How good is the education being provided by an academic Institution? While there can be sophesticated ways of assessing the quality (e.g. by having peope who understand education and its goals assess the quality by looking at the faculty, courses, method of teaching, etc.) often quality of the overall education is assessed by how well their graduates do in their careers. And an indicator of this is how good a start the graduates get, i.e. the placement record of Institute.

Most good institutions have good placement records. While good institutions have good placement/careers statistics, there has been a perpetual debate/doubt whether this outcome is due to the fact that these institutes, being higly selective, take in the brightest of the students (if you take the top 5% of the students, of course they will do well – the argument goes), or whether it is due to the value of education they provide.  All of us academics in top institutions believe that while high quality of intake has a role to play, the quality of education provided at these institutions is the key determining factor in the success of these students. Unfortunately, this point cannot be supported by data as it is not possible get the desired data (e.g. average students taken in the top institutions and provided good education and then seeing how they do.)

At IIIT Delhi, as an Institute which has now evolved into a sought-after, high quality institution, we have a limited data from the first batch to shed some light to this debate. In 2008 the Institute was started – I was appointed the Director (employee #001) in Aug, and we had to start the new session in Sept. As all the admissions were over, the “best” students were already gone – even if they were not, why will they join an Institute that just started and had no faculty or facilities. In any case, we did an entrance test with an eligibility criteria being 60% in class XII.  About 350 students applied, finally around 250 or so appeared, of which we selected 60 – and many of those who were offered did not accept it. Effectively, almost one in every three students who wanted was admitted.   (Now that we have established ourselves as a top Institution,  of those who apply – and only those above 80% in class XII can apply – about 6% are selected.)

So, clearly the first batch was hardly selective by Indian standards. More so, given the fact that admissions in almost all major Institutions were over when we started our process (our exam was held in Aug!).

After admisison, this batch was taught in their first by guest faculty in borrowed facilites, but using our program and curriculum. In second year, many of the courses were taught by our faculty. It is only by third year when almost all the Computing courses were being taught by our faculty. In other words, whatever is our quality of education now, the first batch did not get it fully.

Fast forward to 2012, when this batch graduated. The Institute had no track record and no placement history – making it extremely hard to convince companies to visit for campus placement, particularly since we wanted to focus on technology companies as we felt that our students were far too well trained for the “regular” software jobs (by this I mean the entry level jobs offered by the large software houses in the country and where perhaps 90% of the CS graduates in the country get their employment. These jobs, it is well know, have a starting package of about Rs 3 to 3.5 Lac). With effort, we were able to convince some of the companies to come.

Almost every company that visited, despite their initial doubts, recruited some students.  Here we are talking about tech companies that generally have a rigorous selection process – test, multiple rounds of intereviews, etc. Some companies were so happy by the quality of graduating students that they recruited far more than what their best case scenario was (as we were told.) One company, which came for recruiting for their research lab, then called in their other product divisions to recurit. Some highly selective companies which visit few campuses in the country told us that they felt that the graduates are as good as other places they visit.

The final outcome in numbers: The average salary offer is about Rs 7 Lac (twice that of a regular software job), with majority getting offers of more than Rs 6 Lac, and about 10%  getting offers of more than Rs 10 Lac.

Personally also I have interacted with many (and have taught them some courses) and I can see that the capability of these students, their confidence, and their aspirations are so much higher than the CS graduates we often see in IITs for MTech admission – which are arguably the best from the engineering colleges. In fact, when the batch was in final year, some of my colleagues would sometimes say that the quality of these students is comparable or better than the later batches.

I believe this unique data point, which even we cannot now replicate, provides a limited argument for the intrinsic value of education. For the first batch, which was not very selective in admission, purely by providing good quality education, we have changed lives of many of them. It can be easily argued that these students, if they had not joined IIITD, would have ended up in some engineering college (I have collected this data – most of the students would have otherwise joined a college in Delhi or NCR) from where they would have graduated and most likely landed the “regular software job”. Our education has transformed them and has changed their career trajectories substantially by giving most of them a good start for buidling strong and successful careers.

So, while high quality of students intake is desirable and all Institutes vie for the best students, it is the quality of education provided by Institutes that makes the graduates what they are capable of. Quality of education matters and matters hugely!