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Devang Khakhar, director, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and a member of the IIT JEE reform committee set up by the HRD Ministry, in an interview with Kalpana Pathak speaks on the challenges in making changes, while retaining the Joint Entrance Examination’s reputation for high level of integrity and transparency. Edited excerpts:
JEE has been hitting the headlines of late. Your comments.
The problem is as long as JEE was small and out of sight, nobody bothered the IITs. Now that JEE has grown huge, people want to be a part of it.
Is there a proposal to extend the JEE examination to other engineering institutes?
JEE could be done along the lines of the Common Admission Test (CAT), but I am not too sure of it. The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) also go for a group discussion and a personal interview. JEE is a very egalitarian kind of an exam. You don’t have to be great in speaking English. You just have to know the basics of the subjects. At that age (18 years) kids from all sorts of backgrounds make it to IITs if they are bright. If we use group discussions and personal interviews for selection, who knows how it will go because those who are well spoken would make to the IITs and those who are not, may not. A second exam like JEE would help, as it would allows us to get students from diverse backgrounds into the system.
Except for JEE, IITs have been debating a fee hike.
The profile of students coming to IITs has changed over the years. Students from upper middle class at IITs are on the decline and students from less advantaged background are coming in. It is thy who find the fee structure pretty high. At present its very difficult for students to get a loan. If the IITs hike the fee to cover costs, the students will have to shell out much more. Then how can we expect students from poor families to afford that. To hike the fee, we have to put in a support system first so that students can benefit.
Are you referring to setting up of the Education Finance Development Corporation?
Yes, we support the government’s idea of a separate finance corporation to give students a loan.
You have been involved in mentoring new IITs. How is it going?
We first began with IIT Gandhinagar (Gujarat) and a year later with IIT Indore as running three IITs (including IIT Bombay) at the same time would not have been possible. Quality would have suffered. Initial mentoring was very intense but now we have assumed a supporting role. People running the institute are very capable.