A Tale of Two Degrees

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Chief Editors: Shreerang Javadekar, Shreeyesh Menon
Mail to: insight@iitb.ac.in

The Dual Degree programme in IITs was started first in 1996, with a belief that students would benefit greatly from it by saving one year in this fast-paced world and also benefit the institute with their research. According to Dean AP, it had been observed that IITians who went to pursue research in universities across the globe did really well and hence their staying back for another year would constructively benefit both the sides.
Recent years have seen a decline in the number of Dual degree seats across departments, with some scrapping the programme altogether. The popular opinion among students and faculty alike has been that given the lack of knowledge of any engineering stream as such at the time of admissions, committing oneself to a 5 year programme does not seem to be a very lucrative option.

Insight analysed the nitty-gritties of the Dual Degree program, the recent trends, and the future of the same. We also took a comprehensive online survey which was filled by 727 students, the results of which are reflected in various points below.

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Department-level discrepancies

Besides the project and the additional compulsory coursework that the DD students are expected to do, Chemical and Electrical DD students have a compulsory 6-credit course in their 8th semester called Supervised Learning Project (SLP) and Supervised Research Exposition (SRE) respectively, wherein students are expected to do a literature review before kicking off their project in May. Other departments do not have such a separate course as their Phase 1 work touches upon the literature study. A striking observation witnessed across most departments is that students usually end up only working on literature study in Phase 1 and their project work happens only in their final semester. On the flip side, some credible work, with results, is also expected from Chemical and EE students in Phase 1 as they complete their literature study in their SLP/SRE highlighting a contrast in the amount of efforts put in by students of different departments.

A justification of this anomaly, as given by Prof. Avinash Mahajan, Associate Dean AP, is the dynamic nature of curriculum across departments. There are no fixed number of credits for any department, and departments too enjoy an autonomy of their own. He opines that a 6 to 10 odd credits variation across departments is completely fine.

Allocation of Projects and Profs

The procedure of allocation of Dual Degree Projects to students and consequently that of professors to students varies considerably across departments. While some departments follow the transparent method of registering through an online portal and/or form CPI as the basis, others simply follow a first-come first-serve policy.
The issue of students being allocated projects under their supervisor’s M.Tech. and Ph.D students as compared to some who have to start one from scratch was also raised by many. It’s evident that the former lot gets an undue advantage in their DDP, gaining a lot from their seniors’ expertise. DD students rampantly copy during submissions from previous work reports of M. Techs/Ph.Ds, adversely affecting the quality of work.
The Associate Dean AP, however, suggested that students pursuing research independently actually learn a lot more than otherwise, and that grades shouldn’t really matter much. Since each project is graded separately and on qualitative measures, all kinds of factors are duly considered.

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Decreasing number of Dual Degree seats

As can be seen from the statistics, most departments have cut down their DD intake through JEE. Prof. C.V. Tomy, HoD of the Engineering Physics Department, revealed that the DD Programme for Engineering Physics shall also be discontinued from the next academic year. Electrical Engineering remains the only department to have maintained its number of DD seats – the highest among all departments. The quality of the DD programme in the department is also resounded by the fact that 35.7% of the department students who filled the survey found the present structure of the programme and the number of seats in it satisfactory and voted against the idea of converting them to B.Tech.
When Dean AP was asked to comment on the above trends, he admitted that most DD students are not too productive in their final year, especially when most of their batchmates have already begun their career outside IITB. The idea that students opting for a Dual Degree are actually interested in research with a year-long project is not realistic; so most departments have cut down their DD intake.
General Perception about Dual Degree

For many students, the Dual Degree programme is not just about the extra degree and the extra year in the institute. There are a lot of other intrinsic implications that come attached with the dual degree programme. The compulsory extra course that DD students have to do each semester does take a toll on students – since it implies extra study hours and lesser time for extracurriculars. While B.Tech. students also take up extra courses, they have the option to drop them, since they don’t form a part of their core curriculum. Additionally, DDs can take up extra courses like minor and ALC’s only if their CPI is above 8 whereas their B.Tech. counterparts do not have such constraints thus translating into greater academic flexibility.

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However, things do change after 3rd year as DD students get to build a more diverse profile given an additional year and lack of placement commitments in their fourth year. Lack of compulsory courses in their final year also acts like a boon giving students more time to explore other opportunities.

On similar lines of the DD v/s B.Tech. debate, while comparing IIT-B’s M.Tech. with an MS in a university abroad, almost all the answers were in favor of pursuing an MS abroad with 39.1% respondents giving the lowest rating to an M.Tech. here. The average rating was 2 out of 5 (where 5 indicates equivalent standards). However, it’s interesting to note that the number of MS applicants to foreign universities from IITB has been on the decline in the recent years – a fact that was stated by all the HODs. From students’ experience and observations in insti, the percentage of respondents preferring admission in the DD programme also went up to 28% from a measly 11% on the basis of their perspectives during admissions.

The 9 HoDs interviewed offered surprisingly similar insights with regards to the importance of the DD programme for the institute. If a person is pursuing a DD, he is supposed to be inclined towards research in that subject – but the HODs unanimously agreed that an increasing number of students don’t fall under this generalisation since they are either not dispositionally interested in research or want to do research in another specialisation, which often leads to their demanding an early exit from the program.

Quality of DDPs

While there isn’t any objective measure of evaluating the overall quality of a DDP, a small number of respondents (mainly the Dual Degree students) do feel that since they were admitted in the programme by rank and not by choice, the interest in the Dual Degree Project isn’t that high.

Contrarily, Prof. Suhas Joshi – HOD, Mechanical Department, feels that the research output of Dual Degree students is a lot better than those of M.Tech. students. The reason for the same, as he states is, that Dual Degree students receive a very high level of education and training in the four years that they study here before committing to the project, while PGs receive the same level of input only for one year.

All other HODs, however, were of the opinion that sincere and dedicated students in both the programmes were on the same page. There are lazy, disoriented and uninterested students in both the programmes, just as there are diligent, focussed and motivated students in both the programmes – their performances being in accordance with their dispositions.

Converting from B.Tech to Dual

Regarding awareness of the procedure required for converting from B.Tech. to Dual Degree, only 31.6% of the respondents answered positively.

Though the process and criteria for converting from B.Tech. to Dual varies from department to department, the institute has clearly laid the general guidelines and conditions to be met for the conversion. According to the Academic rulebook, students may be permitted to change from B.Tech. to Dual Degree Programme in the same department at the end of their third or fourth semesters (which varies for some departments) subject to the department’s recommendations.

The decision to convert or not to convert from B.Tech to Dual Degree during one’s academic stay in the institute is akin to the dilemma that one faces during the time of choice-filling for IITs – albeit with a little more knowledge and experience than the latter, and one has to take into account a lot of factors for the same.

Insight asked students if they had made their mind on this crucial decision; and of a total 406 responses filled, 37.7% had made their mind of not converting, but not far behind, 27.1% weren’t sure about it while a small 3.7% (20) had already converted/were in the process of conversion. Surprisingly enough, 45.8% of who chose not to convert had decided so since they wanted to pursue MS/Ph.D abroad.

Placements and Internships

There is a general consensus in the campus that B.Tech. students get a better shot at internships while their Dual Degree counterparts take the cream during placements. These opinions are backed by 64.8% respondents who agreed with the bias in internships whereas only 19.3% felt the opposite was true. For placements, 48.1% of the respondents felt that Dual Degree students do have better opportunities in this regard.

Students generally associate these trends with non-core companies avoiding Dual Degree students in their 3rd year because they prefer giving PPOs after internships, which is less likely with the students who aren’t in their penultimate year yet.

On the other hand, having a B.Tech. + M.Tech. degree quite clearly gives one an edge over someone who just has a B.Tech. degree – especially when it comes to core placements. The extra experience and knowledge that one gains through the additional courses and the exhaustive research involved in the Dual Degree Project is definitely a value-addition to their profile/resume.

Another major issue is that while some IITs like Delhi, Kharagpur and Madras allow the DDs to intern in the summer after their 4th year as well, IITB does not. The comments section of the survey was flocked with responses showcasing this ambiguity. The Associate Dean AP responded by saying that on one hand the students want to complete their project in the shortest possible time and on the other hand they also want to intern – clearly a conflict of interests.

He also revealed that just like in Ivy League colleges, where you are allowed to drop a year in order to explore other avenues or just to take some time off, you can drop a year here in IITB as well owing to personal or medical reasons.

Miscellaneous inclusions such as B.Tech. + MBA or Interdisciplinary Dual degrees
A number of other IITs – namely IITKGP, IITR, and IITD have launched a 5-year B.Tech. + MBA programme in recent years, transcending the engineering field. A B.Tech. + MBA is certainly a degree that many students are likely to opt for, given the number of students that go to IIMs and other non-core job opportunities. The School of Management in IIT Bombay is also highly acclaimed and ranks among the top 20 management institutes of the country. These reasons combine to provide strong enough incentives for the introduction of such a degree in IIT Bombay.
Exploring the option of B.Tech. + MBA in 5 years was taken very positively by the respondents and a total of 65.5% felt it should be instated in the institute. The Dean AP stated that such a proposal hasn’t been discussed so far in the higher authorities, but it sure can be considered at some point in future. However, he pointed out, “the fee structure in B.Tech and MBA is quite different. MBA is a vocational higher degree for which students pay significant fees. There is no significant research component in an MBA degree as well.”

Interdisciplinary dual degrees are highly sought after in many foreign universities, wherein you pursue your Bachelors in one field and Masters in another (which are often closely related). Recently, the senate passed a landmark decision in this direction, allowing a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering with an M.Tech in CSE. The Associate Dean AP also revealed that a proposal for B.Tech. in ME and M.Tech. in Energy has been proposed in the DGPC.

Final Take on the Programme

Prof Narayan Rangaraj, Dean A.P, is of the opinion that the programme should not be scrapped off completely as saving a year in Masters is still a strong enough incentive for students. The intake through JEE, however, may not be a good decision for both – students and insti alike and an alternate system in which everyone enters in the B.Tech. programme, and then later switches to Dual Degree by choice, would definitely reap out better results. Prof Avinash Mahajan, Associate Dean AP, even said that the JEE intake in DD programmes of other departments will also follow the same fate and may be scrapped off in the near future.