The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are autonomous public institutes of higher education, located in India. They are governed by the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961 which has declared them as institutions of national importance and lays down their powers, duties, and framework for governance. The Institutes of Technology Act, 1961 lists twenty-three institutes. Each IIT is autonomous, linked to the others through a common council (IIT Council), which oversees their administration. The Minister of Human Resource Development is the ex officio Chairperson of the IIT Council. As of 2018, the total number of seats for undergraduate programs in all IITs is 11,279.
The history of the IIT system dates back to 1946 when Sir Jogendra Singh of the Viceroy’s Executive Council set up a committee whose task was to consider the creation of Higher Technical Institutions for post-war industrial development in India. The 22-member committee, headed by Nalini Ranjan Sarkar, recommended the establishment of these institutions in various parts of India, along the lines of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with affiliated secondary institutions.
The first Indian Institute of Technology was founded in May 1950 at the site of the Hijli Detention Camp in Kharagpur, West Bengal. The name “Indian Institute of Technology” was adopted before the formal inauguration of the institute on 18 August 1951 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. On 15 September 1956, the Parliament of India passed the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) Act, declaring it as an Institute of National Importance. Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India, in the first convocation address of IIT Kharagpur in 1956 said:
Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands the fine monument of India, representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are coming to India.
On the recommendations of the Sarkar Committee, four campuses were established at Bombay (1958), Madras (1959), Kanpur (1959), and Delhi (1961). The location of these campuses was chosen to be scattered throughout India to prevent regional imbalance. The Indian Institutes of Technology Act was amended to reflect the addition of new IITs. Student agitations in the state of Assam made Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi promise the creation of a new IIT in Assam. This led to the establishment of a sixth institution at Guwahati under the Assam Accord in 1960. In 2001, the University of Roorkee, India’s oldest engineering college, was converted into IIT Roorkee.
Over the past few years, there have been a number of developments toward establishing new IITs. On October 1, 2003, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced plans to create more IITs “by upgrading existing academic institutions that have the necessary promise and potential”. Subsequent developments led to the formation of the S K Joshi Committee, in November 2003, to guide the selection of the five institutions which would be converted into IITs. Based on the initial recommendations of the Sarkar Committee, it was decided that new IITs should be spread throughout the country. When the government expressed its willingness to correct this regional imbalance, 16 states demanded IITs. Since the S K Joshi Committee prescribed strict guidelines for institutions aspiring to be IITs, only seven colleges were selected for final consideration. Plans are also reported to open IITs outside India, although there has not been much progress in this regard. Eventually in the 11th Five year plan, eight states were identified for establishment of new IITs. In 2008 and 2009, eight new IITs were set up in Gandhinagar, Jodhpur, Hyderabad, Indore, Patna, Bhubaneswar, Ropar, and Mandi. Following same selection process since 1972, in 2012 the Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University was made a member of the IITs.
In 2015 to 2016, six new IITs in Tirupati, Palakkad, Dharwad, Bhilai, Goa and Jammu, approved through a 2016 bill amendment, were founded, along with the conversion of ISM Dhanbad into IIT Dhanbad.
The entire allocation by the central government for 2017-18 budget for all Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) was slightly over ₹70 billion (US$980 million). However, the aggregate money spent by Indian students for tertiary education in the United States was about six times more than what the central government spends on all IITs.
The President of India is the most powerful person in the organisational structure of Indian Institutes of Technology, being the ex officio Visitor, and having residual powers. Directly under the President is the IIT Council, which comprises the minister-in-charge of technical education in the Union Government, the Chairmen of all IITs, the Directors of all IITs, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission, the Director General of CSIR, the Chairman of IISc, the Director of IISc, three members of Parliament, the Joint Council Secretary of Ministry of Human Resource and Development, and three appointees each of the Union Government, AICTE, and the Visitor.
Under the IIT Council is the Board of Governors of each IIT. Under the Board of Governors is the Director, who is the chief academic and executive officer of the IIT. Under the Director, in the organisational structure, comes the Deputy Director. Under the Director and the Deputy Director, come the Deans, Heads of Departments, Registrar, President of the Students’ Council, and Chairman of the Hall Management Committee. The Registrar is the chief administrative officer of the IIT and overviews the day-to-day operations. Below the Heads of Department (HOD) are the faculty members (Professors, Associate Professors, and Assistant Professors). The Wardens come under the Chairman of the Hall Management Committee.
The Institutes of Technology act was later taken as the base for the following years up until date. The Act primarily accepted few IITs as Institutes of National Importance and converted them from ‘Societies’ to University status.
The IITs receive comparatively higher grants than other engineering colleges in India. While the total government funding to most other engineering colleges is around ₹100–200 million ($2–4 million) per year, the amount varies between ₹900–1300 million ($19–27 million) per year for each IIT. Other sources of funds include student fees and research funding from industry and contributions from the alumni. The faculty-to-student ratio in the IITs is between 1:6 and 1:8. The Standing Committee of IIT Council (SCIC) prescribes the lower limit for faculty-to-student ratio as 1:9, applied department wise. The IITs subsidise undergraduate student fees by approximately 80% and provide scholarships to all Master of Technology students and Research Scholars in order to encourage students for higher studies, per the recommendations of the Thacker Committee (1959–1961). The cost borne by undergraduate students is around ₹180,000 per year. After students from SC and ST categories, physically challenged students will now[when?] be the beneficiaries of fee waiver at the IITs in India.
The various IITs function autonomously, and their special status as Institutes of National Importance facilitates the smooth running of IITs, virtually free from both regional as well as student politics. Such autonomy means that IITs can create their own curricula and adapt rapidly to the changes in educational requirements, free from bureaucratic hurdles. The government has no direct control over internal policy decisions of IITs (like faculty recruitment and curricula) but has representation on the IIT Council. The medium of instruction in all IITs is English. The classes are usually held between 7:30 am and 5:30 pm, though there are some variations within each IIT. All the IITs have public libraries for the use of their students. In addition to a collection of prescribed books, the libraries have sections for fiction and other literary genres. The electronic libraries allow students to access on-line journals and periodicals. The IITs and IISc have taken an initiative along with Ministry of Human Resource Development to provide free online videos of actual lectures of different disciplines under National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning. This initiative is undertaken to make quality education accessible to all students.
The academic policies of each IIT are decided by its Senate. This comprises all professors of the IIT and student representatives. Unlike many western universities that have an elected senate, the IITs have an academic senate. It controls and approves the curriculum, courses, examinations and results, and appoints committees to look into specific academic matters. The teaching, training and research activities of the institute are periodically reviewed by the senate to maintain educational standards. The Director of an IIT is the ex-officio Chairman of the Senate.
All the IITs follow the credits system of performance evaluation, with proportional weighting of courses based on their importance. The total marks (usually out of 100) form the basis of grades, with a grade value (out of 10) assigned to a range of marks. Sometimes, relative grading is done considering the overall performance of the whole class. For each semester, the students are graded on a scale of 0 to 10 based on their performance, by taking a weighted average of the grade points from all the courses, with their respective credit points. Each semester evaluation is done independently and then the weighted average over all semesters is used to calculate the cumulative grade point average (known as CGPA or CPI—Cumulative Performance Index).
The Bachelor of Technology (BTech) degree is the most common undergraduate degree in the IITs in terms of student enrolment, although dual degrees integrating Master of Science or Master of Arts are also offered. The BTech course is based on a 4-year program with eight semesters, while the Dual Degree and Integrated courses are 5-year programs with ten semesters. In all IITs, the first year of BTech and Dual Degree courses are marked by a common course structure for all the students, though in some IITs, a single department introduction related course is also included. The common courses include the basics from most of the departments like Electronics, Mechanics, Chemistry, Electrical and Physics. At the end of first year (the end of first semester at IIT Madras, IIT Hyderabad and IIT Roorkee), an option to change departments is given to meritorious students on the basis of their performance in the first two semesters. Few such changes ultimately take place as the criteria for them are usually strict, limited to the most meritorious students.
From the second year onward, the students study subjects exclusively from their respective departments. In addition to these, the students have to take compulsory advanced courses from other departments in order to broaden their education. Separate compulsory courses from humanities and social sciences department, and sometimes management courses are also enforced. In the last year of their studies, most of the students are placed into industries and organisations via the placement process of the respective IIT, though some students opt out of this either when going for higher studies or when they take up jobs by applying to the companies directly.
The IITs offer a number of postgraduate programs including Master of Technology (MTech), Master of Business Administration (MBA) (only for engineers and post graduates in science), and Master of Science (MSc). Some IITs offer specialised graduate programmes such as Master of Design (M.Des.), the Post Graduate Diploma in Information Technology (PGDIT), Master in Medical Science and Technology (MMST), Master of City Planning (MCP), Master of Arts (MA), Postgraduate Diploma in Intellectual Property Law (PGDIPL), and the Postgraduate Diploma in Maritime Operation & Management (PGDMOM).
Some of the IITs offer an M.S. (by research) program; the MTech and M.S. are similar to the US universities’ non-thesis (course based) and thesis (research based) masters programs respectively. Admissions to masters programs in engineering are made using scores of the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE), while those to masters programs in science are made using scores of the Joint Admission Test to MSc (JAM).
Several IITs have schools of management offering master’s degrees in management or business administration.
All the IITs provide on-campus residential facilities to the students, research scholars and faculty. The students live in hostels (sometimes referred to as halls) throughout their stay in the IIT. Students in all IITs must choose among National Cadet Corps (NCC), National Service Scheme (NSS) and National Sports Organisation (NSO) in their first years. All the IITs have sports grounds for basketball, cricket, football (soccer), hockey, volleyball, lawn tennis, badminton, and athletics; and swimming pools for aquatic events. Usually the hostels also have their own sports grounds. Moreover, an Inter IIT Sports Meet is organised annually where participants from all 23 IITs contest for the General Championship Trophy in 13 different sports.
All IITs organise annual technical festivals, typically lasting three or four days. The technical festivals are Shaastra (IIT Madras), Kshitij (IIT Kharagpur), Techfest (IIT Bombay), Cognizance (IIT Roorkee), Concetto (IIT-ISM Dhanbad), Nvision (IIT Hyderabad), Amalthea (technical summit)(IIT Gandhinagar), Technex (IIT BHU), Techkriti (IIT Kanpur), Tryst (IIT Delhi), Techniche (IIT Guwahati), Wissenaire (IIT Bhubaneswar), Technunctus (IIT Jammu), Exodia (IIT Mandi), Fluxus (IIT Indore), Celesta (IIT Patna) and IGNUS (IIT Jodhpur) has now become the biggest techno-cultural college festival in Central India,. Most of them are organised in the months of January or March. Techfest (IIT Bombay) is also one of the most popular and largest technical festival in Asia in terms of participants and prize money involved. It has been granted patronage from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for providing a platform to students to showcase their talent in science and technology. Shaastra holds the distinction of being the first student-managed event in the world to implement a formal Quality Management System, earning ISO 9001:2000 certification. Kshitij is the largest in terms of Sponsorship amounts and also branded as a techno-management festival due to its emphasis on both technology and management.
Annual cultural festivals are also organised by the IITs and last three to four days. These include Thomso (IIT Roorkee), Alcheringa (IIT Guwahati), Exodia (IIT Mandi), Saarang (IIT Madras, previously Mardi Gras), Spring Fest (IIT Kharagpur, also known as SF), Rendezvous (IIT Delhi), Srijan (IIT Dhanbad), Tarang (culfest) (previously Rave), Anwesha (IIT Patna), Kashiyatra (IIT BHU, also known as KY), SPANDAN (IIT Jodhpur), Infinito (IIT Jammu), Blithchron (IIT Gandhinagar), ELAN (IIT Hyderabad), Alma Fiesta (IIT Bhubaneswar), Mood Indigo (IIT Bombay, also known as Mood-I), Antaragni (IIT Kanpur) and Zeitgeist (IIT Ropar).
IITs are generally ranked above other engineering colleges in India for Engineering. According to Outlook India’s Top Engineering Colleges of 2017, the top four engineering colleges within India were IITs. IIT Delhi was the highest-ranked IIT internationally, ranking 172nd in the QS World University Rankings of 2018, followed by IIT Bombay (179th), while 3 other IITs (IIT Madras at 264, IIT Kanpur at 293 and IIT Kharagpur at 308) make the top 310.
In the 2019 QS World University Ranking, IIT Bombay ranked highest at 162, followed by IIT Delhi (172), IIT Madras (264), IIT Kanpur (283), IIT Kharagpur (295), IIT Roorkee (381) and IIT Guwahati (472).
In the 2017 QS World Rankings by Subject, IIT Dhanbad featured at 24th, followed by IIT Kharagpur at 35th, in Engineering — Mining and Mineral Science. In the same ranking, IIT Delhi secured 49th place for Electrical Engineering. The only IIT that was listed in the top 400 by the Times Higher Education rankings 2018 was IIT Bombay in the 351–400 category. The Times Asia Rankings 2018 featured IIT Bombay, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Roorkee, IIT Kanpur, and IIT Delhi at 44th, 60th, 65th, 81st, and 86th respectively. In 2016, a new IIT, IIT Indore, was ranked 8th in the world, followed by IIT Kanpur (which was ranked 9th), under a ranking released by HackerRank for the world’s best coders. The following IITs have topped the 2018 QS BRICS rankings: IIT Bombay (9th), Delhi (17th), Madras (18th), Kanpur (21st), Kharagpur (24th), Roorkee (51st), Guwahati (52nd), Hyderabad (100th), and Patna (108th).In Times Higher Education Rankings 2019 IIT Indore made its debut with the rank of 351-400 category , best among all IITs.
The highly competitive examination in the form of IIT-JEE has led to the establishment of a large number of coaching institutes throughout the country that provide intensive, and specific preparation for the IIT-JEE for substantial fees. It is argued that this favours students from specific regions and richer backgrounds. Some coaching institutes say that they have individually coached nearly 800 successful candidates year after year. According to some estimates, nearly 95% of all students who clear the IIT-JEE had joined coaching classes. Indeed, this was the case regarding preparation for IIT entrance exams even decades ago. In a January 2010 lecture at the Indian Institute of Science, the 2009 Nobel laureate in Chemistry, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan revealed that he failed to get a seat at any of the Indian engineering and medical colleges. He also said that his parents, being old-fashioned, did not believe in coaching classes to prepare for the IIT entrance exam and considered them to be “nonsense”.
In a documentary aired by CBS, Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems states, “The IITs probably are the hardest school in the world to get into, to the best of my knowledge”. The documentary further concludes, “Put Harvard, MIT and Princeton together, and you begin to get an idea of the status of IIT in India” to depict the competition as well as demand for the elite institutes.
Not all children are of a similar aptitude level and may be skilled in different paradigms and fields. This has led to criticism of the way the examinations are conducted and the way a student is forced in the Indian community. The IIT-JEE format was restructured in 2006 following these complaints. After the change to the objective pattern of questioning, even the students who initially considered themselves not fit for subjective pattern of IIT-JEE decided to take the examination. Though the restructuring was meant to reduce the dependence of students on coaching classes, it led to an increase in students registering for coaching classes. Some people (mostly IITians) have criticised the changed pattern of the IIT-JEE. Their reasoning is that while IIT-JEE traditionally used to test students understanding of fundamentals and ability to apply them to solve tough unseen problems, the current pattern does not stress much on the application part and might lead to a reduced quality of students.
IIT-JEE is conducted only in English and Hindi, making it harder for students with regional languages as their main language. In September 2011, the Gujarat High Court has acted on a Public Interest Litigation by the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad, for conducting the exams in Gujarati. A second petition was made in October by Navsari’s Sayaji Vaibhav Sarvajanik Pustakalaya Trust. Another petition was made at the Madras High Court for conducting the exam in Tamil. In the petition it was claimed that not conducting the exam in the regional languages is in violation of article 14 of the Constitution of India. More recently, in November 2019, the Ministry of Human Resource Development has directed the National Testing Agency to prepare for conducting the test in at least 11 languages which include Assamese, Bengali, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Odiya, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. This will be offered from 2021. IIT council has recommended major changes in entrance examination structure which will be effected from 2017 onward.