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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 04 November 2023

CONTENTS:

  1. The IITs are overcommitted, in crisis
  2. Retrograde step

The IITs are Overcommitted, in Crisis


Context:

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) hold a prestigious position in India’s higher education landscape, recognized globally as the most prominent institutions. They are often the sole Indian higher education establishments with international recognition. However, the IIT system is facing serious issues at a time when some of them are establishing overseas campuses as part of India’s soft power initiatives. Examining the current situation is essential to grasp an impending crisis.

Relevance:

GS2- Education

Mains Question:

Building IIT campuses abroad can help further India’s soft power development but are beset with significant challenges. Comment. (15 marks, 250 words).

Recent Developments:

  • These institutions have produced leaders in high tech and related fields within India and abroad. Gaining admission to the IITs is exceptionally challenging, with over a million students competing for just 17,385 spots in the 23 IITs through a rigorous entrance examination.
  • IIT-Madras has recently opened a branch campus in Zanzibar, and IIT Delhi will launch programs from its Abu Dhabi campus in 2024. The inaugural class, consisting of 70 students, has been accepted.
  • Questions arise about the faculty’s origins, their commitment to the Zanzibar campus, and the differing admission standards compared to the Indian campuses.
  • Admission relies on the IIT Madras Zanzibar Selection Test (IITMZST) 2023 screening test followed by an interview, with test centers not only in Tanzania but also in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Initially, the Zanzibar campus offers two programs: a Bachelor’s Degree (BS) in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence and an M.Tech in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, open to students from around the world.
  • The annual tuition fees are $12,000 for the BS program and $4,000 for the M.Tech program, with only 70 students enrolled.
  • The rules and regulations are expected to be based on those of IIT Madras, but questions remain about the campus’s facilities, IT access, and related amenities.

Areas of Concern:

  • The motivations for these international ventures, their purposes, and the financial backers behind them are all points of concern. They must maintain high quality, especially given the significant investments required to establish branch campuses and India’s other overseas initiatives.
  • Regarding expansion within India, the original IITs, established in the 1950s, partnered with top foreign universities, achieving excellence and strong reputations with small enrollments.
  • However, after 2015, the government expanded the IIT system, adding seven new institutions, often located in less accessible areas.
  • These newer IITs have struggled to meet the high standards of the traditional ones, with many seats remaining vacant. The existence of multiple tiers of IITs with varying standards and prestige is not ideal.
  • Faculty recruitment is a major challenge, with salaries falling well below international standards. Foreign-trained Indians are hesitant to return to less competitive salaries, subpar working conditions, and increased bureaucracy.
  • Top Indian talent is drawn to fields like IT and biotechnology rather than academia, both within India and abroad. The IIT system faces a severe shortage of academics, with a significant number of vacant positions.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the IITs are currently facing a crisis, with the challenge of building quality in the new IITs and maintaining faculty quality while attracting young, dedicated professors. The decision to expand domestically may not have been wise, and overseas branch campuses present additional complications. Given the domestic challenges, the wisdom of overseas expansion is questionable.


Retrograde Step


Context:

Misinformation and its more malicious counterpart, disinformation, have posed significant challenges in today’s unrestricted communication system, particularly on social media platforms where adequate filters are seldom applied to control the spread of news and opinions, many of which are based on false information deliberately or inadvertently disseminated.

Relevance:

  • GS-2-Government Policies & Interventions
  • GS-3-Role of Media & Social Networking Sites in Internal Security Challenges

Mains Question:

A government panel to check facts is liable to be misused against critics. Discuss using recent illustrations. (10 marks, 150 words).

Recent developments in this context and their analysis:

  • The Tamil Nadu government’s move to establish a fact-checking unit to address “misinformation and disinformation related to the State government” originating from “all media platforms” appears, at first glance, to be a reactive measure. This decision follows a similar initiative by the Karnataka government.
  • However, the problem arises when governments or their constituted units assume the role of adjudicators in determining the veracity of information, as this could be seen as a retrogressive step, with an interested party deciding what is true or false.
  • Tamil Nadu’s decision should be considered in the context of the Central government’s notification of the IT Rules earlier in the year, which amended the Information Technology Rules of 2021, allowing the Ministry of Electronics and IT to appoint a similar fact-checking unit.
  • Various parties, including the Editors Guild of India, the Association of Indian Magazines, and political satirist Kunal Kamra, had challenged the IT rule that enabled the unit.
  • During the hearings, the Bombay High Court had raised concerns about the lack of necessary safeguards that would enable fair criticism of the government.
  • The court also noted that even if the intentions behind introducing such a rule were praiseworthy, namely to combat false news, it could be deemed unconstitutional if it infringed on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Way Forward:

  • The verdict is scheduled to be delivered on December 1, and the court’s remarks indicate its stance on the establishment of a government “fact-checking unit” to arbitrate on reports and information related to government operations.
  • The Editors Guild of India had urged Karnataka to clarify the scope and powers of the fact-checking unit, suggesting that addressing the problem of misinformation and fake news is best left to independent bodies.
  • It also recommended that a monitoring network should adhere to principles of natural justice, including providing prior notice, the right to appeal, and judicial oversight.

Conclusion:

States already have their information and publicity departments that can provide clarification on news related to them, and there are independent fact-checkers who address misinformation on social media. It would have been more sensible for such units to be established with the involvement of journalists and other stakeholders, but this has not been the case with the Tamil Nadu government’s decision.


June 2024
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