In the latest issue of Current Science, the director of NISCAIR, Dr. Gangan Prathap has written an article, Ranking of Indian engineering and technological institutes for their research performance during 1999–2008. Subsequently, two of my colleagues, Abi and Cogito Ergo Sum discuss the paper, especially on the quality of NITs and its comparison with IIT.
I feel to rank and compare institutions, one should compare similar institutions. For example, IISc is widely different from IITs because of the presence of departments in biology. Thus, papers from these biology departments should be removed when compared against IITs. Next, the number of faculty in all the institutions are not the same. IIT-KGP has much more faculty than IISc. In IISc, if you consider only teaching faculty and remove biological departments,the number of faculty is around 250.
As far as the NITs are concerned, its not just the number of faculty, but also the number of faculty who have PhDs from a "good" institution. In almost all places (except IITs/IISc), research is not required for promotion etc. However, the fault is not entirely with NITs or any other organization. A top NIT in chemical engineering had only 10 faculty on its rolls till recently. They offered 38 courses for the undergrad and postgrad program. Some of its faculty were involved in administration also and thus many faculty were teaching 5-6 courses a year. How can one do research even if one wants to?
Some posters have connected the research output to funding. Let me emphasize that except for the start up grant given to faculty in the first year, NO money for research is provided by IISc/IIT to its faculty to conduct research. Yes, there are centralized facilities (like TEM, computing etc) that have been established but these are initiatives by groups of faculty. Therefore, faculty have to go out to various governmental and non-governmental agencies and get funding for projects. This is mostly lacking in NITs. Many NITs have complex purchase procedures for buying any item above Rs. 5000. Therefore, even if faculty bring in money, spending it is not trivial.
Let us look at the doctoral output of these institutions. There are roughly 1000 engineering doctorates per year. Among them, 550 are from IIT/IISc. Even among the rest, if you remove the staff who are registered for Ph.D, the numbers for each NIT is abysmal. Research is normally done by graduate students. Many students who do not get admission to IIT go to NIT for their undergraduation. However, the same is not true for many postgraduate students. If they do not get admission in IIT/IISc, there prefer to go for a job in the industry and not go to NIT. Thus, you have a peculiar situation. The cutoff in terms of GATE percentile is 98+ for IIT/IISc while people with even 70 percentile do not want to join a NIT.
The same applies for faculty applicants.For example, the chemical engineering department in IISc receives 20-30 applicants per year and we select one at the most. The situation is similar in IITs. Even a new IIT received 60 applications in chemical engineering and they selected three. In IISERs, it is even worse. In the chemistry department of one IISER, they received 260 applications in that year and they selected four. Even though the press and faculty constantly talk about lack of doctoral students (our selection ratio for doctoral students is 10:1) and lack of faculty in IIT, what is meant is lack of "good" people. Many of these faculty applicants have Ph.D from either IIT/IISc/top 50 school in USA/Europe. When they are denied a faculty position in these places, they do not prefer to go to a NIT. There are exceptions in each case but they are few.
Why? Because the systems are not in place to do research at the same level as IIT. I do not think money alone (or funding alone) will solve the issue of research output. Systems like liberal purchase procedures, encouragement for faculty to do research, setting up of centralized facilities, attracting faculty from abroad to join NIT, sending faculty to international conferences, interaction with faculty from IIT/IISc etc. have to be put in place. All this will certainly improve quality of faculty and, once faculty are active in research, postgraduate students will come in large numbers to NITs. And until that happens research quality and quantity in NITs can not improve.