In 2008, the Union government had announced that it would establish eight new Indian Institutes of Technology with budgets allocated for the next six years, to expand technical education and promote social equity in India.
But about a decade since, these IITs have inadequate infrastructure, faculty shortages, they are financially dependent, and fail to attract students who clear entrance examinations for engineering courses, as per a Comptroller and Auditor General December 2021 performance audit report, which was made public in 2023. These issues negatively affect research projects and patents, the report said.
IITs are autonomous engineering education and research institutions, providing undergraduate, postgraduate, and PhD programmes, along with research programmes in applied and interdisciplinary areas.
There were 23 IITs across India as of September 2022. The eight new IITs, approved and set up between 2008 and 2009 are IIT Bhubaneswar, IIT Gandhinagar, IIT Hyderabad, IIT Indore, IIT Jodhpur, IIT Mandi, IIT Patna and IIT Ropar.
An audit of these institutes was conducted between 2014 and 2019, involving records scrutiny, information gathering, physical inspections, and analysing incomplete infrastructure projects, equipment procurement and more.
Of the eight IITs, by November 2020, four owned the land that the government had allotted to them, but the others had land possession issues for their campuses, including academic and residential areas, as well as various facilities, the Comptroller and Auditor General report found.
Each IIT developed its own Master Plan, and undertook major construction works between 2012 and 2019. However, by March 2019, only two IITs had completed Phase-I buildings, including construction of academic buildings, student hostels, residential accommodation for faculty and staff, and laboratories.
Phase-II works, such as construction of additional academic buildings, student hostels, faculty housing, staff housing, laboratories, incubation parks, technology research parks, guest houses, sports facilities etc., were delayed in two IITs, and three IITs had not yet initiated Phase-II works.
“The establishment of first-generation IITs required relatively smaller budgets; now budget requirements were very huge. The government could not provide adequate financial resources. This could be the main reason,” said Jandhyala BG Tilak, professor at the Council for Social Development, an advocacy organisation that works on education, health, rural development and human rights.
“Secondly, even the establishment of central institutions requires states to provide land; state governments have their own priorities and political choices that might conflict with the central government’s considerations or other considerations.”
The Comptroller and Auditor General attributed the delays to factors such as design finalisation, regulatory clearances, approvals, contractor defaults, labour shortages and remote locations. These delays led to an overall cost overrun of Rs 8,252 crore for all eight IITs, the Comptroller and Auditor General report estimated.
At IIT Bhubaneswar, the Comptroller and Auditor General report said delays were caused by factors including unavailability of allotted land, execution issues, faulty fire safety works, manpower shortages and design mistakes. Because the Odisha government did not hand over 148.91 acres of forest land, the institute was not able to expand its campus.
Availability of land was a major problem for several IITs. For instance, IIT Mandi had only 35% of the allotted land available for development, while IIT Ropar faced issues with 20 acres of disputed land. IIT Patna experienced delays ranging from 18 to 22 months in completing academic buildings and residential complexes, due to agitation by the local population for land compensation and layout changes, among others.
“Infrastructure needs a boost. A lecture hall that was long due has just started to be constructed. Procuring equipment for the lab takes a lot of time, which affects quality research,” says a PhD scholar enrolled in IIT Bhubaneswar, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Some students disagree that infrastructure is now a problem. A second year undergraduate student enrolled in IIT Mandi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that infrastructure growth has been quite rapid, with two campuses housing all undergraduate students. “Some labs are under construction, but that has not been a hindrance so far.”
Of 340 sampled cases of equipment procurement across the eight IITs, the Comptroller and Auditor General found that 106 had delayed supply of equipment, with the delay ranging from 31 to 536 days between 2014 and 2019. These delays led to setbacks in installing and utilising equipment by faculty and students.
The Comptroller and Auditor General examined the records of IITs and found that they had attributed the delays to non-availability of sites, uneven floors, and laboratory facilities that were not ready.
Additionally, there were shortfalls in laboratory facilities in four IITs, negatively affecting teaching and research activities. The ministry of education said that these delays in procurement of equipment were due to factors like inadequate grant allocation for laboratories and ineffective monitoring by the IITs.
“Regarding construction, during large infrastructural projects, delays and cost overruns are almost endemic,” said Timothy A Gonsalves, the director for IIT Mandi from 2010 to 2020, who is now professor emeritus at the institute.
“At IIT Mandi, we had some existing buildings that we renovated, then constructed some buildings using low-cost technology such as bamboo technology and Light Gauge Steel Frame technology. We also had construction of RCC buildings.”
Because of the time and cost overruns in infrastructure development, the capital outlay for the establishment of the eight IITs was revised from Rs 6,080 crore to Rs 14,332 crore over a 13-year period.
IITs receive grants, loans, and have their own internal revenue. From 2014-’15 to 2019-’20, the IITs received funds from various sources, including grants from the education ministry, loans–including from external agencies such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency. IITs’ internal receipts include fees, interest and miscellaneous income.
The IITs generate internal receipts to support their financial needs, but the proportion of internal receipts to recurring expenditure is relatively low–ranging from 12% to 61% across different IITs. The IITs receive funds from multiple sources but face challenges in internal revenue generation, the CAG concluded.
Gonsalves, the former director of IIT Mandi, while speaking to IndiaSpend on the issue of financial stability, said, “Essentially, the reality of any teaching cum research institute in the world is largely dependent on government funding. Now, the IITs also have an internal revenue generation–that is, the fees paid by the students. Revenue also is generated through sponsored projects, donations coming from alumni, industry etc. The fees are dependent on the number of students, fixed by the government and the IIT council, and to make sure that the fees are kept relatively low. Many students receive scholarships of various sorts so that the average fees collected by IITs per BTech. student is less than 50% of the published fees.”
The education ministry initially sanctioned 30 faculty positions per year during the establishment of the IITs, and the number of positions increased as student intake grew, with the aim of a 1:10 faculty-student ratio. The IIT Council sought to increase the faculty strength across all eight IITs from approximately 4,000 in 2011 to 16,000 by 2020.
The audit found that although the IITs have been recruiting faculty consistently, the pace of recruitment did not match student enrollment, resulting in faculty vacancies. As of 2021-’22, no IIT met the 1:10 faculty to students ratio.
“There are approximately 10 faculty members teaching the undergraduate courses in the campus. There should be at least 20; private engineering colleges are more resourceful in terms of faculty intake and distribution,” said the PhD scholar from IIT Bhubaneswar. “The faculty intake in the campus is so low, that substitute teachers are difficult to allot in the slots being vacated by other teachers going on leave.”
In response to the shortage, the IITs told the Comptroller and Auditor General that vacancies were due to non-availability of suitable candidates, despite their best efforts to recruit faculty. Some IITs, such as IIT Gandhinagar, IIT Bhubaneswar and IIT Mandi, managed the shortfall by utilising adjunct faculty from other technical institutes.
“The faculty intake is not uniform every year, it goes up and down,” said Gonsalves, the former director of IIT Mandi. “IITs also have many students enrolled in postgraduate courses who act as teaching assistants; particularly the senior PhD students are very good at teaching. CAG did not include PhD TAs in the teacher-student ratio.”
Gonsalves compares this practice with other technological institutions of repute such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, Stanford University in California, where teaching assistants are equivalent to faculty. That has an effect on faculty numbers, which is the culmination of faculty members and the teaching assistants, he explained.
Student enrollment falls short
The Ministry’s Detailed Project Report in 2008 had emphasised that new IITs would supplement the limited seats in existing ones, as just 5,000 IIT positions were available for 300,000 Joint Entrance Exam aspirants in 2006.
None of the new IITs met the cumulative intake target of students as planned, the CAG report noted. Overall, only 33% of 18,880 students–a target of 2,360 students per institute–were admitted in the first six years.
Gonsalves, the former director of IIT Mandi, said that, since its inception, IIT Mandi has had a gradual increment in the number of student and faculty intake. By 2020-21, only IIT Hyderabad (4,226) and IIT Mandi (2,389) had achieved the target enrollment. IIT Gandhinagar (1,543) had the lowest enrollment that year, data from the IIT Council show (see chart on faculty-student ratio above).
“IIT Mandi has had many achievements, both in terms of personal accolades and numbers that need to be considered here,” said Gonsalves, former director of IIT Mandi. “We decided to have a BTech. programme that is attuned with the requirements of now and future, and decided on a project-based learning from first year onwards.”
He added that, by the year 2017-’18, it became clear that data science and machine learning were being used in multiple disciplines, including in engineering and the humanities. “We thus introduced the discipline of data science, which has a broad scope, the first batch starting in 2019.”
“Students are hesitant to invest a significant amount of money in a situation where there is a lack of faculty to provide adequate education. They question the reason for enrolling in such circumstances where there is lack of faculty and not enough infrastructure,” said Pradeep Kumar Choudhary of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. “Students may prefer to enrol in established government and private engineering colleges rather than new IITs.”
In the case of PhD courses, because of low student enrolment, there were more faculty than required. As per the Kakodkar Committee recommendation, established by the education ministry, the ratio of students to teachers in IITs should be 0.6 PhD graduates per faculty. Only IIT Indore achieved this ratio, while IIT Ropar and IIT Jodhpur had 0.15 and 0.04 Ph.D graduates per faculty.
“Lack of infrastructure, compared to the well-established ones, small numbers of faculty and their low quality, and inability of institutions to offer a variety of programmes can be viewed as the main reasons (for lack of enrollment of students),” said Tilak of the Council For Social Development. “Some of them can be termed as teething problems, but genuine problems.”
Data from the Comptroller and Auditor General show that placement rates at IIT Patna were 73%, IIT Mandi (72%), IIT Jodhpur (69%) IIT Gandhinagar (63%) and IIT Hyderabad (63%).
These numbers have improved in 2021 with almost all eight IITs reporting 82% to 97% undergraduate student placement in jobs. The older IITs have a reported placement rate between 75% and 86%. This could be because companies, such as Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys, hired more people post the Covid-19 pandemic, hiring 170,000 employees in 2021, said Neeti Sharma, co-founder and president of TeamLease Edtech.
“Along with the regular programmes offered by the IITs, the newer IITs should consider offering programmes aligned with industry needs, attracting interested students and industry professionals as well as faculty members,” suggests Sharma. “This approach can help bridge the gap and enhance the quality of education provided by these institutes, making the students highly employable.”
“We have taken many steps to ensure good companies come to our campus, and many students have landed good opportunities during the recent placement drives. Last year, that is in 2021-’22, we had a boost in hiring, given the good market situation. This year, that is in 2022-’23 we still maintained over 90% of undergraduate placements, with a bad tech industry situation,” said a student with the placement cell of IIT Jodhpur, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We have Japanese companies increasingly hiring from IIT Jodhpur, with over 30 offers this year alone.”
Representation of SCs and STs
An issue that plagues even the older IITs – representation of scheduled castes and tribes in students – continues in the new IITs. IIT Gandhinagar, IIT Hyderabad and IIT Mandi had significant shortfall in Scheduled Caste category student enrolment, ranging from 23% to 30%, while all IITs experienced shortfall in enrolment of Scheduled Tribe category students, ranging from 7% to 69%.
Lack of private-sector projects
During the audit period from 2014-2019, the eight IITs executed a total of 1,712 research projects with a budget of Rs 857.71 crore. But while all IITs receive significant funding from government sources, the number and cost of non-government-sponsored projects were low for the new IITs.
Only IIT Mandi, IIT Patna, IIT Ropar, and IIT Hyderabad were able to attract 3.5% to 14.31% of funding from non-government sources.
In terms of patents filed and obtained, the new IITs are yet to catch up with the older institutes.
Overall, the audit highlighted areas of concern in research activities at the IITs, including the need to attract more non-government funding, improve the patent filing and obtaining process and increase research publications.
IndiaSpend has reached out to the offices of Dharmendra Pradhan, India’s education minister, Rajeev Ahuja, director of IIT Ropar, Santanu Chaudhury, director of IIT Jodhpur, Rajat Moona, director of IIT Gandhinagar, Shreepad Karmalkar, director of IIT Bhubaneswar, Laxmidhar Behera, director of IIT Mandi, BS Murty, director of IIT Hyderabad, and Anand Deshpande, the chairperson of the board of governors at IIT Patna, for their comments on the Comptroller and Auditor General report findings. The story will be updated when we receive a response.
Sunil Kumar, deputy registrar of student affairs at IIT Indore, responded to IndiaSpend’s queries with the following “the Institute, under the guidance of the Ministry of Education, is constantly reviewing the report by CAG. It’s an ongoing process, hence it would be difficult for us to answer the questions raised by you at this point of time.”
Update (July 5):
1. An earlier version of the story erroneously compared intake for 2020-21 with enrollment for previous years. We regret the error.
2. An earlier version of the story presented the data on patents applied and granted as a chart, with pertinent years for each institute mentioned. For enhanced clarity, this has now been converted to a table.
This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.