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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 March 2007, 00:41 GMT
Internet curbs for India's top students
By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

The authorities in India's premier engineering institute, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Bombay (Mumbai), have cut off internet access to students in hostels at night.

They feel that 24-hour internet access is hampering students' academic performance and overall personality development.

Students have unlimited free access to the internet in their hostel rooms to help with coursework and research but many of them use it to download movies, play games and chat online instead.

A hand on a computer mouse, India
The institute says students are losing social skills by chatting online

The press relations officer for IIT Bombay, Aruna Thosar-Dixit, told the BBC website this was having an adverse effect on their academics and social habits.

The ban was an attempt at correcting that, she said.

Students say while the reasons for doing so maybe right, the way they are going about it is wrong and the move is proving to be counter-productive.

Extra-curricular

Ms Thosar-Dixit said they were beginning to see a drop in attendance during morning lectures and a noticeable decline in students' participation in extra-curricular activities.

"In the morning the students would not be fresh and attentive and their socialising patterns were changing as they preferred to sit in their rooms and surf the net rather than interact with their mates.

"Academics are of primary importance for us but we also want our students to have a well-rounded personality."

Ms Thosar-Dixit said students would not have access to the internet in their hostel rooms between 2300 and 1230 but could log on in the library or their departmental laboratories where access will be uninterrupted.

The dean of students affairs, Prakash Gopalan, said one only had to look at the hard drive of any of the students' computers to see that bad content dominated over good.

"In the end, this is the Indian taxpayers' money as well as the IIT's network and we have an obligation to ensure that it is not misused," he said.

If I get up at two in the morning and feel that I am in the mood to do some course work, then I would find it very difficult to get up, get dressed and go to the library
Abir, IIT student

He also said he has had both positive and negative reactions to the decision.

"I've had parents who have called and e-mailed me saying that I've done the right thing," he said.

"One student said to me on the first night the net was disconnected, they all came out and called us all sorts of names but soon pulled out guitars and enjoyed chatting with each other until late in the night."

'Crippling choice'

Mr Gopalan says he is open to all suggestions and the decision will be reviewed after a month.

Final year engineering student Abir Bhowmick said it is a rather rash and impulsive decision because he feels "crippled" without the internet.

Nandan M. Nilekani, CEO of Infosys Technologies
High-flyers like the CEO of Infosys Technologies attended the institute

"It is only at night that all of us are awake and focussed on whatever it is that we are doing, whether it is playing games or working on some research paper," he said.

"If I get up at two in the morning and feel that I am in the mood to do some course work, then I would find it very difficult to get up, get dressed and go to the library," he said.

Another final year student, Ankit Jain, said he understood that authorities were trying to do something right but feels that the way they are going about it is wrong.

"A person who wants to sit in his or her room will do so no matter what you do. Banning the internet at night only hampers our work," he said.

Top of the class

The IITs are India's top engineering institutes where the best brains in the country are chosen to pursue their studies after a rigorous selection process.

The facilities offered here are top-notch and there are very few engineering institutes in India that offer unlimited access to internet in hostels at all times for all days of the year.

Many of India's top entrepreneurs, such as software major Infosys chief Nandan Nilekani, and telecom company Bharti's chairman, Sunil Mittal, are IIT alumni.

There are seven IITs based in Bombay, Madras, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Guwahati, Roorkee and Delhi.

IIT Madras put limits on internet usage more than a year now.

Students do not have any net access in their hostel rooms from 0100 to 0500.

Their dean of students affairs, Professor V G Idichandy, said they had similar issues as those faced by IIT Bombay then and a committee set up to review the situation decided to impose the net ban.

"It is working well for us now," he said, "From personal experience I can tell you that I have two morning lectures beginning at 0800 and attendance is always 95%."

IIT Delhi says it is "watching" how the decision pans out in IIT Bombay, will wait for the month-end review and then decide whether they want to impose such a ban on their campus.

IITs in Kanpur and Khragpur say it is up to the students to exercise self-restraint and have chosen to leave them to their own devices.




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