Engineering is perhaps the most sought after career in our country. Each year more than eight lakh boys and girls try to get admission into engineering courses in numerous colleges and universities. The rate at which new engineering colleges are being opened by ambitious entrepreneurs is an indication of the popularity of engineering education.
But a vast majority of these wannabe engineers faces the dilemma of choosing the right college and course. Popular magazines, newspapers and websites are going out of the way to help them make the right choice by publishing their own league tables of colleges.
Let us look at some of the parameters that should go into deciding which college is good and which is not. Firstly one has to ensure whether the college has AICTE approval or NAAC accreditation. But as far as the quality of faculty and student-faculty ratio are concerned it is almost impossible to get information. Even there, there is little clarity about the exact meaning of recognition from UGC or AICTE. At best it means that you can apply for a UPSC job. If this is an option you want to keep open, go ahead and choose a recognised programme. But if you are interested in good application-oriented engineering programme, which would prepare you for the real engineering jobs, you may consider some of the British universities programmes available, particularly in the NCR.
What is accreditation?
The process of obtaining accreditation in our country is quite flawed. Unlike what occurs all over the world, our accreditation is largely connected with inputs (that is, infrastructure) rather than the quality of education being imparted. But it is better than nothing. So prefer an accredited programme over one which is not, even if the whole process of accreditation is quite suspect.
On other parameters, you could visit the websites of the various colleges and seek information. But let me warn you quite upfront that most of the information available on the websites is advertising prose, and we are very poor in ensuring truth in advertising. One glaring example is the statistics on placements. Most colleges advertise 100 per cent placements, whereas the placements are not even half of that.
Skills — technical and communication
So how does one choose a college in such a scenario? Let us first talk about what does an engineer do in the industry once he graduates from college? Engineering jobs in the modern industry are essentially of two kinds — one, supervisory, which require planning and execution, and the other involving development of product and processes and improvements in the products. Jobs of the first kind require general awareness, habit of caring about the details, and good communication skills. The jobs of the second kind require deeper technical skills, understanding of engineering principles and the ability to apply them.
Most of our colleges, outside of IITs and a (very) few NITs do not provide adequate preparation for the second kind of jobs. If you look at the league tables of the popular magazines, one thing that immediately stands out is: that the colleges near the top are all the colleges that sell the lifestyle rather than their education: the size and the grandeur of their annual festivals and the coolness coefficient of their campus life. And there is a connection between this and the placement. Companies go to colleges near the top of these tables because students from more affluent families join these colleges, with better awareness and better communication skills. And believe me, most of the industry are looking for people with superior communication skills, general awareness, and good personalities; technical skills be damned.
Branches and disciplines
We next come to the question of choice of discipline, or the branch. Why is this choice so difficult and complicated? The number one reason for the difficulty lies in the fact that most of the kids have no clue of what they want to do with their lives, except perhaps that they want to pursue a degree programme that will lead to a job at an MNC with a nice ‘package’. Much of the discussion amongst youngsters these days is focused around placements and packages. In fact, almost the whole education business today is about placements. Most of the league tables compiled by various publications are heavily biased by placement data (if not by advertising space bought by the college). Candidates look for the colleges with good placement records and seek disciplines which are perceived to be in demand.
Per se there is nothing wrong with placement being a criterion. After all, a youngster is spending money largely in the hope that it will be "earned" back. The common parlance also terms the expenditure by parents on their kids’ education as an investment. But what alarms some of us is the fact that hardly anyone talks about the quality of education being imparted. It is taken for granted that placement is a measure of how well the students are being taught. But believe me, it is not. This is quite sad. A candidate should decide what she/he wants to do with her/his life; work to achieve it, and placement would follow.
Let us first look at the choice of the course. What programme has the most job potential? In my experience I have never seen a good student in any branch of engineering having a problem in getting a job. And if there is any discernible pattern connecting placement to branch, I am afraid it has largely to do with the fact that the harder working students go to more popular branches, and they get jobs earlier than others because they are better prepared. On the other hand, a student near the bottom of a class, whatever be his or her branch, will always have a problem.
So forget about the job potential of a branch go after your heart, and then work hard. I have always advised young persons that if in the college of their choice a course is titled Kite-Flying Engineering, and it fascinates them then go for it, provided you work to graduate near the top. After all, the college will offer that course only if at least some jobs are available in it.
Follow your passion
If you know what you want to do, go ahead. You can not go wrong. Many things decide what you may want to do. A role model in the family, an aptitude for things mechanical, an interest in fixing electronic equipment, a few words of encouragement from your favourite teacher, the hobby that you pursued, all go to develop interest in you. In any case, there is no way of predicting what kind of jobs will be in demand in the year 2017. But be careful that you understand what having an aptitude means. If you love being on the Internet all the time with a 1,000 connects on Facebook, it does not mean that computer science is what you are good at.
But if you do not know what you want to do? Then the answer is simple: choose a college, and select whatever is available in that college for your rank. The Indian economy has opened up in recent years and there are jobs in almost all fields.
— The writer taught at IIT-Kanpur for 34 years. He was the first Director of PEC, Chandigarh, and Vice-Chancellor of Lovely University