KOCHI: The statement by Tony Thomas, CIO of Nissan, that applicants from Kerala engineering colleges were disappointed as they could not crack the test during the recruitment test recently for Nissan Digital Hub in Thiruvananthapuram, has rankled the administration. It feels a quick overhaul of the state's higher education system, including introduction of new curriculum and training for the faculty, is the need of the hour.
Usha Titus, Principal Secretary, Department of Higher Education, has admitted there are components in the curriculum which are not up to date.
"From next year, we are moving into the new curriculum. The AICTE-adopted new curriculum will be used in engineering colleges in Kerala," she told 'Express.'
As reported in the media, Tony Thomas said the colleges in the state still follow decades-old syllabus even as the tech-world has moved into another level. Rubbing salt into the wound, he said applicants from outside the state are better qualified as reflected in the Japanese company's hiring pattern.
Nissan's Digital Hub will hire about 2,500-3,000 people, mostly software engineers. An official at the College of Engineering, Trivandram (CET) said the students, at least the toppers, from the college did not apply at Nissan as the package on offer was at the lower-end of Rs 3.5 lakh per annum.
Robin Alex Panicker, chief product officer at Finotes, and a close observer of the Kerala tech space, pointed out that technology is changing very fast, but our engineering college syllabus and curriculum are stuck in the past.
"Students can easily get through the examinations by studying the question papers of the past
five years. It's no secret. What we need is a flexible syllabus that incorporates the latest developments in the tech world," he said.
Usha Titus said Nissan may have tested the applicants' project analysis, other skills, may be more of mathematics; the fundamentals that go into artificial intelligence, etc. She, however, admitted that a lot needs to be changed, and there is a lot to be done to upgrade and update the engineering college curriculum.
"As part of that, our curriculum will be modified," she said.
Another fresh change the Higher Education Department is planning to introduce is the involvement of industry in the curriculum.
"The industry involvement in the development of course is also very poor in Kerala," said Usha Titus, adding that companies like Tech Mahindra, which set up its facility in Thiruvananthapuram recently, and others have talked about industry involvement during the formation of curriculum.
"Not that they will decide the curriculum, but they will be able to say what aspects can be added to the curriculum to make it more relevant to the industry," she said, adding that in IIT-Madras, a new dual degree programme in engineering design as part of mechanical engineering was started with the involvement of core automobile industry majors such as Ashok Leyland, Mahindra and Ford.
"We need a similar practice here. We need that happening here. Industry involvement is very useful because then they feel the course is very valuable for picking up people for that," said Usha.
Panicker reckoned while bureaucracy and the government want to bring in a change, there is a big resistance and inertia from the part of the university. "Their fear is that if the industry collaboration comes, their importance will go. Hence there is resistance from their side," he said.
Centre for Data Analytics planned at KTU
As part of upgrading the course curriculum in the engineering colleges in the state, the Department of Higher Education is planning to start a Centre for Data Analytics at the Kerala Technology University.
Usha Titus, Principal Secretary, Department of Higher Education, told 'Express' as part of the Additional Skill Acquisition Programme (ASAP), a three-semester course has also been developed based on the inputs from IIT-Madras and IIT-Palakkad for giving students skills in latest technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
On the Centre for Data Analytics, she said it was brought to the board of governors of KTU for in-principle approval.
"But then it was not approved because it was felt we don't have conventional departments, and therefore we need to bring it through the academic council, and this will take time," Titus said.
After the academic council discusses the matter, it will come at the Syndicate, and then at the BoG. "So, it takes time. We are losing time," she said. For the three-semester course, Titus said ASAP has given two rounds of training for the selected set of teachers and finally we conducted a test.
"And based on a cut-off, on a certain percentile, we have selected a few graduates. We will do it over three semesters. It will be through week-end classes; evening classes. It will not be part of the regular courses; you won't get any credits since it is not part of the regular course," she said. The course will be
run in about 23-25 engineering colleges.