It is exam season at the Manipal Institute of Technology, perched on a hill a few kilometres from the Arabian Sea, near Udupi in south-west Karnataka. Students in fashionable summer attire throng the long and winding corridors of Academic Block – 1 to pay their fees and settle other dues. Despite the impending examinations and the sweltering heat of the afternoon, the students are in high spirits. Two of the institute’s alumni, Satya Nadella, 47, and Rajeev Suri, 46, recently became CEOs of large global corporations, Microsoft and Nokia, respectively, in close succession. But why are Manipal’s students happy? “Nadella and Suri were both good students, but they were not top-of-the-class. So, exams and grades are not the only parameters for success,” says Nidhi Shetty, a third-year student of electronics and communication engineering. Her classmate, Ankit, says, “Suri didn’t pursue an MS or an MBA after graduating from here. He clearly thought a B.Tech from Manipal was enough.”
Unlike government-subsidised institutes, the Manipal Institute of Technology —abbreviated to MIT after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — has a reputation for attracting affluent aspirants. And while Nadella and Suri are products of MIT’s academic culture and its permissive environment, their success is equally attributable to the upper-class society they lived in. “We have always attracted upper-middle-class students who are well-schooled and don’t have trouble developing soft skills,” says director Vinod V Thomas. “There are many more Nadellas and Suris in the making at MIT.” From about Rs 50,000-60,000 a year in the 1980s, the fee at MIT today is about Rs 2.5 lakh a year. The institute admitted about 800 students a year back then, and now has 1,800 enrolling across 16 B Tech courses and 460 across 24 M Tech courses. Nadella and Suri have instantly notched up the institute’s profile and brought it on a par with the IITs or even the original MIT in Boston, Thomas claims. “I am sure it will reflect in the admissions this year as well as in the placements,” he says.
But MIT does not figure among the top 10 engineering colleges in the country in yearly rankings by media houses. It also lags behind in research. Where the Indian Institute of Science published 12,951 papers between 1999 and 2008 and IIT Kanpur came in second with 6,234 papers, MIT was ranked 45th, with just 214 papers in these years. Like their alma mater, Nadella