IITs vs US Universities

Which is better: IITs vs US Universities (An Honest Comparison)

IITs vs US Universities is a very old debate and rightly so. IITs are prestigious Indian universities but there are many US Universities that always rank on the top.

But before we go ahead, I would like you to know my qualifications to make this comparison. I studied at a private engineering college in India which is not considered a top Indian College for obvious reasons.

Once I was looking to pursue my master’s degree abroad and I was able to get into 2 US Universities, one Private University with an endowment of over $1 Billion and one Public University with an endowment of over $700 Million (more on endowments later). Their international rankings are on par with the international rankings of IITs (even better in many departments). But I simply didn’t go there for my own reasons.

Why I didn't go to a US University?

Rankings are particularly misleading if you don’t know how those rankings are being awarded. Fortunately, I do know how different rankings are being awarded.

Comparison Parameters

There are many parameters that are used to compare universities. According to me, some of those parameters that matter are:

  1. Quality and Quantity of research
  2. Funding (and/or Research Grants)
  3. Number of Nobel Laureates/Fields Medal/Other Awards
  4. Infrastructure
  5. Number of alumni who became Industry leaders
  6. Better ROI for students
  7. Culture at Institution campuses
  8. Qualification System

What foreign universities should we compare IITs with?

IITs are certainly better than a majority of African Universities, Universities in comparatively poorer Asian countries, Universities in the Middle East, and most Universities in South America but they lag way behind top Universities in the US and top Universities in Central, Western and Northern Europe.

Now, coming onto the above-listed parameters, which ones do you think perform better.

Problems with IITs

Although Canada and UAE are the top destinations by the number of outgoing Indian students, the quality of courses that they enroll in, is higher in the US. And without a doubt, I would say that IITs are not better than the top US Universities. Why? Because:

  1. IITs and IIMs have a quantity of research but the quality of research is poor. We might see some headline-grabbing research projects here and there but the majority of them aren’t revolutionary or amazing. Very few of them amaze me. And lack of funding plays a part in that. Scientific and technical journal articles – India, United States – US publishes 3x more Scientific Journals than India despite having 4x lesser population.
  2. Research grants are so damn high in developed countries because they can afford such grants. India is above the definition of a developing country but still no a developed one, and hence grants are meager as compared to their foreign counterparts. Good research needs great funding and we simply don’t have that. Just look at the yearly budget allocation for research and its peanuts. How much does your country invest in R&D? – US spends more than 10x on Research and Development than India.
  3. When there won’t be better research and more spending on R&D, there won’t be more Nobel Laureates and Fields Medalists. Fields Medal | mathematics award and Nobel prize winners – US has had 380+ Nobel Laureates and 14 Fields Medals, Germany has had 108 Nobels, France 69, Russia 31. In comparison, India has had only 12 Nobel Laureates, out of which 2 were in British India, 4 are won by OCI, 2 were British residents in British India, 1 is Dalai Lama for Peace, and 3 are citizens of India, out of which one is Mother Teresa. We have no Nobel laureates in Science except CV Raman that too before Independence. We have 0 Fields Medalists, oh wait, there is one, but again he was born in India but is an Australian citizen now. Even Vietnam has 1 Fields Medalist.
  4. Ok, when there’s no money, there’s no infrastructure (not just the buildings but also systems and needed amenities). Luckily, Indian Universities have done well with the Infrastructure. Although, it’s not better than Top ones outside India, it’s still decent enough, and on-par with some good universities. Still, at times, it looks bad. I wouldn’t want to eat at their cafeterias though.
  5. One of the reasons that most Indian students go to foreign universities is the Culture there. No, I am not talking about the Culture of the Society. I am talking about the Culture on the campus. As far as I have talked to foreign graduates, professors, and students, I have come to realize that the grades are not awarded on the basis of memorization, the bootlicking of professors is minimal, the lackluster courses can be dropped, and entrepreneurial spirits run high. Ultimately, you are where you live and who you live with. Basically, it’s more intense and fun, and chilled out.
  6. The worst thing I (and many smart people who leave India and succeed outside) find is the Qualification system of IITs. I mean look at me. I was someone who can’t cram pages after pages or be in books 10–15 hours a day and hence couldn’t crack IIT. But I experienced a lot of different stuff during college, built a decent but different project in the final year myself (and got the paper published), scored first class in college, interned at a startup that failed and just enjoyed my experience and was able to get admits in 3 programs across 2 Good US Universities, one with 25% Scholarship. But I didn’t even attempt GATE. Why? Because I find them stupid and boring. GATE is all about you spending your time cramming a lot and even if you are able to score well, you might still not get into IITs due to Reservation. Even if you end up at IITs, you might have to listen to your professors, your stipend won’t be on time, you won’t be able to be involved in any meaningful research, and you will have to pass stupid exams that expect you to cram even more stuff.

What’s good about IITs?

  1. IITs do produce Industry Leaders, not just in India but also outside India. And it is where we do stand out. But there is a brain drain that is happening.
  2. And yes, ROI on studying in IITs is pretty high as fees are not exorbitant and graduates can get something better if they just try well enough.

Despite having all those advantages, I simply didn’t go because I changed my mind and wanted to get some more experience. I wanted to do something of my own and I am doing that in India. I wish to contribute to the economic prosperity of India because every contribution matters.

Endowments of IITs and US Universities

One last point I wish to talk about is something that can help Indian institutions and that is University Endowments. Endowments are noting but the donation that the university gets through Alumni, Organizations, Corporates as well as other HNIs.

Did you know that Universities like Harvard, Yale, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, New York University, Columbia, etc are all PRIVATE Universities? They are the top ones and despite being private universities, they focus a lot on their education and research. In fact, all of them come under the definition of Research Universities.

Now the universities in the US have these endowment funds that they start. “An endowment fund is an investment fund established by a foundation that makes consistent withdrawals from invested capital.” – Investopedia

Basically, these universities don’t use their donations directly and don’t keep them in their bank accounts. They invest it in stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. And universities only withdraw a small amount of money every year and the rest remain invested.

Do you know how much money do different US Universities have in their endowments? Just have a look:

  • Harvard University: $41 Billion
  • Yale Universit: $31 Billion
  • Stanford University: $28 Billion
  • Princeton University: $26 Billion
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology: $18 Billion
  • University of Texas System (13 Universities): $30 Billion
  • Texas A&M University System (11 Universities): $13 Billion

The last two are the top 2 public universities according to most endowments. Private universities have more resources in the US and hence better systems and achievements.

Compared to that, IITs and IIMs have just started their endowment funds and many of them didn’t even start. They are late for the party but it’s ok. One success story among them is IIT Madras, which has an endowment fund of 700 Crores INR (roughly $94 Million). But a major problem will be corruption. It’s so rampant that the resources might not be used well.

Anyways, I love my country but then, there are some things that I don’t love about it.

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