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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Scarcity no indication of quality

Telephone's were a scarcity few years back. Getting a telephone connection meant that you needed to wait for a few years. The same was true for car's, scooters, even to get government approvals. That indicated that there was scarcity and by implication there was a value (read: status) associated with it due to it. But no one would claim that those products or services were of particularly high quality.

Yet we seem to do precisely that with IITs, IIMs or AIIMS etc. Yes, these institutes are scarce and so there is a value (status) associated with that. But that is no indication of quality. The other day I was going through the interview of some IIT alumnus returning from US and he was saying how IIT entrance tests the conceptual knowledge of students and how only the best of the best students are selected and hence though more than 100,000 students apply only a fraction of them are selected - what crap.

My answer is simple, quality has two connotations - absolute and relative. Yes, on relative parameter, I am ready to accept that out of the sample available to them, they select the better one's but what on absolute level? If the IITs have to fill up 4000 seats, is it their claim that every year they manage to find exactly 4000 extremely bright (very bright) students? It may be that the first student to get into IIT is bright (very bright), but what about the last? Do they stop filling seats (keep seats vacant, if in a particular year, the crop is not quite upto standards?). And what about the first person to get rejected? Is he necessarily below their entry standards? A true test of the quality of students is an absolute criteron.

Let these institutes say that we have a particular benchmark (entry criteron) - anybody and almost everybody who crosses that gets in, rest are out. That is a far better measure of the quality of students (at least at entry level).

A good example of how this sort of system might work are the professional courses run by the Institute of Chartered Accountants or Cost and Works Accountants or Company Secretaries of India. Anyone can go and register - no limit on who can register. A set of very tough and demanding exams (mostly 3 exams - one at entry stage, one intermediate and one final) is what you need to pass to get certified (a measurable and fixed criteria for deciding who passes and who does not) and anyone and everyone who passess this exam gets certified. Thus once you control the quality of these exams, you automatically ensure the quality of students and quality of final output.

That's it for now...

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