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Posted at: Jul 20, 2015, 2:04 AM; last updated: Jul 20, 2015, 1:20 AM (IST)STATE OF TECHNICAL EDUCATION -- I

Engg colleges need social engineering

Vandana Shukla

Chandigarh, July 19

That the colleges imparting technical education in the region are rated as mere degree providers is a sad reality. Investment on infrastructure — in terms of building and facilities — has replaced investment on enrichment of skilled human resource. The once celebrated exponential expansion of these institutions - I K Gujral Punjab Technical University (PTU) alone has 104 affiliated engineering colleges -- now awaits students to fill almost 50 per cent seats lying vacant. What went wrong with the ambitious plans of turning the region into a hub of technical education? 

North versus south

It's important to look at the engineering college of south India, from where the success stories travelled up north.

Also, the socio-cultural aspects cannot be ignored to assess what went wrong with the financial aspects and the policy related issues of technical education in the region. 

When Punjab was enjoying fruits of Green Revolution, down south, engineering colleges were building world class infrastructure; new colleges were set up and the old ones were upgraded.. The region had one of the oldest and highly reputed institutions of technical education like College of Engineering Guindy (est.1794) affiliated to Anna University in 1978, Alagappa College of Technology (1944) and the now famous Manipal University, which was established in 1957, with 

an enviable faculty line. Education in engineering grew organically.

Due to a strong reservation policy that began in the southern states under Periyar's Self Respect Movement in the 1920s, long before north India had heard of Mandal commission, forced the colleges to implement reservation quota in 70 per cent of the available seats. In the 50s and 60s, therefore, institutions like BITS, Pilani had almost 90 per cent enrolment of high caste students from the south. Those who could not get seats in the colleges of the south, rushed to the north. 

Faced with a reservation policy that could have impaired their reputation, with time and experience the engineering colleges in the south evolved a healthy formula of providing mentorship, by also keeping the institutions financially sound. They select students from IITJEE ranking as also for the management seats, for which students pay a fat fee.

An engineered afterthought

Keeping a strong vigil on quality became their strength, says Satya Narayanan, chairman, Career Launcher, which was not the case in the colleges of the north. Then came the threat of a century — Y2K — which forced companies to hire anyone who could spell 'T' of technology on fat salary for jobs in 120 countries. The dotcom bubble went bust around the approach of the new century, this was the time when most private technical institutions were opening shop in the north. 

It is therefore, no surprise that the IT revolution — with names like Wipro and Infosys — happened in Banglore, and not in Delhi or Mumbai. The preparation was on for long, with great emphasis on new experiments in these colleges.

Engineering colleges of the north did not have the beginner's advantage, they had to compete with the mighty reputation of institutions like VIT University, Vellore, where over 10,000 students are drawn from over 50 countries, and the programmes are accredited by not only the Institute of Engineers in India, but also by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, US. 

In Punjab, Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College, the first in the region, was established in Ludhiana, in September 1956. Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology opened in October 1956 at Patiala, the college provided close interaction with industry and a strong emphasis on research.

Today, if we look at the top 25 private engineering colleges of India, of these 21 are in the south. The two colleges from the north that appear in the list are older institutions. 

From scratch

The standard of school education in mathematics and other core subjects, which makes the foundation for higher education, remains weak in most schools-private and government--across north. Emphasis to develop skill rather than pedantic knowledge has been talked about for decades, but at policy level, little has changed. "The general seriousness of students in the north leaves a lot to be desired," says Dr Vijay Gupta, VC, Sharda University, an alumnus of IIT, Delhi and University of Minnesota, who headed several technical colleges and universities in the north, including PEC University of Technology, Chandigarh. 

Technicality of education

The Department of Technical Education and Industrial Training was created in 1977 in Punjab, almost the same pattern is followed in other states. In Technical Education Wing of the Department of Technical Education, all the work is guided by the norms, guidelines and regulations of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). A lot went wrong with the regulatory body AICTE. From the 12,000 technical colleges under its wing, it was at the receiving end of petitions filed against its jurisdiction and its role as a regulator. In April 2013, the apex court ruled that the council does not have the authority to control or regulate professional colleges that are affiliated to universities. 

UGC produced a draft regulation document to put in place guidelines to regulate more than 12,000 technical colleges in India. The confusion caused by the regulatory body and its jurisdiction affected the newly established institutions more, which were facing competition from the south and were looking for an easy way to establish their credibility. 

Survey — not required

Apart from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh too became a new destination for setting up new institutes over the past few decades. IT was the new buzz word and computer science, the new passport to lend a plum job. The entire edifice of education was based on getting a job rather than encouraging acumen for technical education; the colleges were raising a building without laying a foundation. 

Then, there is no mandate to conduct a survey for the knowledge required by the industry involved before starting a course, even in sophisticated technologies, says S S Mantha, former chairperson AICTE. "It is necessary to map the industry job requirements and estimate the number of engineering graduates required and the specialisations in which they are required. However it would be travesty of justice to infer that the number of graduates would be restricted based on the available jobs. Rather massive job creation must be undertaken," adds Mantha. 

Currently one million engineering students graduate in India and going by a study done by McKensy, only one-third of these are employable.

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