Good JEE rank, failing first-year: IIT Roorkee struggles to find out why

An investigation by The Indian Express and several interviews with key players — professors, students and administrators at IITs — shows most of the students who were expelled were from reserved categories.

Written by Uma Vishnu | Roorkee/ Kanpur/ New Delhi | Updated: August 5, 2015 8:25 am
IIT, IIT Roorkee, IIT Roorkee expulsion, IIT Roorkee expel students, IIT Roorkee news, IIT Roorkee CGPA, IIT Roorkee officials, india education, IIT news, india news, indian express news Students protest the expulsion of 72 students by IIT-Roorkee. They were later given a second chance. (Source: Express Archive)

The 72 first-year students of the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, (IIT-R) who were expelled last month — the largest single batch to have faced such action — for failing to get the minimum passing grade are back on campus, having got a “second chance”. They are now on probation and will have to clear all their first-year papers and get a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of over 5.0 (on a scale of 10 — at least 55%), failing which they will be expelled next year. Not many on campus, however, are placing any bets on the outcome.

An investigation by The Indian Express and several interviews with key players — professors, students and administrators at IITs — shows most of the students who were expelled were from reserved categories (SC, ST and OBCs) and scored average to high ranks in their respective categories in the 2014 IIT-JEE (Advanced), the tough entrance examination.

Once they began their IIT education, however, many of them were hobbled by a range of factors: a lack of fluency in English, both spoken and written, that eroded confidence and showed up in poor communication skills; and a more general difficulty “adjusting” to the campus ecosystem. This has key lessons, professors said, as IITs rapidly expand to meet the flood of students and struggle to build campuses and attract faculty.

A scrutiny of official records of the first-year students — the batch had 1002 students in all — who failed at IIT Roorkee shows:

* 90 per cent of them were from reserved categories (SC, ST and OBCs).

* As many as 49 of them are from much-sought after departments such as Computer Science (3), Electronics (10), Electrical (12), Chemical (7), Mechanical (3), with the maximum, 14, from Civil Engineering. Which means, these are students who did reasonably well in their categories (General, SC, ST, OBCs) to get into these departments.

* For example, the JEE ranks of some of the students who failed — available with The Indian Express — show that among the SC students who failed is one who got an all-India rank in the top 50 (among 2,029 SC candidates who got into an IIT in 2014) and another who scored in the top 100 in the ST category (among 856 ST candidates who got into an IIT).

* Most General category students on the list of 72 who failed had ranks between 3,500 and above 7,000, barring one who had a rank close to 1,500. That year, the last general candidate to get an IIT seat was ranked 9,290. Ranks have been approximated to protect the identity of students.

* All 72 fared poorly across the curricular board — the highest any of them got in any subject was a C. “It shows there was no outlier among those expelled. They had scored poorly in every course,” said IIT-R director Pradipto Banerji.

The IIT said the decision to suspend the students wasn’t an easy one. “Every year, we have a few students who walk out of the institute after spending four to six years but without a degree in hand. We have had parents telling us that if you thought our child wasn’t doing well, why didn’t you tell him then? Why waste six years of his life,” said Vinod Kumar, deputy director of IIT-R. Though most of the affected students said the expulsions came as a shock, Kumar said the students were warned at every step, they were told they were slipping — after every mid- and end-semester exam.

The numbers may be staggering this year but this isn’t the first time IIT Roorkee has expelled students. In 2014, 12 first-year students were expelled for not scoring the minimum credits. But after the IIT realised there had been a “notification error”, the institute took back eight of them. But these eight students have been expelled this year, after their second year: six of them had “backs” (have failed) in 10 subjects, one had a “back” in two subjects and one had cleared all subjects but with a CGPA of less than 5.

“Like I keep telling my students, it’s tough to get into IIT but tougher to leave without a degree,” said Inderdeep Singh, who teaches mechanical engineering at IIT-R. “Even if they put in 70 per cent of the effort they put to clear the IIT-JEE, they can sail through,” he said.

So are these students who are failing not cut out for science or engineering? Not quite, said Promod Agarwal, Dean of Academics at Roorkee. A CGPA of less than 5, most professors said, was more a reflection of the effort the student had put in, less of his aptitude. “If, say, a student is strong in physics, but not in English, he can easily score a higher grade in the subject he is good at and pull his CGPA above 5. CGPA less than 5 is just poor application,” said Agarwal.

In the first semester, students have seven papers, of which at least four — English, Ethics and Self Awareness, Maths, Environmental Studies — are typically common to all departments. The others, department-specific subjects such as Introduction to Mechanical Engineering, are “elementary, basic” introductions to their departments. “These don’t require any prior knowledge of the subject. It’s difficult to do badly in these subjects,” said Singh.

What went wrong then? Banerji said he was “aware of the fact that the students have come in through a very competitive exam. So now, after this second chance they have got, we can put a finger on the problem. Did these children score poorly because they took first-year too lightly or are they simply not cut out for it?”

That’s a tough one to answer, admit many professors at Roorkee who said “first-year students tend to lose focus”, especially after going through the crushing grind of Class XII and coaching institutes. Besides, there is the pressure of achievement and expectation. “Once the students enter the campus, for us, they are all the same — irrespective of their background or whether you are from the reserved quota or not. The bar has been set (at CGPA 5 and minimum credits of 22) and that can’t be lowered,” said IIT-R Registrar Prashant Garg.

“Haan, life ko thoda simply liya,” (Yes, I did take it a bit easy) said one of the failed students. He is from Bhagalpur in Bihar, the son of a policeman father and a homemaker mother, who, he said, had worried themselves to death over his expulsion. After a “96 per cent in science subjects” in his Class X from Bihar school Board, he said he scored 70 per cent in his Class XII. And then, dropped a year to study in Kota and scored a rank of 1,206 in the OBC category (3,490 OBC students got in). After one year at IIT, he “scored a CGPA of 4.92”, agonisingly close to the 5-mark. “But I cracked the IIT entrance. Iska matlab mere mein talent hai. (This shows I have talent). Shouldn’t the institute have given students like us another chance?”

By “students like us”, he meant those from non-English medium schools, many of them from reserved categories. “English was my biggest weakness,” he said. “In my geomatics practicals, for example, I scored 23/25, but scored 8/100 in my written exam simply because I couldn’t express myself in English.”

The IIT said it had its “systems” to deal with these problems — language proficiency classes at the time of orientation and special mentoring programmes (started three months ago). Besides, professors said, since September last year, students who need help are assigned to seniors in the hope that they will open up better to fellow-students, ask them questions they probably can’t ask in a class of 100 or even in the smaller tutorials.

But unlike in many of the older IITs, these hand-holding exercises are relatively new in IIT Roorkee. Students say these “systems” usually don’t work on the ground — seniors, for instance, have little time for them since they have their own exacting schedule to juggle

(Tomorrow: After the entrance, the exam)

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  1. S
    Sarthak Sharma
    May 27, 2016 at 2:24 pm
    Reservation and any other help from the government should be for poor people and physically challenged people. They should not not be based on caste. And the amount of reservation should be around 25% to 30%, not 49.5%.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The benefit for reservation for a person should not be forever. It should be for a period of time, e.g. 5 years, after which it would be renewed, if the person is still poor.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If anyone continues to get reservation and help even when they do not need it, they will stop working hard, and become lazy.
    Reply
    1. C
      Communal Rukstales
      Sep 9, 2015 at 8:59 am
      Reservations to BC/SC/ST should continue till Upper caste/Brahmin cleans drainage/man in streets for 2000 years;
      Reply
      1. T
        TIHAEwale
        Aug 5, 2015 at 9:43 am
        Reservation is the problem because of which students with calibre fit for ITI get admission in IIT and our leaders who advocate reservation know only that both studies have two I's and one T but don't know the significance of their placement.
        Reply
        1. A
          ankit jain
          Aug 6, 2015 at 11:09 am
          I think there should not be any reservation system at least in the education system . It should be fully eliminate from the education system. I know many of my friends and other people in this country who were very talented does not got admission in IITs and NITs only due to this reservation system. I am fully against it. In past 1950, this system has some importance but now in this 21st century why the govt. not understanding that many of the sc/st do not take their study that much seriously as they know that there is reservation quota for them in every field. And that is the same reason why most of the student in IIT-R are failing after fighting such a high clified exam of our country.
          Reply
          1. H
            Harsha Patil
            Aug 5, 2015 at 10:17 am
            The cut off marks for the reserved category is low... There are many students who manage to get same marks or even better than the cut off marks for reserved category but fail to get into the insutes because they do not have label of reserved category. Great step by IIT. First time the education system has taken right step. Make admission on the basis of merit not on the basis of category. And now as the news say that most of the students were from reserved category why not put there marks to display and also of those who were not expelled... This will clearly state why those students were expelled...
            Reply
            1. L
              Lovely
              Aug 5, 2015 at 6:48 am
              It will be a waste of resources and tax payers money if these students fail like this. I have full sympathy for these students. Entry to IIT is toughest and also exit with minimum marks is even toughest. Taking their back ground into consideration IIT should do something , after all they are our children,no doubt they are intelligent, the
              Reply
              1. K
                k basu
                Aug 5, 2015 at 6:59 am
                good JEE rank in their reserved category ! What is their rank among all candidates general SC/ST & OBC. Or is that a state secret. Hig rank among reserved categories does not mean any thing and their faliure should not surprise any body when the cut off for the reserved category is substantially less than the cut off for the general category. This is the unintended but certain consequence of quota systemm.
                Reply
                1. K
                  k basu
                  Aug 5, 2015 at 7:55 pm
                  you can enforce quotas on admission by adjusting cutoff marks but you can not have the same percentage graduation rate among the reserved group compared to the rate among the general group unless you force the IITs & IIMs and medical colleges to allow a lower standard for the the reserved students. As it is in a few years the IIT & IIM b will be considerably tarnished because of the 50% reservation. I suspect most of the reservation candidates are being hired by Public sector undertakings who also have a quota to fill and the private sector manages to get hold of the grades of all candidates being interviewed and take students with higher grades who usually are from the general category. We should ask oursellves why statistics on absolute entrance test marks by general, SC/ST, OBC and overall basis and the same statistics for graduating students grade point average is not published. Somebody should file a RTI request.
                  Reply
                  1. T
                    Tomar
                    Aug 5, 2015 at 8:15 pm
                    This indicates several problems. First is that caste based reservation is not working. It seems many students are getting through who do not want to apply their mind. Slowly caste-based reservations should be weaned off, and now is the time to start, with the extra help of caste census. Instead, economic conditions based reservations should be put in place.
                    Reply
                    1. M
                      Mayank
                      Aug 5, 2015 at 1:31 pm
                      Reservation on the basis of economic basis can be given but just on the basis of caste will create such problems. Cutoffs for SC and ST categories is much lower than what is for general, which means a student of lesser capability gets into the insute and is not able to cope with the compeion. And then IITs are being forced to take the students back, I think its injustice to the eduction system of IITs.
                      Reply
                      1. M
                        Manish Prasad
                        Aug 10, 2015 at 10:17 pm
                        Well expelling them D reserved cl will certainly make them think to depend on their hard work not on mere reservation. But million dollar question is wat abt the vacated seat? The general ppl who llost out to reservation is d the ultimate sufferer.
                        Reply
                        1. N
                          NSSingham
                          Aug 6, 2015 at 9:31 am
                          Balderdash. Somebody who cleared the compeive exam has to know English. The true reason for these students failing is that they have spent two years as "dummy" students who did not attend regular school - where their attendance was marked by proxy - but went to tuition academies instead. Additionally they attended no Science practicals where again they were marked present by proxy and they purchased pre-written practical notebooks for their practical exams. Now how well can these students be expected to do at a regular insution when they are used to solely "mugging up"? The tuition industry that prepares students for compeive exams and the rampant "dummy" admissions" to regular schools need to be abolished
                          Reply
                          1. R
                            Raja
                            Aug 5, 2015 at 8:18 am
                            It took a period of 75 yeas for the erstwhile Soviet Union to understand that communism is a stupid idea. It will take a period of 7500 years for India to understand that caste-based reservation is a stupid idea.
                            Reply
                            1. P
                              PL Dhar
                              Aug 5, 2015 at 9:21 am
                              Had the reporter taken the trouble of finding out the actual marks scored by the students in JEE he would have known the real reason. The cutoff marks for reserved category are very low , and that plays an.important role in their ability to cope with studies. But to state This truth is not "desirable".
                              Reply
                              1. A
                                Akram
                                Aug 5, 2015 at 10:39 pm
                                dude do you even have any remote idea how much black money is generated and siphoned off by the business cl of India.... If you make economic criteria as a means to reserve seats nearly all the seats will be eaten up by these cles as there is no concrete way to determine their incomes.... Caste based reservation make sure that atleast theoretically the diverse potion of the country are able to be represented in IITs and IIMs..... You may recall that in 1990's Yogoslavia was a country, now it has broken up into 6 nations.... This was because they were not able to even theoretically create a situation where all 6 different communities could integrate to keep the country together.... If caste based reservation go, so will the w India as sectarian violence will annihilate the country from within
                                Reply
                                1. R
                                  Rajiv B
                                  Aug 5, 2015 at 7:43 am
                                  They are trained to crack the test, simple. Doesn’t make them engineering material. If one has some basic intelligence, and starts in cl 6 or thereabouts, which I am told is the norm, one can crack the test.
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    Ramesh Munjal
                                    Aug 5, 2015 at 3:54 pm
                                    But a professor in this news items has said that poor performance is due to lack of application not due to lack of English skills
                                    Reply
                                    1. R
                                      Ramesh Munjal
                                      Aug 5, 2015 at 3:51 pm
                                      Prof Apoorvanand was putting his views on NDTV over ongoing struggle of FTII students and his support to them. He said that our fight is mediocrity versus meritocracy , not political one. if such is the case, i would request academic fraternity to press for systematic changes to promote merit , come out against reservation system and suggest ways and means to uplift the educational standards of downtrodden sections of society . Otherwise every rhetoric will be deemed inspired by political affiliations.
                                      Reply
                                      1. G
                                        Girish Rao
                                        Aug 5, 2015 at 7:24 am
                                        Im of the belief that when we are allowing category students into the campus instead of putting them with the regulars a refresher course of one year should be made compulsory consider this as an investment of one year. As these students lack something thats why they needed reservation. So use this year to bridge the gap and groom. Definetely they deserve second chance but in more constructive way.
                                        Reply
                                        1. X
                                          xxx
                                          Aug 5, 2015 at 9:26 am
                                          1. Coaching is a problem - kids are coached to get through the exam and don't have the raw intelligence to actually do professional course like engineering or medicine. In IIT or in jobs these kids struggle. Previous generation if IIT students had teh native intellengence, many got through ITT's IIM's without coaching, hence did well and are leaders in industries today. I will not say this about the present generation of IIT kids. 2. SC/ST reservation is a problem - mediocrity and undeserving students get through and struggle.
                                          Reply
                                          1. I
                                            indianmews
                                            Aug 6, 2015 at 3:18 am
                                            English was my biggest weakness,” he said. “In my geomatics practicals, for "example, I scored 23/25, but scored 8/100 in my written exam simply because I couldn’t express myself in English" --- If this the case I would not employ this guy for love or money. In engineering you need to describe and prove convincingly by calculations and reports. Else you you are minor technician. Get him out of IIT ASAP. Mind you, country also needs technicians and mechanics.
                                            Reply
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