According to a report in Financial Express
The Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, is providing IIT-level education to students at seven distance learning centres across Maharashtra. At the seven mini-IITs, as these centres are called, students get the same interactive education as those in the regular course. This could be nationally replicated to provide IIT-level education to a vast number of students without multiplying IITs, and in the process reduce the technology costs to the students as well as the government. Such is the potential of distance education—removing all time and place barriers to support an effective model of education in the knowledge age.
This is an excellent idea. I've been thinking for some years of the possibility of a more limited version of this idea which I will describe.
The JEE is taken by nearly 100,000 plus students each year to fill up around 2000 seats across all the IITs. There is practically little distinction in terms of merit between the top 2000 students in the JEE and the next 2000 or even the next 5000. It's just the limitation on the current no. of seats in the IITs that forces the line to be drawn at 2000. There's demand out there in the market place (backed by the afforadability to pay market rates), but no one is able to address the demand due to artificial constraints. The IITs can't scale up because they can't get any more funding from the state and don't have the means to raise the necessary capital required to fund growth, from private sources on a sustainable basis, except for the odd donation or grant. The private sector doesn't seem to be interested - except for the Birlas who set up BITS in Pilani very early on and have successfully managed to build that into a brand in itself.
Here's the proposition:
The IITs make public the list of the all those who didn't make it into the first 2000 (in effect the JEE becomes like GATE). New privately funded colleges are set up with excellent infrastructure and faculty. These new colleges will take in those students in the 2000-5000 bracket and pay a license fee to the IITs for access to the JEE list as well as affiliation to the IITs. The new colleges will follow the exact same curriculum that the IITs set and follow and prepare the students to take the same examinations as the IIT students. The examinations will be set and graded by the IIT faculty, to maintain the standards. The new private colleges will charge fees at market rates (to make ends meet) - (i.e.) there will be no subsidy from the state. A few scholarships will be made available to the deserving. Educational loans at low interest rates will also be made available, so students can fund their education and pay back over the first 5-10 years of their working lives. Like housing loans, educational loans I believe are also one of the safest (within minimal defaulters) since a fundamental need is being addressed.
The benefits (as I see it):
a. The IITs will be able to leverage their brand and generate additional revenues by doing so.
b. The output of high quality trained engineers will increase substantially at no cost to the state.
c. More students will have access to the IIT standard of education and more importantly, the IIT brand.
d. Private capital is put to productive use. Large corporate groups can set up these institutions with a one time investment with all recurring operational expenditure recouped entirely through the fees. These institutions can then serve as the captive feeder for the employment needs of the corporates.
e. All this happens on a sustainable basis - all it needs is the initial capital investment, with the RoI being postive, though not necessarily being purely in terms of a cash return.
This will need a lot more of thought and work to turn into a full-fledged proposal, but this is the broad idea. I'd welcome feedback on this.