If you are a student or an alumnus of any of the Indian Institutes of Technology or IIT, you would know that it is not common to find a female student in your class, or perhaps even in a given subject. In fact, if at all, it's quite rare. IITs, which are not just India's top engineering institutes, but considered among the best in the world, have one fundamental issue - a very large gender imbalance.
The imbalance is not because of a faulty selection procedure in the country's premier engineering institutes. Instead, it perhaps highlights a greater concern - the ratio of girls to boys pursuing engineering right from the application stage.
A study conducted by the IITs revealed a few startling facts:
- For every 5 applications received from boys, only one is received from girls.
- Among those who sit for the JEE or Joint Entrance Examination, only one-third of the girls who qualify eventually join.
- In 2016, of more than 10,500 seats across all IITs, only 830 were taken by girls. This happened despite 2,200 girls successfully qualified in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).
- A separate study by IIT Delhi revealed that girls performed better than boys when they were given equal opportunity within the campus. Under the same conditions and circumstances, girls outshined boys in their overall performance.
- The study showed that on average, each semester, female students consistently outperformed their male classmates by more than 1 grade point. This happened in spite of them (girls) getting a lower rank than boys in their Joint Entrance Exam.
- These trends were observed between 2002 and 2015. The IITs have been looking at different ways to balance the gender gap at its different campuses.
- Even last year, 14 per cent of all students who cleared the JEE(Mains) were girls, but only half as many joined despite ranking among the top in the country.
- Today, girls make up for only 8 per cent of all students at IIT. Compare this to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the United States, where the percentage of women studying mechanical and other engineering courses stands at 49.5 per cent of all student.
Engineering has been a preferred choice for boys, while medical sciences have seen that trend reverse; but not to the same extent. This, many believe, is a stereotype that sums up our education system and its primary contributor is "family preferences".
Based on the multiple studies conducted, the IITs have now come up with a method to bridge the gender gap, and have found a unique way to do it. The prestigious institutes have decided to add an overall 779 seats across all IITs dedicated only to girl students. This, the IIT administration believes, will promote the thought and encourage more girls to study engineering.
"This is not exactly a quota as the existing seats remain the same, thereby not affecting or discouraging boys from applying as they do each year. The institutes are not reserving a chunk the existing share, instead, it is creating an additional talent pool," an official said.
The criteria for getting admission will remain the same. Girls too will have to get an All Indian rank after qualifying through JEE and JEE (Mains). No leniency will be shown in assessing the girls either. The process of selection will be transparent, fair, and 100 per cent merit based. The only condition being - it will be exclusively for girls - the brightest minds in the country. These 779 extra seats are being called 'supernumerary seats' by the IITs.
To incentivise it further for female students, IITs are even coming up with attractive fee structures and scholarships. Five IITs - Mumbai, Delhi, Varanasi, Ropar and Mandi are also considering partial fee exemption for girls.
Through these measures, the IITs foresee a steady rise in girl students and hopes to achieve its initial target of 20 per cent female students in all IIT campuses. For the current year, the IIT Council predicts a rise in overall female students from the current 8 per cent to 14 per cent. This, they hope, will be the beginning of the end for gender imbalance at IITs.
Sayantani Saha, a student from IIT Kharagpur, and one among only a handful of girl students at the institute was delighted to hear about this initiative. "Not only will it help improve the gender imbalance, it will encourage many more girls to pursue engineering as a career," she said in an interview to news agency ANI.
Terming the initiative by the IITs "fantastic", she said, "It has been a privilege" to study in the country's premier technological institutes. She said she believes this would have a positive impact on girls across middle and hi-schools in India.
Sudheshna Sarkar, a faculty member at IIT Kharagpur, says she is positive that this initiative by the IITs will bring about a big change over a short period of time. She believes it will definitely result in many more applications from girls for the Joint Entrance Examinations.
Of the 779 'supernumerary' seats, 113 seats have been given to IIT Kharagpur, followed by 95 seats to IIT-Dhanbad, 79 to IIT-Kanpur, 76 to IIT-BHU, 68 to IIT-Roorkee, 59 to IIT-Delhi, 58 to IIT-Bombay and 57 to IIT Guwahati.