Mental health, faculty quotas on table as IIT council meets today

Meeting after more than two years, the IIT council, the apex coordination body of all the 23 premier engineering colleges, will discuss “mental health and wellness” of students on Tuesday, at a time when the institutes have been rocked by student unrest over a spate of deaths by suicide.

Also on the table are topics including the “need for a common entrance” for all Centrally Funded Technical Institutes, which was resisted by the IITs in the past, especially when the UPA government had proposed it in 2012. A revision of tuition fees, not carried out since 2016, is on the agenda as well, sources told The Indian Express.

The council is set to take up two more significant issues – “challenges” in implementing reservation policy among the faculty rank of the IITs, and hiking allowance for SC and ST students, apart from the merit-cum-means based scholarship, sources said.

The last meeting of the IIT council was held on February 22, 2021.

Apart from IIT directors and chairpersons of governing bodies, Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, senior officials of the Ministry of Education, UGC and AICTE will attend the 55th meeting of the council in Bhubaneswar.
Last month, the Lok Sabha was informed that 33 students have died by suicide at IITs since 2018, nearly half of them from SC, ST and OBC communities.

The recent alleged death by suicide of Darshan Solanki, a first-year chemical engineering student at IIT Bombay, and two students of IIT Madras sparked a nationwide debate on the issue.

To stem student suicides, sources said one of the options that the council may explore is getting all the IITs to make available round-the-clock professional help, either by collaborating with counsellors of nearby hospitals or having one on the campus.

The IIT authorities are also likely to be directed to offer training to enable students and teachers to identify those in need of help. Apart from counsellors, the idea is to have professional treatment available for those whose symptoms may have worsened, requiring urgent medical intervention.

Another key item on the agenda is a possible revision in tuition fees, which were last liked in 2016. It remains to be seen if the government resists the proposal coming as it does a year ahead of the general elections and protests on campuses such as IIT Bombay, Allahabad University and Banaras Hindu University among others over fee hikes.

While students belonging to SC, ST communities enjoy complete fee waiver at the IITs, for unreserved category students, it was hiked from 90,000 per annum to Rs 2 lakh in 2016 after a gap of seven years. EWS students with family income below Rs 1 lakh per annum also enjoy complete fee waiver, while those coming from families earning between Rs 1 lakh-Rs 5 lakh have to pay one-third of the total fees.

Also, the presence of the “challenges” in implementing the quota policy in faculty recruitment by the IITs on the agenda of the council is important as the institutes have been facing questions over the low numbers on this count despite the government directing them to follow the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act, 2019 in letter and spirit.



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