards.

Did you? Then why have you been lying for the last three months. Do all the members of IIT Council know that the very basis of comparing percentile is wrong, and that you lied to them?

Of course, honorable men don't lie. They withhold critical information in larger national interest. You said that you wanted to give preference to boards where the schools do not have as much budget as CBSE schools have. This was an exercise in social inclusion.

Sorry, Sir, that won't cut. Did you explain this to Council members that your formula was not based on equality of boards, but based on the idea of social inclusion. Why was this information never given to other stake holders. Shouldn't social inclusion policies be discussed and debated in Parliament, rather than sneaked in stealthily by an over-zealous member of IIT Council.

We already have 51% seats reserved for the reason of social inclusion. 27 percent seats are exclusively for persons who belong to socially, educationally and financially backward classes. We would be happy to have greater amount of reservation or follow other methods of social inclusion, if Parliament asks us to do so. But please do not lie to us.

And there is a tiny little point about this so-called social inclusiveness. As I discuss below, the new scheme forces people to have additional coaching for the 12th class, and hence excludes people from rural areas and financially weaker sections, who do not have access to coaching as much as city folks have. So what you are essentially doing is to give an advantage to city dwellers coming from middle class and richer families, but who choose to join state board schools with a hope to get higher percentile in an easy board. That frankly, does not sound like social inclusion.

In short, the most important pillar supporting the changes to the admission process was gone. A reasonable academic system would have taken a step back and went back to the drawing board. But IIT Council is not about education or academics. It is primarily a political system. And on top of that, this has become an ego issue by now for its members. How dare these faculty members, the small pawns on the chess board, challenge the King. Don’t they know that

2013 is sacrosanct. Studies can wait. Data can wait. Analysis can wait. But the change cannot wait.

Having demolished the most important pillar, let us turn our attention on the other goals of the change.

A major assumption of this exercise has been that giving weight to the 12th class marks in the admission process will improve the quality of school education in the country. I had asked you the following question.

Many states used to have admission based on board marks. Later, they moved to common entrance tests, and then in the last several years, moved back to a system whereby they take a composite score of 12th class marks and common engineering test. Has there been any study done to show what models have worked effectively to incentivise students to take school education seriously. No reply from your side.

I wonder if anyone in IIT Council even tried to find out. In fact, it is obvious that they are not aware of any study. If there was any study that indicated support for this change, we would have received copies of it by now. And if there are studies which indicated that this does not work, I wouldn't expect any member of IIT Council to share that study with other members of the IIT Council, not to talk about general public.

What kind of leadership this bunch of great educationists will provide to India, if they are not bothered about any research before a major policy change affecting millions of people.

Talking about leadership and the quality of people in the IIT Council, let me tell you a discussion I had with one honorable member. This member tells me that the school education in Tamilnadu has been severely affected after it was decided to have admissions based on 12th class marks alone. Question banks, coaching for those question banks, and pressure on the board to have simple tests is commonplace. He was convinced that if the Council adopted inclusion of 12th class marks for admission to all engineering colleges in the country, the quality of school education will go down in the entire country.

Will the gentleman speak up in the Council meeting. Your guess is as good as mine. The Minister has repeatedly assured us that there was not a single voice of dissent amongst the Council members, and I know that this gentleman was present in the meeting.

The point is not whether this gentleman is right or wrong, and whether school education has suffered in Tamilnadu or not. The point is that a member of IIT Council is convinced that the policy is a disaster, and yet decides to keep quiet in the meeting. One wonders why?

We are constantly hearing about engineering admission providing an incentive to our youth to attend schools. What is the incentive to keep quiet.

We keep hearing about “corruption” in public life. So I looked up the online dictionary (www.dictionary.com). It defines corruption as: perversion of integrity, dishonest proceedings.

You, of course, need document for everything, even though nothing you say is based on any data, facts, study, or analysis. So the requirement of data is only for lesser mortals, not for members of the IIT Council.

So we tell you about a study of Tamilnadu board. Like in all previous cases, you first try to deflect the issue. You explain that the problem in Tamilnadu is that CBSE students find it extremely difficult to get admission there, since they have decided to give admission based on marks and not based on percentile. Well, Sir, if a single board dominates the education scene to the extent that Tamilnadu board does in that state, then whether you give admission based on marks or percentile, it won't make a difference as an incentive for the students to spend time in school. If they used percentile, it amounts to board level quotas, which means 97% seats would go to students of TN Baord. If they used marks, then perhaps 98% seats go to TN Board students.

Do you really believe that if TN Board students had access to 1% or 2% less seats in the engineering colleges, they would all flock to schools. If the system is really that sensitive to 1% or 2% that it can create a difference between a disaster and a wonderful system, then it becomes even more important to have proper research and come up with the best possible number for incorporating school marks.

Surprisingly, you agreed that the quality of education had indeed gone down in the state of Tamilnadu after the admission test was abolished and admission based purely on 12th class was started. I must tell you, Sir, that this is what I admire in you the most, your honesty, when you have exhausted all excuses.

But you always have an explanation, even if it keeps changing from day to day. You argued that the problem in TN was that they gave 100 percent weight to board marks. But IIT Council has decided to give variously as 40% or 50% weight to the board marks for admission to NITs and IITs.

Hmm. I also see in the decision that board marks can be given a weight between 40% and 100%. If you are convinced that 100% weight is a cause for disaster, did you try to warn your colleagues in IIT Council about it. May be the upper limit should have been recommended as something less than 100%.

If 0% is the current situation, and 100% is a disaster, how do we know what is the right weight. If we keep it at 90%, would it be better than 0%. If we keep it at 60%, even that could be a worse situation than 0%. You can see that it has to be done very carefully. If we make a mistake today, the future generations will never forgive us. But:

2013 is sacrosanct. Studies can wait. Data can wait. Analysis can wait. But the change cannot wait.

So, how does the IIT Council decide? It asks seven Senates to debate and suggest a number. The task of the IIT Council as enshrined in the Institutes of Technology Act (1961) includes coordination between IITs. Seven Senates give numbers between 0 and 40. I asked my 8 year old son, if he was to coordinate between 7 friends who are proposing numbers between 0 and 40, what will he do. He told me that he will take the average. I then asked him, what if there is strong resentment on that. He then said that he will listen to the arguments of everyone, and who ever has a more convincing argument, he will choose a number between the average and that number. Whatever methodology you may adopt, it appears to even an 8-year old that the final number would be between 0 and 40. But IIT Council, in its infinite wisdom, decided that number to be 50% for IITs. No explanation is forthcoming in minutes or any other document.

But how dare someone like me, a mere professor in one of the IITs even ask IIT Council for justification of a decision affecting millions of people. Great educationists don’t believe in educating others. I am sure they have all read that famous quote from Gordon, “better to remain silent and appear a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

To me, it shows the utter disregard that IIT Council has for IITs.

This entire discussion clearly shows that the goal of improving school education through the instrument of admission process is not likely to be achieved, and indeed if sufficient care is not taken, we might destroy whatever education we have. It calls for a slow, calibrated approach, after a lot of studies. But:

2013 is sacrosanct. Studies can wait. Data can wait. Analysis can wait. But the change cannot wait.

Sir, what happens to boards which only award grades. What happens to students who go for diplomas after 10th class, but want to come back to engineering education. What happens to students who may have done schooling abroad and the percentile rank is not available. What happens if some board is unable to announce the results in time. What happens if a student brings in a revised marksheet later on, and demand that s/he be given admission to his/her higher choice of programs. The questions are endless in the new system where board marks will be used for ranking.

 But, Sir, I am sure that the superhuman members of IIT Council have thought about each and every such contingency, and everything will just run extremely smoothly next year. But if the members would be kind enough to share their thoughts with the students who are trying to make sense out of all this while preparing for JEE 2013, they will reduce the stress amongst them considerably. (Remember, one of the goals of this proposal is to reduce stress.)

Sir, I am confused about one thing. If giving weight to 12th class marks in admission is going to be so revolutionary, why not give weight to 12th class marks in the Civil Services exam as well. Why not do the same thing in all other competitive exams, whether for admission to various courses or for selections in the jobs.

In almost all humanities and social science courses, the admission is through the 12th class marks. I am sure that the state of school education in those courses is absolutely fantastic. But as a self-declared leading educationist of the country, you would feel insulted if someone were to ask for data on this. So I won’t ask. Sir, I have no interest in insulting someone who has been my teacher, mentor, friend, and a guide.

It is not as if there are no alternatives to try. Even if someone was convinced that giving weight to 12th class marks in admission would magically improve the school system, there are alternative methods that many faculty members have proposed.

I remember writing to you long time ago that JEE should make an incremental change in the 12th class cut-off, from 60% to a slightly higher number, based on a study whereby we look at the 12th class marks of all IIT students, and set it up at a number whereby 99% of the JEE qualified students get qualified on the basis of 12th class as well. To reject even 1% students would send out a strong signal that we care for school system, and given the vagaries of the board grading, students will not want to just target 63% or 65% (whatever number that study will reveal), but at least 10 to 15 percent higher than that. And if your theory about board marks is correct, then here was a method that would encourage students to go back to school without the pressure and stress that the proposed scheme introduces.

You told me at that time that no one gets excited about incremental change. It would be extremely difficult to get this passed in the Joint Admissions Board (of IITs), as everyone will look at this as a minor tinkering with the system. You also mentioned that a minor tinkering would also not get political approval necessary for any changes in JEE.

So, even though there is some evidence that using 12th class marks for ranking can lead to lowering of school education, even though you appear to agree with using 12th class marks as eligibility, but because you cannot convince your political bosses about it, therefore, you are willing to support a hugely risky exercise. You are willing to do something that can potentially destroy school education, and that too without any research. And you are not even willing to consider going slow like using 12th class marks for eligibility in the beginning, collecting data, and if data permits then giving 12th class marks a small, 10% weight, which slowly increases over a period of time.

Going slow on changes has only one danger. What if future Directors disagree with the process. We want quick changes when we are convinced that we are the only ones with wisdom. In other words, this has become an ego issue. And, of course,

2013 is sacrosanct. Studies can wait. Data can wait. Analysis can wait. But the change cannot wait.

The next goal of this grand proposal is to reduce the impact of coaching in our educational processes. When this issue became public in January, and I started writing my blogs, your initial reaction was that, of course, if we give weight to 12th class board marks, there will be people who can afford to lose a few marks in JEE and compensate that in the 12th class board exams, and hence it would be possible to get into IITs without the coaching.

But as in all other matters, your position has continued to change to suit your arguments. When a lot of people complained that it will lead to a greater amount of corruption, since it would be easy to "buy" marks in some boards, you immediately changed your position to, "but board marks will hardly matter in the admission." Your argument was that the difference between the board marks of qualified candidates will be very small, and primarily the ranking will be based on the entrance test.

When you were again challenged and asked if it makes no difference, and most faculty members want to postpone this part till we have some experience with the new admission process, then why should be hurry things up. You again changed your position to, "but the small differences are going to be important in ranks."

Please decide whether the board marks will make a difference or not, in your opinion. If they will make a big difference, then how do you address the corruption issue. If they will make a small difference, why will students go back to school. They can spend the same time in coaching and increase the probability of higher marks in the entrance exam. (Of course, when I ask you this question, it is purely a rhetorical question. I know you don't have an answer.)

By the month of May, something interesting started to happen. All the coaching institutes started advertising in full page advertisements across geographies, in multiple papers that they want students to do 12th class coaching with them. After the decision of the Council, many coaching center owners were called to TV Studios and they said on National TV channels how happy they were, and how their business will go up substantially.

And finally, when you had no excuse left, you admitted that coaching will indeed go up in the new system. But you hoped that this will be a short term measure, and in the long term coaching will again reduce. Of course, it is too much to expect a rational argument from you on what magic will happen a few years from now to reduce coaching.

So, yet another noble goal of the Ramasami Committee has fallen. But:

2013 is sacrosanct. Studies can wait. Data can wait. Analysis can wait. But the change cannot wait.

Note that if the coaching goes up, and now there is a need to get coached for 12th class exam as well, it creates barrier for people from rural areas and those from weaker financial backgrounds. Coaching happens mostly in cities, and it costs money, a lot of money. People have to pay not just a very high tuition, but staying away from family also means additional costs for lodging and boarding. Currently, IITs are proud of having a substantial number of students from remote areas and rural areas, since they can get reasonable marks in 12th, and only do coaching for JEE, which they somehow manage. But in the new scheme, the role of coaching will be so large that rural and poor students can say good-bye to IITs.

I have explained to you my argument as to why the new format would discriminate against rural students and those from economically disadvantaged families. You and your boss keep telling media that the current JEE is elitist and the new format will attract more rural and more poor students. Care to explain how? (And, by the way, if the current JEE has some problems, it is because Directors such as yourself have stonewalled all changes, disregarded all suggestions from faculty members and other stake holders in the last few years, except when forced by courts.)

The next goal of Ramasami Committee was to reduce stress by decreasing the number of examinations. Let us see if that is being achieved by the new proposal.

In the current system, we have AIEEE, and we have JEE. (All other exams not considered since they remain the same.) In the new system, we have renamed the two exams, put them on the same day, and made it compulsory for everyone to give these two exams.

The most fantastic idea that IIT Council wants the students and parents of this nation to believe is that if we rename the exams, the stress decreases. Sir, why not go a step further. Why don't we insist that all exams in the country be called Joint Entrance Exam. We can have, in addition to, JEE-Main and JEE-Advanced, JEE BITS, JEE-Manipal, JEE-VIT, JEE-xyz, and so on. Now, everyone has to give just one exam, possibly spread over an entire month or two. Voila, we have reduced stress, and you would have satisfied your boss even more. Now, he can truly claim to have "One Nation, One Test."

Sir, seriously, this is a slap on the face of all the hard-working, intelligent students. If IIT Council believes that the people will buy this, then it shows their lack of confidence in the nation, in the intelligence of its youth. But it really just shows how egoist they are. The members of IIT Council believe that the entire intelligence of the nation is concentrated in 7 Directors and 7 Chairmen, and perhaps a few more persons.

Dictionary.com gives the meaning of the word  arrogance as: offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride.

Till now AIEEE and JEE was separated by typically a week or two. One could give an exam, and then cool down, prepare once again, and give the second exam.  Now, IIT Council is telling the students that that caused stress. If both the exams are on the same day, the stress will go down.

Sir, can I ask you who is an expert of psychology in IIT Council, who said this.

Sorry, Sir.

Don't have to answer this question. I can guess the answer. Each one of you is an expert on psychology. If you say that reducing the 7-14 day of preparation period to 2 hours will reduce the stress, the lesser mortals that we are, cannot question the wisdom of honorable members of IIT Council.

Currently, 12 lakh students give AIEEE, and 5 lakh students give JEE. Now, 12 lakh students will give both JEE and AIEEE. I don't see a reduction in the number of exams. But I see an increase in the number of exams, at least for 7 lakh students. Oh, but I forgot. You have renamed the two exams to a common name. That is why the number of exams have reduced. Silly me. I keep forgetting that renaming of exams is what is supposed to cause the reduction in the number of exams, and the amount of consequent stress. Sorry.

And, Sir, you said it right on the National TV. It will make no difference to have these 7 lakh kids give an extra exam, since they will all get zeroes anyway. After all 30% of 0 is 0. But, Sir, would it in any way affect their self-confidence. What happens to a kid when s/he is forced to give an exam, and then the kid gets a zero. Do this for 7 lakhs of them. Why. Because 30% of 0 is 0. So it does not matter.

Sir, I am confident that everyone in IIT Council is an expert in maths too. But it does matter.

May I suggest that you consider non-IITians as humans. Perhaps, if you start treating them as human beings, and provide opportunities to them, they could do wonderful things in life. Remember the demographic dividend.

But, if the goal was to reduce the 182 admission tests in this country to something smaller, then why not try to stop all the admission tests of various state universities and deemed universities. Oh, we can't do that, since we cannot infringe upon the autonomy of those private or state universities. We can only deny autonomy to those institutes for whom we write the check.

So we reduce the number of exams from 182 to 181, and that too by renaming two exams with the same name. Excellent progress by IIT Council. Welcome to "One Nation, 181 tests."


Sir, by the way, did it occur to anyone in the IIT Council that when we have diversity in the kind of programs that our universities offer, their admission requirement could also be different. An IT Institute, for instance, may not want to have a test of Chemistry, or at least may not want to give equal weight to the Chemistry marks. Architecture programs and Design programs typically have a test of drawing and aptitude. Programs in bio-technology and other such programs may want to check for exposure to biology. On the other hand, there may be a university who may want their students to be aware of society around them, and may want a test on current affairs, or general knowledge, etc.

IIT Council is saying that none of these are permitted within the borders of this country. Experiments with education cannot be done in educational institutes. They can only be done within the confines of the brains of IIT Council members (who, as we have discussed earlier, are willing to accept a non-existent report, willing to withhold critical information from each other, and who are not interested in even reading the minutes of the meeting). The entire research in education will henceforth be done only during the IIT Council meetings. The education departments should only produce BEds. Actually, even that is not needed, since the schools will anyway improve without teachers, just by tinkering with the admission process of the universities.

Sir, as you might have noticed there are lots of concerns, lots of issues. But

2013 is sacrosanct. Studies can wait. Data can wait. Analysis can wait. But the change cannot wait.

When we read the Ramasami Committee report, there was one part in it which made many of us happy. It had suggested that there should be an Aptitude test. This was supposed to solve two problems. One, we should be able to align the interests and abilities of students more closely with what they study. Two, make it truly coaching proof. We were really hoping that MHRD will enable bringing of modern examination techniques to India. We were doubly happy when we heard that our own Director, Prof. Sanjay Dhande would be heading the academic part of the new test (at that time known as ISEET). He even visited ETS in US to figure out what can be done. But our hopes were dashed very soon.

If you remember the interaction with your committee in IIT Kanpur, we requested Prof. Acharya to explain what an aptitude test is. We thought it was a simple question. After all he was a member of the committee that had strongly recommended the Aptitude test. But when he could not speak anything coherent about the aptitude test, we could make a guess about his contribution to the report.

Designing an aptitude test is a very difficult exercise. Ensuring that each question (known as Item in the language of ETS) is free of any cultural bias, gender bias, environment bias, etc., is not easy, and then there is something special about India, each test has to be in multiple languages. So each item has to be translated in multiple languages while making sure that no bias creeps in, in any of the versions. This would have required tremendous sustained effort for several years. But

2013 is sacrosanct. Studies can wait. Data can wait. Analysis can wait. But the change cannot wait.

So the most promising part of the recommendations was quietly dropped.

Sir, how a group of Directors working on the implementation issues can just drop on their own an important decision of the IIT Council. Shouldn't they report everything to IIT Council and take its fresh approval.

Even more strangely, in the minutes of the meeting of the Joint Councils of IITs, NITs, and IIITs, there is a line which says that the Chairman of IIT Council (the HRD Minister) has unlimited rights to change anything about anything decided that day. Then why minute anything. This one line would have been enough as the minutes. And everything else can be an office order later on. It is obvious that the members of IIT Council are competing with each other to please the boss. One wonders why? What is the incentive to keep quiet? Can we think of an incentive mechanism that will make them speak?

Sir, in the September 2011 meeting of the IIT Council, two reports were accepted. One was a report which actually existed at that time, the report of the Kakodakar Committee which talked about giving autonomy to IITs. The other one was a non-existent report of the Ramasami Committee which when finalized would take away autonomy of IITs. I find it very interesting that the implementation of the Kakodakar Committee report will be in 2015, while the implementation of the Ramasami Committee report will be in 2013. Why do I even think that it may have something to do with the fact that parliamentary elections are likely to be held in 2014.

Sir, there are many more issues. The division of roles of Senates and Boards and Council is a major issue to be resolved. The conduct of the new types of exams - whether it can be done with the same care and rigor and transparency that IIT JEE has been conducted so far, given the recent history of CBSE exams. Should the so-called JEE Advanced be controlled by IIT system when it is being forced upon all 12 lakh students. If it is not controlled by IITs, will the exam continue to have a focus of finding a long tail distribution of marks, which is necessary to select a smaller number of students from a very large set.  But a discussion on these issues will sidetrack the main issue, and hence I am not writing about them in this note.

Sir, let me summarize below all the assumptions and goals that have been articulated by Ramasami Committee or by its supporters, and what have we learnt about them in the last few months:

1. Since boards have large number of students, law of large numbers is applicable.

    We have learnt that many boards are too small.

2. The quality of academic preparation of all boards is statistically the same.

    We have learned that ICSE and CBSE have been performing much ahead of other boards.  You agreed with this, and you also agreed that you knew about this earlier, but still continued to make false statements.

3.  Giving weight to 12th class marks in ranking will improve school education.

     Even though many states have done such transitions in the last few years, there is no study done regarding effectiveness of this in incentivizing students to pay attention to school. In Tamilnadu where board marks have 100% weight, you agree that it has affected even less attention to schools than in the past. There is a reasonable belief outside IIT Council that to the extent consideration of 12th class marks during admission will incentivise students to take school education seriously, the same effect can be achieved by having the 12th class marks as eligibility.

4. The scheme will reduce coaching.

    You have admitted that the proposed scheme has already increased coaching, though you hope that it might reduce in the long term. You have no data to substantiate your hope.

5. The scheme will reduce stress by reducing the number of exams.

     The number of exams get reduced from 182 to 181 only because you are renaming the two exams with the same name. In fact the total number of exams taken by students on an average is increasing in the new proposal. The stress is also likely to go up because we are forcing 7 lakh students to give an exam in which you expect that they will get 0 marks.

6. An Aptitude test will be a good way to test students for different kind of courses and programs.

    The aptitude test has been removed from the latest proposal.

7. All board marks will be available for all students within such time that the result of the test can be announced by 2nd June.

   This year, all board results did not come out in May. What happens if the results don't come out in May next year too.

Sir, I am absolutely sure that you will ignore all this. I am convinced that no amount of data, no amount of research, and no amount of logic can dissuade you from going ahead with this, even though on every individual point, you have finally conceded that there are/were problems with the original positions. We have done tremendous amount of research, and presented our case rationally. On the other hand, your case has always been based on hopes and beliefs. It has always been based on you being a Director and hence your views should prevail over views of faculty members. IIT Council is a higher body, and hence its decision should prevail over Senates. But you call us hardliners

Sir, I have a suspicion that the two of us have no disagreement. From all you have said, it appears that two of us have converged to a single position, but there is something that is stopping you from accepting that position publicly, even though you have agreed to pretty much all parts of that position individually. I would never know why you are doing so. Why you are willing to say that the final proposal takes care of all concerns of IIT Guwahaty Senate, when out of the only two concerns that they had expressed, neither one has been accepted by the Council. Why you are willing to be used and abused in front of media and elsewhere. Why you are saying things that you don't believe to be true. Sir, is someone blackmailing you on some issue? If there is a problem, we can talk offline, and please count on me for any help whatsoever.

Sir, this has been a very long letter. I thank you for reading all of this. I know that at places I have used harsh language. I know that if such a letter is written by one of my ex-students, I would feel terrible. But I want you to know that writing this has not been easy on me either. I have been writing this for the last 15 days, editing and changing, and thinking whether to publish this at all. I hope that I will always have sufficient wisdom and strength to never do anything that will beget such a letter from an ex-student.

I must say that I truly admire you for the public debate that you allowed us to indulge in. Without someone from IIT Council going public, we would not have known the absurdities, the egos, the irrationalities, and the likes. Whatever I am saying here about you must be applicable to several other members of the Council as well, but I can't say that since they do not take public positions. I have already mentioned about Chairman of an earlier committee unable to explain a key recommendation of his report. I have already talked about a gentleman who despite having a strong belief that this will damage the school system prefers to keep quiet in the meeting. Let me give you one more example of an IIT Council member.

The Chairman of the Ramasami Committee visited us at IIT Kanpur. He claimed to have done enormous amount of statistical analysis. His claims were bordering on being obnoxious. So I asked a few questions. How many students took 12th class exam in 2011. He said 18 million. I said that appears to be on the high side as that is the number of students joining school in class 1 every year, and there is a pretty high dropout rate at every level. He gave me 3 more numbers. Within a 2-minute timeframe, I am hearing 4 numbers ranging from 6 million to 18 million. That is the kind of data he had. He then continues with his data analysis. A greater percent of INSPIRE scholars are from rural background than the percent of IIT students. I did the cardinal sin of asking for data. I truly was amazed at his claim, and was curious as to what the IIT percent is. He told me that he did not have IIT data because JEE folks are too secretive. I then asked how come he could say that the percent was higher for INSPIRE scholars if he did not have data for IITs. He literally started shouting at me, and I had to apologize and leave the meeting. However, the thorough gentleman that he is, he conveyed to me through another professor who was witness to this whole incident, that he was apologetic for raising his voice. Note that he was only sorry for raising voice. He was not sorry for writing a report without knowing the data.

So I am convinced that several other members of the council are responsible for the state of affairs. You are getting the flak for being better than them, for engaging issues in public.

But such is life.

One last point. You talked about you trying to help IITs unite, and help save the IIT system. Sir, believe us. We too want to save the IIT system. I think it is under attack from IIT Council. If Directors and Chairpersons just focused on improving their IITs and allowed freedom and autonomy to other IITs, the IIT system will not just be saved but grow and move towards excellence. But if you feel that managing one IIT is too small a job for you, and you have this irresistible urge to manage other IITs, may I suggest that you consider resigning from the primary membership of IIT Council. The urge will go away on its own, or may require a few sittings of "Power Anonymous."

With best regards,

(Dheeraj Sanghi)

PS: To readers of my blog, no comments are permitted on this letter.

Update: Professor Barua has responded to this letter through an article on his blog. I urge readers of this letter to also read his response since that is likely to convince you even more about the points that I have made here.

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