India's feisty environment minister Jairam Ramesh seemed to invite a controversy when he said on Monday that India's showpiece educational institutions, the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management, had mediocre faculty and were only successful because of the calibre of their students.
"There is hardly any worthwhile research from our IITs. The faculty in the IITs is not world class. It is the students in IITs who are world class. So the IITs and IIMs are excellent because of the quality of students, not because of quality of research or faculty," Ramesh told reporters on the sidelines of a function in New Delhi.
Interestingly, Ramesh is himself an IIT alumnus, having graduated from IIT Bombay in 1975 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
His statements came when reporters asked Ramesh why the National Centre for Marine Biodiversity at Jamnagar was being set up as a joint venture with private corporate house Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) rather than one of the IITs.
Ramesh replied that a world class research centre cannot be built with a "governmental set up" as this would never attract young talent. Asked whether there was any conflict of interest in collaborating with Reliance, the minister said, "Life is one large conflict of interest."
It is worth noting that Ramesh himself has commissioned IIT Delhi prepare a study on reforms of the environmental clearance mechanism in his environment ministry.
According to The Times of India, sources in the human resources development ministry expressed surprise at Ramesh overstepping his bounds. A top official said, "It's unbecoming on part of a union minister to publicly criticise institutions under another ministry.''