Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ode to my Alma Mater

This is the problem of the Indian education system these days. Any Tom, Dick or Harry enters into an engineering college, gets an eight-point-something score, is selected in a company by campus interview, and thinks he is successful in life. And why only the eight pointers? Seven, six and even five pointers are living happily ever after. If this is allowed to continue, people will not want to score more. It seems the problem has no solution in the present market condition where jobs are freely available. So will the marks keep plunging lower?

Not any more. A university has come up with a unique solution. A solution that is so simple that it’s unbelievable. Along with motivating students to score higher grades, this solution will also cut down on the university’s costs. And this university is none other than the West Bengal University of Technology (WBUT), the best university in the world (ok, maybe not now, but it’ll be very soon). Gopal Krishna Gokhale once said “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.” So it is quite natural that the solution has come from Bengal. But before proceeding any further, let me outline the achievements of this university so far.

Founded in 2001, WBUT was the first university in India to look towards inorganic growth. By acquiring IIIT Calcutta as its IT department it proved to the world that there was a quicker way to fame than by doing something great; it was by catching hold of somebody who was already famous. This business model was later successfully imitated by Lenovo when they acquired IBM’s PC division in 2005. A brand name that was hardly known outside China before, has today become synonymous with IBM ThinkPads. But behind this idea was WBUT’s quick rise to fame by becoming the parent university of IIIT Calcutta. However, as the IIIT brand had started overshadowing the WBUT brand, they cleverly renamed IIIT Calcutta as “School of Information Technology”. I’m telling you, mark my words: Lenovo will soon rename the IBM computers as Lenovo although they are still using the IBM logo for advertising, just like WBUT did with IIIT. These Chinese and Americans can be real copy-cats.

Anyway, coming back to taking tough decisions, WBUT has always been a pioneer in the country. For instance, they made a rule that IT students cannot enter the computer labs except during the lab periods. Now just think about the sheer brilliance of that decision. With one simple rule, they solved four problems.

  • Cost cutting on electricity bills
  • Students wasting their time in the lab
  • ‘Wear and tear’ of the computers
  • Students developing something innovative in their free time. By preventing this last one they significantly reduced the chance of brain drain.

Being a West Bengal Government owned university, the WBUT has always had to worry about funds. After all, it’s the only government which puts the welfare of the poor before the education of the rich. So obviously, the university cannot afford to have the kind of infrastructure and resident faculty that their ‘rich’ counterparts in corrupt states (like Andhra Pradesh) can. Then there’s also the conspiracy by the central government which has never allowed the West Bengal Government to do anything worthwhile. So how to solve this problem? Again, it’s the pure genius of the WBUT people that came up with a cheap yet high quality solution to the problem of the faculty. Now as everyone knows, West Bengal has a plethora of old colleges like Shibpur BE College, Jadabpur University, IIT Kharagpur and Calcutta University. A large number of professors retire from these colleges/ universities every year. WBUT hires them (and also some non-retired senior professors) as visiting faculty. The quality of teaching is of course the best money can buy (or at least the best money can buy from an old professor who teaches in 3 different colleges in a week), because these men are the very best. But where is the dash of genius then? It is this: WBUT pays them for the first month, delays payment in the second month, and from the 3rd month onwards, they don’t get anything. But wait, you say… won’t they leave then? Yes, they do. Some leave immediately, some after hanging around a few more months in hopes of that missing salary. In either case, they have already taught the students for one semester, and most of them love their profession too much to desert the students in the middle of the semester. Next semester, of course, there are more professors coming.

WBUT has come up with numerous such innovative plans and tested them on IIIT Calcutta (as that is the only college that is bound by its whims and fancies). Not setting up a LAN in the computer lab (actually the assistant registrar was not sure what ‘LAN’ meant and whether it was useful), strictly maintaining 10 to 5 timings for the labs and libraries (why do they need it open whole night anyway?), discouraging students from meeting or even writing letters to the VC (Do you think he has no work?)… the list is endless.

But I digress. The issue at hand is how they came up with a novel method to motivate the five-to-eight pointers to get more marks, and cut costs at the same time. As I said, it is absurdly simple. They just announced that:

  • Students from the 2005 and 2006 batches will have their convocation ceremony together, and
  • Only the top ten students from each college are eligible to attend the convocations.

(Note the design of the web page. Being an amateur web designer myself, I simply love the way it is titled “Untitled Document”. Creative to say the least. Or did Brainware Consultancy run away due to lack of funds before they could come up with a title?)

Now isn’t this amazing? Having the convocation for two batches together will cut down the cost by half, spare everyone the trouble of finding out chief guests for two occasions, and promote fellow feeling between juniors and seniors. And calling only the top ten? That will teach a lesson to people like me, who score eight point somethings and are too pleased with themselves. And this motivation won’t stop when they start getting nine-point-somethings, because even then only the top ten will be wearing the gown. So the rat race will pull their scores higher and higher towards ten. Here’s what a friend had to say about this (Pardon the language; even I didn’t understand half of it, so I decided to paste it as it was):

“We are minuscule entities in the eyes of the dictatorial rulers of this so called coveted university. We can protest, cry or write voluminous articles against their partitionist behaviour. But their skin is thicker than the stiffest matter in world and they have deviated from their moral values. This is the first time in the whole history of academia that such kind of a convocation (where the college heads in the presence of respected dignitaries wish their departing students success in life and to carry the reputation of the university everywhere) will be held. This kind of gory act diminishes the confidence of the passing out students and hurts their pride, and puts a question in their mind, "Was I a part of that institute?" Shame on these administrators, they have no soul left, only the superficial blood and flesh, which is mortal.”
A typical case of the grapes are sour. Needless to say, he’s another eight-point-someone like me.

But I’m happy. I’m happy because although I wasted my four years of engineering in worrying about things like studying and understanding rather than scoring marks, the future students will not repeat my mistake. And I’m also happy because even after getting such dismal marks and being ineligible to attend the convocation, I can proudly say, “I’m a student of WBUT, the only university that cares about its students”


  1. You sound very annoyed huh? And thats really crazy, i.e allowing students to access lab only during lab times. Never heard of something like that. Such apathy in our education system, no wonder we have such indifference and laxity everwhere. Life, blasts, terrorists killing us in our own country. Everything is chalta hai these days.

  2. You are missing the point. Everything the university does, is for a greater cause.
    There was a time West Bengal was losing a lot of revenue to states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Students were leaving West Bengal to pursue Engineering and Medical Courses in these states. You must be knowing about the step-motherly attitude of the Centre towards West Bengal, which has resulted in the impoverishment of the state. West Bengal must be self dependent. Costs need to be cut. Revenues need to be generated. “Waste not want not”.
    WBUT was born out of these necessities. WBUT would be at par with any university in India. The syllabuses were designed keeping IIT syllabuses in mind - not the outdated Jadavpur or Shibpur syllabuses. Same teachers taught in different colleges, so that they have a uniformity of standard. Teachers came and went. It was a clear indication that you cannot grow your roots and indulge in politics. So respect your job as you may not have one tomorrow. As for the convocation, you must know that it is impossible for one person to award thousands of students. Besides, everybody has work. Why waste time on students who have passed out and are already placed in jobs? Use your time to think of new innovative ways to cut costs and increase the number of seats. It was not only for generating motivation and cutting costs, but also very practical. So stop sulking. Hats off to WBUT - the "No Frills University".

  3. @shreemoyee: And ever heard of inviting the top 10 students in the convocation? That's West Bengal for you. Here the mentality is "Colleges are meant for studying. Come, study during the class, do the lab assignments, go home. Mug up and score good marks in the exams. That's all."

    @anonymous: Ah... you have the vision, my friend! You can see the bigger picture. Only problem is, we paid an executive class fee for the no-frills degree.

  4. Pakka tester ...nothing else.I can oppose seriously and vehemantly is "Only top 10 students from stream". This is ridiculous. Exactly ridiculous. No hopes. Is this convocation is really for students? I am confused. All other thigns like computer lab timings and all you can find in some other GEM unis also. But that can be result of some GIFTED students who are more knowledgible and mischievous than few GOOD others. Alors, politics is every where if it costs you then you will obviously get angry.

  5. @abhijit: See... the policies of WBUT are beyond criticism, especially if that criticism comes from an IITian like you. You are rich students studying in the colleges funded by the bourgeois' money from the capitalist USA. WBUT will never touch a penny of that money which smells of the labour class' blood. WBUT is the university for the poor peasants' and the labourers' children, so that they can study, earn money and join the bourgeois.
    That does not prevent the officials from stuffing their pockets, of course... no harm in robbing the rich.

  6. LOL...this is funny stuff, Joy.

  7. @km: Yeah, isn't it fun? Waiting for over one year to attend the convocation, finding out the dates eagerly and applying for leaves three months in advance, getting in touch with batchmates all over India and even abroad and trying to organize a reunion; only to be told that you are not eligible to attend.
    Damn! I can't think of a funnier situation.

  8. Extremely well written, I happen to be the author's senior at IIIT-Calcutta (now renamed as SIT). I still remember those days when false promises were made to us during the admission days, promises of converting IIIT-C into a world class educational center and a Deemed University in 1 year's time.
    What really happened to us is a real sorry state of affairs.Each one of us entered this institute with our own ignited dreams.. 2 years into the course, we realized we were being betrayed, the entire IIIT-C thing was an election gimmick to apprise the people of bengal's progressive IT model.
    At one stage, we were not sure we would be receiving an engineering degree, a diploma is what we were expected to receive at the end of four years.
    Only we know how much we toiled.. deprived of basic engineering facilities, I really had a tough 4 years of stay..
    what I got more aware of was the amount of party politics that runs behind a goverment institute.

    Today, studying in a premier institute in the country, I still crave for the facilities that we'd been deprived of. The West Bengal Govt. could have really made IIIT-C a world class institute, what it required was a li'l bit of attention and some minimum funds. But, now all's lost...

    Anupam Majumdar
    PGP 2006-08
    IIM Bangalore

  9. I face the same situation as you is absolutely ridiculous and deeply hurting that WBUT even in its moment of farewell can't afford a sweeter response to its passout students

  10. I am now a student of that WBUT Inhouse,school of IT or school of engg and technology (Dont know the real name!!!) with still that fucking IIITC tag. Truth be told , this WBUT is an asshole university. In your times,convocations seldom took place.Now it doesnt take place! Even this year i.e. on 2013, there is no techfest in our WBUT Inhouse yet! The syllabus is damn old!
    And as usual they are still using the apparatus of IIITC in electronics lab.

    The only hope is that the WBUT SET/SIT/IIITC is getting autonomy again this year after a long gap of 4 years.4 years before it was an autonomous. There is no alumni network or studnets council here.But we have succeeded in making a students activity club atlast and we are trying our best to restart that alumni portal.

    ------------from a 2nd sem student ,WBUT-Inhouse.

  11. Is there any way to change the way the system works and the institute gets back its iiit-c status ?