Engineering Colleges in Tamil Nadu – where are we heading to?
This happened four years ago. I was walking on the corridor of an engineering college after having delivered a lecture on the topic ‘the joy of being an entrepreneur’ to the final year students. A student came running towards me and asked whether he could have a word with me. In a disturbed voice he said “Sir you could have given this advice when I was in school. I would not have wasted my time and money for the last three years. Concerned by what he said, I comforted him and told that it would be appropriate for him to venture into entrepreneurship after completing engineering degree. He was in tears and said “sir it is not easily possible, I have fourteen arrears to write along with eighth semester papers; moreover the course doesn’t interest me at all” he said. Shocked at his reply, I muttered, “You could have avoided joining this course”. Wiping his tears he said that though he was very keen to do literature course, he was forced to join engineering course on the insistence of his mother, a widow, who had pledged her small landed property for her son’s admission and semester fees. His mother was having a fervent hope that one day her son like thousands of other engineering graduates will join an IT organisation for a fat salary. Like this poor mother, hundreds and thousands of parents carry a far-fetched dream.
Since the last four years, situation has not changed for any better; in fact it has worsened. Even people who have successfully graduated are clueless about their future. Of the students who complete their engineering degree program successfully, just less than ten percent are employed through campus interviews and get call-letters; 5-7% of them join postgraduate courses. Pity those who receive call-letters and waiting to be called for joining; and those called into join are kept in bench. The entry salary in most organizations is as low as Rs.20, 000/- per month. At the BPO organisations, the situation is pathetic, as the entry level salary is as low as Rs.7000/- per month. Every year, at least a lakh of engineering graduates go out without suitable jobs. The number of engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu has gone up several folds (close to 540) and the colleges are busy in mass production and churning out engineers year after year. We are almost glaring at a situation very similar to that of what we saw at the beginning of the last century, when goods were produced in large numbers and had no market for them. Eventually that had lead to World War. Before something like that happens to culminate into a civil war, it is high time we woke up and rectified the situation.
The engineering colleges which have been built with huge infrastructure in every nook and corner of the state over the years have increasingly proved to be a liability. Many colleges are not able to fill up their quota of seats. Last year, nearly a lakh seats went vacant and unfilled.
Another disturbing issue is the quality of teachers; getting an experienced and trained faculty is a daunting task. In many institutions either the post-graduate students or past employees of industries (who never had any teaching experience) handle classes. Undoubtedly, the quality of education is impaired.
Less than ten percentage of the colleges in the State are able to successfully complete admissions for all seats and exhort money from parents as capitation fee. The USP for such colleges is ‘maximum number of pass percentage and guaranteed placement’. Fancy advertisements in newspapers giving statistics of the number of students recruited at the campus interview, is a popular way to attract parents. Like the gold rush in California from the years 1848 to 1858, parents throng these colleges to get their wards admitted. The first and foremost objective of the management is to get their students to successfully pass their exams without arrears. For this the students are required (or compelled) to focus only on their studies and are not encouraged to have co-curricular or scholastic activities. For the student, college is nothing but a mere extension of his /her school life. The faculty members are responsible to ensure that their class students clear the exams without arrears. Whether the students understand concepts or acquire practical knowledge is immaterial, for their only goal is to clear all papers. In a way the students are genetically modified to score marks.
Out of these successful graduates only few are employable. National Employ ability Report (NER) says that only ten percent of the engineering graduates in Tamil Nadu are employable. Another shocking information is that in the IT sector all the top notch jobs goes to students from north Indian states like, Delhi, UP and so on. Only the menial jobs in the sector come to the graduates of Tamil Nadu. This is primarily because of their poor employ-ability.
Once I asked the principal of an engineering college as to what triggers a student to choose a particular branch of study. He said that it all depends on the first student who joins their college with the highest percentage of marks in his plus two exams. If he chooses civil engineering, the news is carried in the Tamil newspaper and that is enough for very many students to select civil engineering as their branch. Unfortunately, we have no mechanism to guide students to select the branch of engineering – neither on the industry demand nor on projections of industries. Only few students select branches based on their interest. There is nobody at any level to guide them properly. We have no idea of how many engineers we require every year and what are the opportunities available to them when they go out into the world. Unless we do a serious introspection on this line we would have clones of engineers everywhere to do every other job in the society; let us not forget the fact that there are close to four hundred polytechnics in Tamil Nadu which churn out nearly one and half lakh students every year in different disciplines. If the graduate engineers grab the diploma holders’ jobs, what would happen to the diploma students?
Another critical aspect is the top recruiting companies, now eyeing on the arts and science colleges for their recruitment as they are impressed with the low attrition level with such students. The bomb has already started ticking for the engineering colleges. Now it is time for us to act.
Recently the Central Government for the first time appointed a Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Similarly Government of Tamil Nadu should constitute a separate ministry.
A detailed study should be made to ascertain the intake requirements in every industry on annual basis.
The critical part is the graduates from the state completely lack any skills. Since the universities and college focus only on syllabus it is time they look beyond and develop the technical skills, soft skills, company orientation and process-specific domain skills for the students. The universities and academicians alone cannot do this. The industries have to play a vital role. The academic institutions have to closely work with the industries and prepared to make changes in the curriculum depending upon the requirement. Outdated syllabuses are one of the primary reasons for the poor employ-ability. In the changing scenario, the employers no longer look at what the student knows, instead the focus at what he/she can do with that knowledge. Universities and colleges should understand this paradigm shift and should try and change to the new environment. One simple solution is to offer sandwich courses to help students to develop practical skills.
International Labour organisation’s (ILO) strategy for promoting full, productive and freely chosen employment include the following key outcomes:
1. coordinated and coherent policies to generate inclusive job-rich growth
2. skills development policies to increase the employ-ability of workers, the competitiveness of enterprises and the inclusiveness of growth
3. policies and programmes to promote sustainable enterprises and entrepreneurship
Undoubtedly in the last ten years the IT industry like a sponge absorbed 70-75% of the engineers. The global slowdown coupled with increased pressure by the customers to reduce cost has brought enormous pressure on the IT industry to slowdown their recruitment process and explore new ways for cost cutting. The situation is no better in the manufacturing sector.
It is time the government focuses and develops micro-entrepreneurship. We have seen the larger manufacturing industries have not helped to generate sufficient employment opportunities. The MSME sector provides substantial employment opportunities in the country with nearly 20 percent of the employment are offered by them. The industry is growing at nearly nine percent.
It should be largely rural based. The migration of people from the rural to the urban has to be arrested. The support
systems in the rural areas have to be strengthened. Also, the infrastructure development should be developed at the fast phase. A person in the far end of the state living in a rural area should have adequate transport facilities to reach major towns at a greater speed. Like China, high speed rail networks have to be built for easy mobility. A person from the farthest place can go to work in a major town in the morning and back in the evening. It is economically cheaper for a person to lead his life in villages rather than in the cities. Similarly, the goods manufactured in the villages would be far cheaper than one in cities. In addition to this, the congestion in the cities would reduce and the population would spread evenly.
Career guidance and counseling should be made mandatory at the school level to help students to know various options available in their life. Proper psychometric tests have to be conducted for the students to ascertain their core interest and accordingly they should be guided to choose their discipline.
Government needs to be proactive and choose the right type of Industries for foreign investment that would trigger the growth of ancillary units and substantially generate employment.
Do you suggest strengthening ITI and diploma level courses? Are there jobs for those levels?
Sir, my apprehension is that the engineering graduates eat up the jobs of diploma engineers and ITI holders. The engineers too are not happy about it as they are over-qualified for such jobs. This would result in frustration and increase the crime rate in the society.
Can you comment on the economics of colleges? Are colleges making even?
We do not have any clear data on this. Some newly started colleges in the last five years are certainly bleeding. But no one tells us the figures.
Many colleges are run by politicians, former and current ministers. We know where have this money come from. They will convert these buildings into various forms depending upon the local requirement. None of them will go bankrupt, because the society for the last one decade has royally been looted.