Expelliarmus: Behind the scenes at IIT-R

The low- down
On the 15th of June, 2015, IIT Roorkee decided to give 73 B.Tech students, who had just completed their first year of college the ouster stating poor academic performance as the reason. At a time when most of the students were still home and awaiting the beginning of the semester, the news came as a bolt from the blue after notices were put up stating that the names of these students were being “struck off” the roll list.

After a prolonged stay on the decision, the academic office announced its decision to take back the students into the first year on stricter terms.

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When your IIT “fails” you

The gusto with which the rule has been implemented hasn’t ever been seen before. At a place where more due-deliberation goes into decisions that matter far less, even the mercy pleas given by them have already been reviewed and rejected, after another meeting that concluded that the expulsions would not be revoked.

The affected students, who were left to fend for themselves after an year of college annulled, also didn’t have the option of giving the JEE again. If left unrevoked, the expulsion could have meant the end of engineering careers for many. The students had just been admitted an year ago; to say that they’re not good enough to compete in the institute raises questions on the very mechanism that chooses them.

Rahul Jain, a fifth year student from IITB writes, “While a low performance is certainly not desirable, fitting into a newer form of study pattern takes time, where some take more time to adjust, some less. I have ample number of cases around me, who started on a similar path, but managed to regain their speed and the correct path, thanks to their own hard work, support from others and grace of the authorities. IIT-B has been quite supportive in that regard, and has a structure that is willing to give chances to students who have a genuine will to improve.”

While a low performance is certainly not desirable, fitting into a newer form of study pattern takes time, where some take more time to adjust, some less.

The institute’s argument in support of the decision has been that in most instances, students with poor academic record in first year fail to clear their courses and obtain a degree. Expelling students in first year itself would “allow students to pursue alternate career choices, instead of studying something they’re not cut out for”. The institute maintains its stance that the policy is in the interests of the students who would otherwise drop out later anyway.

Dean of Student Welfare came out in full support and said, “This decision has a background. Looking over the data from the previous years, we found that students who had a backlog in the first year carry it till the fourth and the fifth year. In some cases students were not able to complete the backlogs even till the sixth year and they had to leave the institute without a degree. That senate took into consideration with due deliberations, that if such an unfortunate things happens then it would be spoiling the career of the students for ever. To avoid such cases the constraints are placed on the first year level itself, so that if they are out of the system then they can continue their studies elsewhere. Their precious years are not wasted.”

This view received support from the former Dean of Student Affairs of IITB, Dr Urijit A Yajnik, who maintained that the incident is not something that should be seen in a negative light, but something that would genuinely help those not suited for the curriculum. “I feel that the students should not take it as a negative episode, and also that there are colleges willing to admit them directly to the second year because the curriculum at IIT is very demanding. But the student may well be very suitable at a usual college.

What is being forgotten in the recent reorganisation of the entry process to the IITs is that the IITs were being set up as a special national initiative to demand special capabilities of students, demanding a a
creative and and a higher cognitive component.”

When the selection procedure fails you

While it is true that the students in question failed to meet the criterion of minimum CGPA of 5, it’s also true that they’ve been selected through a process that screens the very best, the JEE. To say that the students were not up for the task ahead of them after admitting them, does raise questions on the very process.

“Since the selection process has statistical errors, there may well be some people not suited for this kind of curriculum.”

A similar point was highlighted when Dr. Yajnik said “Since the selection process has statistical errors, there may well be some people not suited for this kind of curriculum. The Academic Performance Evaluation Committees (APEC at IITB) of the respective institutions are charged with the responsibility to signal the cases that are not suitable and ask them to opt elsewhere in good time before it is is too late.”

The “statistical errors” that these cases seem to be identified as, are now being left to fend for themselves and seek admissions in institutes that are willing to admit them.

D K Nauriyal (Dean of Student Welfare, IITR)

It is quite unfortunate that it has happened but it has happened out of a senate resolution last year. This information was also conveyed to the students that whosoever is not able to score a CG above five will not be allowed to continue his/her studies in the institute. So it was just implemented by Dean Academics, but the number being so large, it has become problematic. Had it been five or ten students, people might have not known about it.
This decision has a background. Looking over the data from the previous years, we found that students who had a backlog in the first year carry it till the fourth and the fifth year. In some cases students were not able to complete the backlogs even till the sixth year and they had to leave the institute without a degree.If students score a D in one or two subjects, then is excusable as it might have happened due to a bad teacher or some other reason, but if the student accumulate the grade D or less in all the subjects then this poses a serious question mark on the capacity of the students to bear the load of the studies here. Our expectation from the students is that, if they are getting a D in some subjects then there might be some other subjects of their interest in which they would score higher and maintain an overall CG of five.

We conducted a meeting with the weaker section of students from all the years and discussed their problems. By and large, communication comes out to be a major problem because of which the students are not able to score well. To tackle this we have evolved a system.

We have identified students with a CGPA of less than six; those students will have student mentors now. We have invited application for the students from senior batches who are interested in mentoring students. Those students will have a CGPA above eight. They will act as student mentors. We have also identified the key courses where the students seem to be falling.

With an ever-increasing dropout rate from the IITs, it’s about time we ask – are the institutions living up to the standards set by the students?

Our take
The issue serves to highlight the mismatch between what the institutes expect and what the process of the JEE delivers. While the institute continues to maintain that the bar of academic standards that’s been set cannot be lowered, and that this is for the students’ own benefit, the question that’s yet unanswered is: What of the “statistical errors” in the process of JEE? What part of the onus falls on the institute? And finally, who is to bear the shared burden of this deficit between the institute’s expectations from the students and the reality?

Considering the fact that 90 per cent of the expelled students were from the reserved category, the onus is on the institute is to ensure that the students who are struggling cope up with their academics, rather than showing them the door. If students are being admitted through reservations in JEE, and are expelled after the first year, the affirmative action is rendered futile. Expelling students just after the first year rather reflects more on the failure of the institute in imparting education that the students expect from such institutions of national importance. With an ever-increasing dropout rate from the IITs, it’s about time we ask – are the institutions living up to the standards set by the students? Ultimately, who gets the liberty of saying that the other is simply not “good enough”? From another perspective, IITs pride themselves in the fact that they do not believe in failing students. As students, we must realise that it’s going to be a two-way commitment.

IITs pride themselves in the fact that they do not believe in failing students. As students, we must realise that it’s going to be a two-way commitment.

Meanwhile in IIT Roorkee, there were continued demonstrations by students, which were soon curtailed by the administration who allegedly rolled out “standing orders for the students”. The case was dismissed for the second time by the High Court. Upholding the autonomy of the IITs, the HRD ministry too, didn’t take their case. It wasn’t until the 3rd of this month that the students were given another chance. A chance that comes with some strict terms. The move saw a huge positive sentiment from the students at IITR, but with an unprecedented move such as this, the question that looms is – what next?