Teachable moments

Tapping the IIT graduate student body to teach undergraduates may be a win-win solution

The IITs are the proud centrepiece of our public educational system, but it is a truth long acknowledged that they struggle against the same limits that other institutions do, including qualified staff shortages. Constrained for resources and adequate faculty, the IITs may be contemplating a system where their postgraduate and doctoral students teach undergraduates. The IIT council will discuss the proposal next month. Given the serious shortage of teaching staff, and the cumbersome recruitment process, it makes sense for these schools to look within and fill their own needs.

This move fits in with the pattern at many research universities, where a graduate student often teaches introductory courses or becomes a teaching assistant for undergraduate courses. They are likely to be paid a stipend for their work. Given that many of these doctoral students will seek professional employment in universities, this provides them with a valuable apprenticeship opportunity. Currently, they have little exposure to their roles as future faculty. It may also allow classes to be taught in sections, with greater attention to individual students. Academic inputs from young, professionally focused graduate students could also, hopefully, inject more dynamism into teaching. BITS Pilani has already experimented with teaching assistants, and IIT could use these learnings, if the plan is implemented.

The IIT council meeting is also likely to make a decision on the proposed fee hike, from the current Rs 50,000 a year. An increase in fees has been widely recommended for the BTech and postgraduate programmes, given the expected returns of an IIT education. The idea is to make the institutions financially independent in terms of operating expenditure, and leave only scholarships, infrastructure and capital expenditure to the government. Of course, this hike will still come nowhere close to covering the actual cost per student. To make sure this does not exclude any student, there will be scholarships available, as well as special loans that require no collateral or guarantee by a guardian. Greater freedom from the government's purse strings would give these schools latitude to set their own agenda.

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