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No Compromises on Engineering Education Standards - Dr. Chukka Ramaiah

Interview Date : 12-09-2012

What is the place of engineering education in today’s educational spectrum? What is its purpose?

The purpose of engineering education is to transform the raw natural resources into end products that benefit the mankind. Technology and engineering are indispensable for such transformation. The one who effects such a change is called an engineer. And that’s the reason why engineering education has been in prominence from the start of civilisation. The 20th Century discoveries and inventions in Science have touched every facet of human living - Education, Communication, Agriculture, Medicine and even Warfare. By the 21st century, human needs have grown substantially and at the same time natural resources have started depleting very fast. Globalisation resulted in the flow of capital as well as technology across borders. The
engineer therefore needs to leverage the latest technological advancements, to devise products and solutions for the larger good of mankind without compromising on environmental balance. That is the aim and agenda for the engineers.

You have given lofty ideals that should drive the engineering education. But do you think the present day engineers have such understanding and capacity? Moreover, there seems to be a clamouring for courses like Computer Science, IT, Electronics and Communication. How do you see such a trend?

There are two divisions in the engineering education, Manufacturing and Services.  Countries like China are giving importance to Manufacturing. Such countries require engineers from basic engineering disciplines like Mechanical, Civil, and Electrical etc. On the other hand, the Service sector accrues huge profits to the Owner and salaries to a few employees that work in it. As the wealth generated is concentrated among a few people, the growth of Service sector gives rise to Capitalism and Centralisation.

It also gives the false impression of economic prosperity.But in reality a wide gulf is created in the incomes of people. This leads to the discontent among majority of the masses and thus creates social unrest. That’s what has been happening in India.

What measures, according to you, should the government take to arrest such unrest?

Nations with huge populations, like India, inevitably have to go for the Manufacturing sector. Learning from China’s experiences, we must encourage basic engineering courses among our youth. The Service sector is witnessing rapid changes and cut-throat competition. If the standards in India are not improved in tune with the requirements, the country’s youth may not withstand the Global competition.
Out of lakhs of engineering students coming out every year less than 20 per cent are employable. This scenario will only accentuate the already grim unemployment levels. Of the 3500 colleges across the country more than 700 are in our State. Like you mentioned, complying with standards is very important.

But it is a well known fact that most of these 700 odd colleges do not conform to the prescribed standards. What went wrong?

The demand for engineering courses had increased. The government should have opened colleges on its own to satisfy such demand. But we took private route. Lack of Planning on the part of Central government, excessive interference of the bureaucracy and the aspiration of students to pursue engineering courses resulted in mushrooming of engineering colleges.

In our country, more than 60 percent eke a livelihood out of Agriculture sector. In the last 20 years Agriculture has become a loss-making entity. There’s a large-scale migration from Agriculture sector to other sectors. At the same time service sector has been offering hefty pay purses. Naturally, demand for Service sector courses increased.

The AICTE gave ‘no objection certificates’ indiscriminately without verifying who was opening colleges and with what motives. The State government had no say in this regard. That’s the first mistake. For a private college owner education became a business. Predictably, he will try to derive as much as he can by way of profits. In this regard college managements wanted to cut the labour cost – in this case academic labour i.e. teaching staff – and employed under-qualified people.

They flouted the norms with regard to student, teaching staff ratio. The universities should have verified if qualified staff is available for such a large number of colleges. They failed to do so and gave affiliations to every college that approached for the fee they get out of it. That’s the second mistake. Making the shortage of qualified persons as an excuse, engineering colleges have appointed fresh graduates as teaching staff. This diluted the quality of engineering graduates.

But the industry looks for qualified and readily employable graduates. They take only such candidates who fulfill the job requirements. This created unemployment among engineers. This had a trickling effect on other sectors. Today we see, engineers seeking employment as school teachers, bus conductors etc.

Is this sad scenario peculiar only to our State? What about the other States?

North India still gives some importance to Manufacturing sector. The feverishness of becoming rich overnight is seen more in South than in the North. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka too have many engineering colleges but they have addressed the supply side issues of the sector satisfactorily.

Students prefer joining the colleges in these States. Private engineering colleges cried foul of this ‘drain of wealth’ to other States without realising the root problem. They demanded more number of colleges to arrest the trend! The government obliged the demand.

Though the government has established Institutions for monitoring the standards in the colleges, they were very weak and not equal to the task.

This year’s admissions to engineering colleges are mired in controversies and chaos. Where do you think the fault lies?

The government is trying to confuse people by mixing two separate issues. Fee reimbursement and engineering education are two different issues. It’s wrong to intertwine them. The State government never put in place required machinery to monitor the standards in engineering colleges. Now the government is trying to link fee reimbursement with the standards. The government’s monitoring on fee increase and reimbursement should have been a continuous process. But it woke up late!

There is a graded social and economic inequality in our country. That’s why fee reimbursement scheme must be continued. Over the years, awareness was created among Dalits and BCs that the abject poverty they suffer can be mitigated through education. Now, it is the responsibility of the government to fulfill these aspirations.

Government assisting the poor and downtrodden in pursuing higher education is a global phenomenon. Likewise, it’s implemented in India. But the government ignored the standards in the colleges.

When the colleges demanded fee hike only the government questioned the quality and efficiency of the pass-outs. A sort of tit-for-tat! Private engineering colleges see fee reimbursement scheme as the succor for their survival. It is seen as ‘engineering colleges survival guarantee scheme!’
But the two are not linked. Fee reimbursement is aimed at improving the living standards of the poor and disadvantaged and should be seen as such. I welcome the Ordnances that the government had issued. They must be used to ensure standards in the colleges and not for blackmailing them to agree for a lesser fee.

You have been imparting coaching for IIT JEE for the last 30 years. What should be the course of action if the standards of IITs are to be replicated across the country?

I am not going into the debate of whether IITs have standards or not. But the objective of any such institute should be creating ‘employable’ candidates. Industry is least bothered about social justice. It only wants quality employees to conduct the business. So the onus of making the students ‘job-ready’ lies on government.

Standards don’t mean just teaching staff. The colleges should have Library and Hostels nearby for availing the Library facility.  Respective industries must be involved in the management of the colleges.

Placement is not limited to the recruitment done after completion of the course. It is an ever-going participation of the industry right from the preparation of curricula till the absorption of the students into their fold.

Engineering counselling is currently going on. What advice will you give the students, parents and college managements?

There’s a difference between school and college education. The college student has to play a much bigger role. There’s more  selfstudy. Today businesses want the student to understand the problem, devise solutions and satisfy the client. The owner lies invisible most of the time. So the students need to improve their creative thinking.

For that they should go beyond the academic books. The parents should first assess the passion of the child. They must not measure the success in terms of marks and results. Instead, they should encourage their wards to pursue the knowledge. Parents should not think that their role is limited to paying the fee for a course.

They must verify the standards and quality of the institution. The engineering colleges should be trustees but not businessmen. There can only be donors in education not the owners. College managements must remember that theirs is a sacred duty in  nationbuilding.