At first glance, it is hard not to agree with some IITs rebelling against Kapil Sibal’s one-nation-one-test for engineering colleges. The reasoning is simple: it’s not broken, why fix it, why break it? The IITs are efficient and government policy is usually the exact opposite even though it is made by people who take another difficult exam—for the IAS. But it is not as simple as that.
The main argument against Sibal’s move is that it will lower the standards of the IITs. There could be malpractices in an exam that IITs cannot control and undeserving students might slip in. This is the point at which the astute Indian must perk up his ears and consider what exactly the IITs are. They are ostensibly institutions of excellence to create an elite class of engineers. Its doors are only open to the best and brightest of India. It is an entrance exam to a higher caste. Most students do not remain in this caste. After years of toiling over engineering textbooks, they take another exam which needs 10th standard mathematics and basic English grammar—the Common Admission Test for IIMs. Depending on the tenor of the market, whether finance or marketing is in demand, these Brahmins of Brahmins either join banks or sell biscuits. Since that does not require engineering, their years at IIT—in terms of education—are essentially a waste.
All of which is to say that the entire edifice that the IITs are built on is employment, not education. Even the idea that students with high IQs deserve special institutions with high standards of excellence is questionable. IQ is a complete accident of birth, a function of the gene pool. Diligence, though, is both genetic and a product of social conditioning. The probability of your studying eight hours a day is greater if you are born into an educated middle or upper class family with parents who force you to do your homework—again, an accident of birth.
IITs and IIMs reward the already fortunate. Their primary purpose is to filter out the best employees for corporations. It’s an IAS exam for the private sector. It is better to scrap such entrance exams altogether and make admissions purely on lottery. It would be a much fairer system.