Secret behind Indian Institute of Technology

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2021-12-29 22:06:10

Above the monumental main entrance of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), reopened in 1951, is a slogan that reads “Serve the Country”. But over the years, many graduates from the country’s most elite network of engineering schools have gone on to develop careers in the US. The truth is so ironic that this slogan has become a joke about the above slogan referring to “Which country?”.

Twitter’s new CEO, Parag Agrawal, recently added his name to a long list of talented IIT graduates who have gone on to manage Silicon Valley tech giants. Previous names include Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, Micron Technology’s Nikesh Arora and Sun Microsystems’ Vinod Khosla.

By the standards of the QS World University Rankings, IIT – which has grown to 23 campuses across India – is falling in academic competitions. IIT Bombay ranks first among all Indian institutions in 2021, 177th out of top 200 universities. In contrast, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is at the top. While IIT scores highly for employer reputation, with a score of 70 out of 100, it scores heavily on a lack of international students and faculty.

Students take a class at the Bombay campus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai.

IIT Delhi director, V. Ramgopal Rao, said the reason there are so few international university students is that it is difficult for foreigners to pass what he calls “the hardest entrance exam on the planet”.

While IIT organizes entrance exams in centers like Dubai and Singapore, foreign students will meet “The big disadvantage is that they do not attend Indian schools and complete rigorous schooling”, Mr. Rao said. In fact, IIT Delhi has only had one foreign student pass the entrance exam and this is a Korean who attended an Indian high school.

Mr. Rao said the lack of international teaching staff was due to the low wages at government-funded institutions. By comparison, the president of ITT earns only $60,000 a year while the president of MIT makes $1.25 million in 2018. An assistant professor at IIT only gets about $25,000 annually.

But despite IIT’s global status, IITians (ITT graduates), enjoy a golden reputation and are often hired by the world’s largest corporations with substantial compensation packages.

Chetan Bhagat, famous Indian writer and journalist, who graduated from IIT, said: “The ITT brand is still perfect for what it can do for your resume.”

Top 2021 employers including Microsoft, Qualcomm, Google, Airbus and Amazon are looking for graduates in software and product engineering, R&D, financial analysis, data science and other fields other area. And a 22-year-old student this year, an IIT graduate, recently received a job offer for a software engineer position with an income of $ 263,000 per year from Uber.

The secret behind the Indian Institute of Technology - the birthplace of CEOs for global tech giants - Photo 2.

The main entrance of the Bombay campus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai. Photo: AFP

“Mother of all entrance exams”

So what makes IIT graduates so sought after?

First, it has the “mother of all entrance exams,” a super-difficult entrance exam capable of knocking out all but the brightest. Mr. Rao said the current curriculum in India places emphasis on creating a strong foundation in mathematics to “help develop students’ analytical skills”. Students also learn how to brainstorm on projects, convert theory into practice, and team-building skills.

And parents are all ambitious to set goals for their son’s IIT (ITT students are still predominantly male, although 20% of seats are currently reserved for women). Even if their child isn’t interested in engineering, an IIT degree is seen as an automatic passport to other well-paying career opportunities in society.

“Put Harvard, MIT and Princeton together and you begin to imagine the state of this school in India.” CBS host Leslie Stahl said on a 2003 TV show about IIT, a comment that is still believed to be true today.

“As a teenager, you have to forget about your life for three to four years, you have to forget about the rest of the world, the extracurricular activities, and just prepare hard, but you will pay off. make up for all of that.” Vipul Singh, 32, who studied at IIT and is now the co-founder and CEO of drone company Aarav Unmanned Systems, said.

It is not easy to be an IIT student and even more difficult to survive in this harsh program

Director of IIT Delhi V. Ramgopal Rao

In 2020, 1,118,673 IIT hopefuls took the six-hour joint entrance exam. Among them, 150,838 passed to continue to participate in the advanced exam. In the end, only 43,204 people qualified for admission. But that is not the final number. The students then competed for 13,000 positions based on the rankings of ITTs across India as well as the demand for specific engineering, physical science or architecture courses.

The competition will not end until the last student has won the last vacant IIT position.

“Students are graded relative to each other. We asked them to compete with each other. That makes them the best at whatever they do.”, Mr. Rao said. “Becoming an IIT student is not easy and it is even harder to survive in this harsh program, but if you talk to people who have passed it, they will tell you everything after that only. is a road full of sweets.”

Of course, intense academic pressure and the desire to get good grades to please parents can take a toll on a student’s mental health. Rao said: “We have a very extensive, multi-advisor process in place, how to identify those who are lagging behind, to provide support to them.”

But not everyone is fully supported. In 2019, an Indian government report said that 50 IIT students had committed suicide in the previous 5 years. In India, exam-related pressure and fear of failure lead to frighteningly high numbers of students committing suicide. A report from the National Crime Registry says more than 170,000 students of all ages died by suicide between 1995 and 2019.

The secret behind the Indian Institute of Technology - the birthplace of CEOs for global tech giants - Photo 4.

Shivani Nandgaonkar, a student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, poses outside the campus in Mumbai. Photo: AFP

Strong alumni network

Back in the days before the tech wave started to gain serious traction in the early 2000s, there was a huge exodus of IIT talent to the US and especially Silicon Valley. And it is considered an extremely unfortunate “brain drain” phenomenon for India.

Now, however, IIT graduates are more likely to stay in India, where the opportunities are seen as bigger and better. The number of tech startups has skyrocketed. Mr. Rao said 20 years ago “80% of the high-potential class has gone abroad. But last year, less than 200 out of 10,000 IIT graduates went abroad to find work.”

Kunal Bahl, co-founder of e-commerce firm Snapdeal, said in September that there were 4,079 startups founded in India by IIT graduates, of which 593 were IIT Delhi graduates. and 529 companies are IIT Bombay alumni.

According to British accounting software company Sage, IIT is ranked fourth globally for its ability to educate students who can create “unicorns” (startups worth more than $1 billion). USD).

Today, graduating students often want to start their own businesses, and they can easily find support through IIT graduates.

“The alumni network is very, very strong. They come in and mentor students, acting as both a point of contact and a carrier of knowledge.” Singh of Aarav Unmanned Systems said. Several successful graduates have become “angel investors” in projects initiated by other IITians.

“Working with someone who also attended IIT means we speak the same language”, an investor, said an IIT graduate. This person did not want to be identified, but said he has invested in six startups involving IIT alumni.

And without becoming entrepreneurs, some of the ITT graduates will also become top Indian civil servants. Many IITians who have graduated also often return and contribute greatly to their alma mater.

“In the past three months alone, we [IIT Delhi] has received commitments from 12-13 million USD. That’s the kind of connection people have with each other and with this organization. They either contribute back in mentoring or fundraise.” Mr. Rao said. “All of this creates an extremely vibrant atmosphere.”

Refer to SCMP

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