Dropout rates at India’s elite colleges have fallen drastically in last five years

Staying in school.
Staying in school.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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Fewer students are dropping out of India’s elite colleges.

In the academic year starting in 2019, dropout rates at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) fell by nearly 70% from 2.25% to 0.68% in 2015, official data from the Indian government show. At the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), dropout rates fell a sizable 25% during the same period.

“There has been (a) decreasing trend in dropout rate over the last five years,” human resource development minister Ramesh Pokhriyal said in a Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) answer on Feb. 10. “This has been achieved by taking a number of corrective measures to minimise the dropout which include appointment of advisors to monitor the academic progress of students and peer-assisted learning.”

The resources that help students with academics “have increased exponentially” and to deal with the mounting pressure on these high-stress campuses, there are support groups—both student-run and administration-run—IIM-Shillong’s press relations cell told Quartz in an email.

Experts believe the trend is due to the rising success of startup culture in India, which is led by several entrepreneurs that have graduated from IITs and IIMs. For students who might aspire to become businessmen, IITs and IIMs are prime for networking with the startup community. Venture capital investors also have a soft spot for these pedigree institutions.

The environment beyond academics, with an array of extracurriculars, clubs, and fests, is also a big draw. “The initiatives by IIMs more towards cultural activities and student-driven culture of IIMs is definitely a boosting factor to hold on to the students,” Harsh Jain, a chartered accountant who is a second-year student at IIM Shillong, told Quartz.

Can’t leave if you don’t come

The lower dropout rate may also have to do with more meaningful enrollments,  said independent human resources expert N Shivakumar.

There was a time when people were dropping out of IITs and IIMs to set up their own startups. Take Rahul Yadav of Housing.com, for instance, who decided to drop out in his fourth year from IIT Bombay. Being a dropout actually made OYO’s Ritesh Agarwal eligible for Peter Thiel’s $100,000 scholarship, with which he started Oravel Stays—India’s answer to Airbnb—and today it’s evolved to become the multi-billion-dollar hotels group OYO.

Now, though, millennials and Gen Z, “have clarity of thought” and set up businesses even before starting college, Shivakumar said. Especially since plenty of resources like incubation centres and co-working spaces are available in the country.

“Maybe they look ad-hoc, but their maturity levels kick in a lot earlier,” he added. “They know what they need to do, and they know if the startups fail, they can always go back to education.”