Note: If you looking for the transcript of the CBS 60 Minutes on IIT, , please go to Links to read it and some other interesting material from media. Please come back here for analysis.
There is no need to repeat what CBS 60 minutes told about IITs and IITians. Similar stories have been presented in BusinessWeek, Salon.com, and other prestigious media outlets. Undoubtedly, IITs are good and IITians are quite ubiquitous in certain segments of the American industry, but one starts wondering why other top-ranked schools from rest of the world, especially the East Asian countries like Korea, China, and even Japan are not presented. Ever! Can you name a few top schools from these countries?
It has been a matter of pride among Indians and especially IITians to hear and see themselves being praised so much. Especially the segment where the prestige of IITs in India is compared to the sum total of prestige of Harvard, Princeton and MIT. Also it was nice to hear Infosys' Narayan Murthy speak about how his son could not get into IIT and had to go to Cornell. (Did you know that Narayan Murthy is a trustee of Cornell and that might have played a big role in his son's admission to Cornell?) So we have MIT and CalTech described as safety schools!
Vinod Khosla on CBS 60 minutes described his experience at Carnegie Mellon as "cruising" after his education at IIT. Carnegie Mellon is one of the toughest schools in the world in engineering fields. From my experience at University of California at Berkeley which is another top-notch school in the USA, nobody cruises at the USA graduate schools. I admit, IITians used to have some initial advantage when IIT BTech used to be a five years program as in Vinod Khosla's case, because others in the USA generally came after four years' of undergraduate education. Why brag about doing well on courses you are repeating because you had one additional year to study some of the masters' level courses. That is no longer true.
In my view, Vinod Khosla harmed IIT, IITians and Indians in general. Some naive people in the USA might have got fooled but most people in the industrialized world looked at Vinod Khosla with amazement and wondered who is that fool from one of the most backward countries in the world to talk like that. Americans are used to self-promotion but not in such an obvious way. It comes across as unsophisticated and bragging and also made many people angry especially if they had prior bad experiences with Indians. Best thing for Vinod Khosla would have been to be very diplomatic and stress that IIT and IITians are good, and should have praised Americans.
As to be expected out of Narayana Murthy, his purpose was to promote himself and to answer questions about his son going to Cornell. If his son really wanted to study Computer Science and could not get admission into one of the IITs, he could have tried for one of the many regional engineering schools, or some other science school in India studying computers or maths. As pointed out by American critics, Narayan Murthy is a trustee of Cornell University and nobody doubts that it was not a factor in his son's admission. Talking about meritocracy at IIT while sending one's son to Cornell comes across as very hypocritical. We don't want people like Narayan Murthy who made his fortune by providing off-shore cheap labor for Americans as India or IIT's spokesperson. But he is going to stay, unfortunately.
While China, Korea are (potential) competititors (Japan is already one) and their natives could return to their countries to compete with the US companies, India does not pose any such threat. (India is not going to become developed by 2020, believe me.) Moreover, in this age of skilled labor shortage caused partly by reduced birth rates in the developed world, there will be more and more demand for skilled labor from India who can be expected to either work in off-shore factories like Infosys (preferred) or to be brought on-site. Indians, whether from IITs or not, are expected to be major migrant labor supplies for the next few decades for countries like USA and later Korea, and even China, and this praise by American media is just to soften up Indians and IITians towards being migrant workers for Americans. A little flattery goes a long way.
Moreover, the timing of these media stories, have led a few groups to charge that these are designed to influence the public and the lawmakers into accepting more H-1 visa quotas during time when American industry, especially the Silicon Valley, has high unemployment rates. I think there is validity to those charges. There is nothing better for the high technology fat cats than to destroy the wages of hard-working Americans in the Silicon Valley by getting IITians from India for cheap. Not to speak of ill-will caused towards Indians in general, which we all will have to pay, in one way or another.
In my view, the harm caused by this program on the image of IIT and India, after the initial euphoria dies down, is trememdous. Vinod Khosla, Narayan Murthy et al were given a chance to promote India and IITs in a positive manner, but because of their own egos ("I was cruising") or agendas (my son went ot Cornell because of blah, blah, blah) they have hurt Indian, IIT and IITians. As ususal, people like Narayan Murthy have managed to paint us all Indians in most unfavorable light. But his son will do okay and that is the most important thing in Murthy's life.