HRD minister Smriti Irani explains the rationale behind formation of new IITs, and more, in an interactive session with IIT Bombay students

September 30 | VMCC Auditorium, IIT Bombay

In a candid interactive session held yesterday, incumbent HRD minister Smriti Irani, under the newly formed Modi led BJP government, took questions from students ranging from fellowships for doctoral candidates, the controversial decision of setting up new IITs, to the new government’s stance on reservation in educational institutions.

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It was very informal, which started out with Irani expressing pleasant surprise on the casual attire of the students present. While the organizers had collated a list of questions in advance, she preferred to engage in a spontaneous exchange with the audience. Ayush Kanodia reports on some of the questions and answers in the session.


Q: The fellowship and honorariums for graduate students in India are insufficient. A delegation of graduate students has also met with the ministry earlier this year to pursue this issue. What action will be taken in this regard?
A: Foremost, this petition is being made to the wrong ministry. It is the DST (Department and Science and Technology) which is in charge of handling the honorariums for graduates. Nevertheless, given the importance of the issue, the HRD ministry is pursuing it. Students must understand that the government is working with financial limitations, and prioritisation is necessary when allocating resources. New fellowships in not only science and technology, but also the social sciences are being constituted.

Q: The number of post-doctoral scholarships is too few. Even for a particular newly instituted scholarship, the deadline for application is unreasonable – only 15 days from the date of announcement. Can we have more post doctoral scholarships?
A: This point is well taken, and the ministry understands the dearth of scholarships for post-docs in India. Students, specifically those who are asking these questions, must take the initiative to identify five scholarships for different educational fields, after discussion with stakeholders on a pan-India scale – specifically the IITs and the IIMs. The ministry will then take up such a proposal on an urgent basis, so that scholarships can be initiated from the very next academic year.

Q: Can you justify the recent decision of formation of more new IITs even in the face of infrastructural and quality issues faced by the ones formed in the last decade? Would it not be a better idea to improve existing institutions in this country instead?
A: The government is committed to provide increasingly accessible, quality, higher education to all sections of society. It is one thing to sit here and debate the necessity of new institutions, and another to look at the matter from the perspective of other Indians. With respect to girls, who do better than boys at the school level across the country, parents often do not often send them for higher education because the investment is better made on the boy, they feel. Often, tribal children are not sent to the IITs because they are far too remote, and the cost of sending them is unaffordable. Setting up new IITs across the nation will help both these cases. As regards the quality of these new and existing institutions, a lot of problems have come to this government as legacy. We will try and sort these issues out to the best of our ability. We will ensure there is hand holding of the new IITs by the existing IITs, in terms of academics, teaching as well as infrastructure, so that they develop well. Faculty transfers across the IITs are now being made easier, with pension restrictions on transferring between the IITs having been lifted.

Q: Graduate students undertake teaching duties as part of their programme. However, it is clearly stated that they cannot use this to count for teaching experience later on. Can the teaching work be certified by the institute?
A: Consider it done.

Q: Graduate students pay a semester fee for tuition as well as hostel facilities at the IITs. However, in their stipends, they do not receive a house rent allowance. Can this be addressed?
A: We must understand that although we want adequate funds to be released for graduate students to sustain themselves comfortably, we are working under a financial crunch. Although I will try my best to address this issue, please forgive me if limitations forbid me from doing so. This government does not believe in making false promises.

Q: What is this government’s stance on reservation in education institutions?
A: We uphold affirmative action.

It was an informative, fun filled session, with candid jokes interspersed throughout by Irani herself. While the minister was eloquent and a sense of purpose and urgency was evident, a lot remains to be seen with respect to the planning and execution of ideas, and whether they will meet expectations over time. She ended the session on a light note too – requesting that if students made spoofs of this meet and uploaded them online, they must duly share the revenues thus generated with the government.