Some claim it is only 50 per cent, others say not true, it is 60 per cent. Those who believe in not pulling their punches take it all the way up to 70 per cent. The topic of discussion here is what percentage of 1.5 lakh engineers who graduate from around 3,300 colleges in the country each year are, unemployable and not employable.
Leading the pack of states where engineering education is more a business than a vocation is Andhra Pradesh, with 3.4 lakh seats up for grabs a year, followed by Tamil Nadu with 2.3 lakh seats, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh with about 1.4 lakh seats each. Close on the heels of the mandatory entrance examination, many of these colleges have set the “payment” ball rolling. Says Greeshma, who has cleared Class 12 from Kerala and has been “shortlisted” for counselling by a prominent institute in Chennai, “I was ranked 70,156 in their entrance exams when results came out last week, yet I got a call for ‘counselling’. Later, I found out they were candidates with rank up to one lakh, against 1,000 seats on offer. Evidently, the plan is to find out how much the ‘non-merit’ students are willing to fork out.” This process of marginalising the number of merit seats get played out in many colleges across India, with only limited variations.
Just as the All India Council Technical Education (AICTE) is making some noise about not granting licence to any more engineering colleges, the time seems ripe to pull the shutters on some of the hugely under-populated colleges, where despite the vacancies, the percentage of merit admissions rarely cross the one-fourth threshold. The country has already started bearing the brunt of such open discrimination for the sake of keeping the RoI (return on investment) factor at the forefront of running professional educational institutions.
Sift the mediocre student pool that passes out but do not measure up to the standards set by hiring companies and the number of engineers worthy of hiring would fall by an alarming one lakh. In other words, India’s contribution to the world inventory would be more like 50,000 employable engineers per annum. Not an insignificant number seen along with the subtext of what other countries churn out, barring perhaps China and Mexico.
Even as most developed nations struggle to groom enough engineers to keep pace with their industrial requirements, India is going great guns as far the numbers game goes. Unfortunately, instead of showcasing itself as a resource pool for engineers the world over, India is frittering away the opportunity, by allowing the profiteers to make a killing in the name of liberating technical education.
Clearly, no attempt to solve this Indian puzzle can be complete without trying to get into the mindset of the students. “Many of us wrote the entrance exams because that seemed to be the least that was expected of us, once we finished schooling. These exams can easily be cleared by rote learning. You have coaching institutes that train you how to crack the exams. In the case of a majority of students, even that is not required as the seats can be bought. Either way, the student joins the four-year course, fully convinced that he is engineer material. And that is where the lie begins,” says Aarjay, an engineering student in Maharashtra who went through the motions for four long years and to his credit averaged 60 per cent before mustering enough courage to tell his parents he wanted to try his hand as a copywriter with an advertising agency.
On the flip side, students who even figure in the top 2000 in exams such as AIEEE seem unable to get through the engineering course easily, reinforcing the fact that entrance exams have little to do with one’s aptitude for engineering. With the number of management seats on the rise, students seem incapable of comprehending even basic mathematics. Result: they either leave midway or complete their course in such a truncated manner that the four-year course stretches out into a couple of more years.
Coming to course content, very few subjects require the students to think logically as most of the answers written during exams can easily be mugged up. At the end of the day, very few students actually make an effort to understand what they’re expected to learn, yet manage to score well at exam time. Little wonder then if a good number of these engineers more often than not draw a blank when facing a team of experts during a campus interview, adding themselves to the pool of unemployable engineers that keeps swelling by the year.
The reality in India is that hardly any engineers actually find any use for what they studied in their four years in college. Instead, they get on-job training for a year or so and that becomes their job profile. The end result: it matters little whether you train as a mechanical or civil engineer as the chances are that most of them will get placed in software firms. “Financial firms show no discrimination whether they are hiring engineers or commerce graduates. We could’ve as well got a B.Com degree for that job that required us to make sales pitch and attract investments,” says Rohan, an engineering student in Tamil Nadu who isn’t convinced that he can land a job in the stream that he has got trained in—mechanical engineering. Looking at the plight of trained engineers who land up as bank clerks he isn’t sure any more.
To get to the crux of the problem, one needs to look closely at the pool of students who take up engineering without any kind of aptitude or basic skills. Add to that the bane of substandard teaching skill sets within the campuses which are often offset by guest lecturers who have no real stake in the quality upgrade of students in the institutions they visit and the picture gets even murkier.
In the past, there was no way an engineering student could be seen going for private tuitions. That is not the case any more as students are increasingly being forced to take up private tuitions by desperate parents who get spooked by the back papers that their wards manage to pile up each year. While there could soon be a case for close scrutiny by the state agencies of colleges where pass percentages keep dipping each year, those colleges where large number of students under-perform could send out a message that their interest transcends profit by starting remedial classes for the low-graders.
At stake here is the way world looks at us as much as the country hopes to shape its industrial future. A start could be made by re-engineering the engineering degree through a much required course correction.
The writer is resident editor, The New Indian Express, Kerala.