Those who can – do. Those who can’t – teach.

Recent comments on IITs and IIMs have stirred up a debate. Is the IIT faculty really that good, or as Jairam Ramesh says it is the students who have built up the IIT (and IIM) brand name. Here is my take on the subject:
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

In the 1970s when we were studying for our 5 year B. Tech. degree in Engineering the situation was as follows:
1. For most students, the aim of studying engineering was to get a job immediately after (or during) the B. Tech. degree. So most students studied hard for a good grading which enabled them to get a job after their B. Tech. degree.
2. Those who did not get a job after B. Tech. joined the 2 year M. Tech. course for further studies. You got a monthly stipend of Rs. 250 (later enhanced to Rs. 400) which was adequate for your needs as a student and sustained you while you prepared for various competitive exams and you also kept on trying to get a job while simultaneously “studying” for your M. Tech. In fact, many got jobs or qualified competitive exams during this period and left their studies to take up their appointments. Those who remained behind tried to get a job after M. Tech.
3. Those few who could not get jobs even after their M. Tech. registered for their Ph.D. which too had a monthly stipend (or research fellowship or scholarship – call it by any name) and this would sustain them for the next few years while they leisurely completed their Ph.D. after which they got a job as a lecturer (now called Assistant Professor). These guys remained cocooned in the comfort and security of the academic world where progress was slow but assured and in due course found themselves as Professors with excellent salaries, assured job security, relaxed stress-free working ambiance, sabbaticals and trips abroad, comfortable campus life where all needs of the family are well looked after, and the best of perks. And while their counterparts in the industry retire between the ages 55 to 60, the Professors can continue in their jobs till 65, maybe 70. Like they say: Slow and Steady wins the Race…!
(Of course there were the bright boys who went abroad after their B. Tech., mostly to America for their MS, maybe an MBA later, and pursued successful careers in over there. A few did their Ph.D. over there too and are teaching at prestigious universities or doing great research work out there in America, but very few returned to take up a teaching job in India. After B. Tech. a few guys did join IIMs but I think studying Management was not such a big craze in the 1970s as it is today)

Recently I read some critical observations about the quality of higher education, especially in Engineering and Technology. Maybe the answer (and solution) lies in what you have just read. I am sure you have read the famous quote by H. L. Mencken (some attribute this maxim to George Bernard Shaw):
Those who can – do. Those who can’t – teach. 

The career pattern of engineers described above certainly substantiates this axiom. 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

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