Indian Engineering Education – a Critical Look

After 10+2, Engineering stream is considered to be a lucrative choice for most of the Indians. This is mainly due to the prospect of software jobs in India. However, getting admission in the top institutions is a dream for many with a tough competition between coaching classes, students and parents. More than the students, sometimes the parents get more concerned and tensed. It will not be inappropriate to mention here that there are only a few institutes in India which can provide competitive and qualitative engineering studies. With the increase in population, the demand for such colleges has also increased in an alarming way.  One will not disagree to the fact that we need more number of colleges which have basic infrastructure and a strong faculty. This big concern for many became an opportunity for some to open private colleges. Though new colleges are supposed to cater to the demand of Engineering education in India, it became a distant reality in practice.

Private colleges are mushrooming in every part of India. This makes the admission process better and easy but sometimes complicated.  Though there are caps to the capitation fee (which is paid for the admission through management ) in the private colleges, there are open deals under and above the table. Some say, the capitation fees decided by the government is just the minimum fee; pay more and get an admission to a department of your choice, irrespective of your 10+2 percentages or score in the JEE tests. Taking admission through management quota is as usual a big loop-hole in the entire game. Many a times, colleges allow admissions hoping that a few will leave after a month or so, leading to another admission through management quota to fill the vacant seats. There are few cases in which the students are also involved in this kind of scam; they too get a pie from the capitation fee while leaving the college.

So far we have been discussing the admission process. Let us now move towards the advertisements/claims each and every college makes during admission process, campus interviews and JEE tests. Though their list contains many such points, let us look at some of the usual ones.

(i) Excellent facilities available

In a majority cases, the colleges do not have minimally-equipped laboratories and a central computer network. There are even colleges offering Electrical Engineering degree without permanent electricity supply and Computer Science department without a single computer therein. Yes, they do have laptops :), but only to see movies and play games.

(ii) Excellent faculty (from IITs/IISc and abroad) strength

More than 90% colleges do not have a PhD in the faculty and one would not be surprised to find only fresh BTechs as faculties taking higher semester classes. It does not stop here, most join as faculties when they do not find a job of their choice; a very few join with a passion for teaching. There are ample instances where one will find a list of visiting faculties only (no regular faculty !!). Another interesting point worth mentioning here is the list of faculties submitted to AICTE/UGC during academic audits. Many of the names submitted are fictitious, they do not even exist in this world. In some cases, names are shared between more than one department and even more than one college. Do not think that the officials (AICTE/UGC) do not have an idea about this. Yes, they do have this information and mostly it is bargained for some good amount of money or kind; some get very good posts in these colleges/universities as Chancellors, Pro-Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors, Registrars, Pro-Vice Chancellors etc. after their retirement, and some even get honorary posts such as advisors, board members, directors etc. including honorary PhDs from these institutes.

(iii) Excellent R&D activities

Except a very few private colleges, others hardly do research work. However, many private colleges mention that they provide world class R&D facilities/activities on their campus. And about publications…  forget about students, even most of the faculties do not know how to write a paper. That is not their fault though; most of them have not gone through the rigorous process of paper writing and even have not attended a single conference of repute. In addition, their academic background also matters a lot. A majority of  them do not even do a post-graduation. What do we expect then? The faculties need to be taught first and then the students. Another interesting point is that of the quality of undergraduate/post-graduate thesis work. In many organizations these do not even qualify for submission/acceptance. However, most of them get excellent grades and the rest get good grades in their colleges. At least 60% students simply copy from Internet (some time entire report and some time in parts) and submit as their own thesis. There are instances even, students buy projects at a cost anything between Rs 8,000/- to Rs 20,000/- depending upon the complexity of project. It turns out to be a very good business for some people.

And surprisingly those thesis are accepted without being cross-checked. If someone does evaluation, then students argue unnecessarily (as they have paid capitation fees and hence are customers of the college/organization) and others criticize. Copy (ctrl + c) and Paste (ctrl + v) goes well with the faculties as well as the students in paper writing, thesis and in internal reports. On a positive note, yes… there are a very few good thesis and research work in some of these colleges. But that percentage is very low, most of the time it is even less that 10%.

(iv) 100% campus placement

This is a very tricky area, one has to go into the deeper root of the system to know the facts; many companies that come for placement  select and dump the selected employees after a 3/6 months training session. Reason – very low performance. But the truth in some (guess what is the percentage of this “some” !!!) cases is that these companies get a sizable amount of money from the parent college per student during selection. And they pay this salary from that money only. In fact, these students pay a considerable amount (sometimes even Rs 200k/-) for sitting in the campus interviews and colleges make a descent profit out of these. Both the colleges and the companies make win-win pacts with the students’ money and future at stake. Again, on a positive note, yes… there are some good and genuine placements happening in some private colleges; but mostly confined to software industry.

Having said all the above, let us now analyze the situation and attitude of students into such colleges. It will be incomplete and in-appropriate otherwise.

One would not be surprised to know that hardly any student comes to class/laboratories in their final semesters; be in 7th or 8th Semester. There are instances where students are allowed to pass (with good grades) even without attending a single lecture in any of the subjects in the semester. The reason is “Mass Bunk” – they have strong unity for it ; no one is allowed to attend the lecture. Those who get job (through campus placement or  other channel) sometimes do not attend; their reason – ‘how is this course going to help in our job ?’. Those who do not get job also do not attend lectures; their reason – ‘we are very busy in finding a job’. But if one verifies (either by going to their hostels/mess or by checkingir their day-to-day activities) irrespective of whether or not one gets a job, the attitude is not to attend lectures/labs; it is usually rather ‘enjoy — movies, treats, parties and datings’. Neither their parents  nor the authority in the college bother to know about these. Sometimes a few students come to class – out of courtesy, or by getting bored in hostels and home i.e. to time pass… not to study. These are just some of the general observations irrespective of the college type. It will not be 100% correct to blame only the students for this. Faculties, college management as well as the society at large are more or less responsible for this sorry state. Some faculties enjoy – no work and pay; some get frustrated… and find alternatives. A very few raise this issue with the management. Management usually keep their eyes closed… because in most of the cases, they do not have quality faculty or do not intend to hire better ones. For others, the organization is only a profit-making account.

With all the above developments in the education sector, especially in the Engineering stream where mostly we have below-standard academic ethics and rigor, how do we expect the country to grow in technology, research, infrastructure development and academics ? How can we compete at the global level ? Remember, software is not the only area where development is required for a country like India. It needs all round growth and development. Moreover, the craze of software jobs and mushrooming private engineering colleges have quite discouraged or stopped students from taking admissions into B.Sc., B.A. or B.Com. degrees. In many old colleges/Universities, seats are lying vacant for these courses. This is definitely an alarming issue to be dealt with. But how and who will initiate – you/ me/ Govt/or the Supreme Court ? We need educated, skilled and committed people in every field – be it in engineering or literature or medicine or  business or production.

Aamjunta – please think over it seriously and do share your thoughts/solutions (methods), if you have any. Do not hesitate to take some action if appropriate at your level. As a faculty or as a student or as a management trustee or as a government official or as a journalist – every one has to support for this cause and then only we can hope for the best, qualitatively and quantitatively. Keep it in mind that our job does not get over by sending our wards to these colleges or by opening new colleges or by taking a lecture or by recruiting young engineers for our companies. It is just the beginning; a beginning for a future – no one knows what exactly lies there but at least we can attempt for a better and firmer one. There is bubbling potentiality in our men and youth. But to build a strong and self-reliant India, we all need to seek genuine ways out and work with integrity.

Jai Hind!

Note: For the benefit/reference of interested readers, this article is a sequel to the following other articles published by aamjunta on the theme “Indian Education System“.

1. Qualitative Expansion of Indian Education System – Need for a Strong and Better India

2. From Single-Seater to Multi-Seater: Vision of Higher Education

3.A Roadmap for the Future of Research in IIT Bombay

Right People at Wrong Places?

It was quarter to midnight. We had our dinner in Pizza Hut, Hiranandani Gardens, Powai.

I felt both yummy and greedy when Ketan floated the idea about trying some new flavours at Naturals Ice Cream Parlour. And so, both of us decided to go for it, even though we had quite a lot of work in the lab.

The parlour was just a 10 minutes walk. We had just crossed the Galeria building, when suddenly, a lady’s voice called Ketan’s name from somewhere behind:

Ketu… hai… Ketu….

When we turned our heads towards the direction of the sound, we could see a group of young guys and gals discussing with each other, and one of them, a short, lanky, girl with a big nose pin, dressed in a pair of shorts and tees came out…

Shy as he is by nature, Ketan could not understand how to react…. Moreover, my presence made him slightly uncomfortable. Before he could say anything, she had already started talking and had extended her hand for a warm handshake. I could guess, that Ketan wanted to avoid, and make that meeting a quick affair, but could not. Instead, gave his mobile number, and promised her a treat some other day 🙂 It took some 15 minutes for him to convince her that he was busy today and finally to say “good night” to her. We had to rush, as it was past midnight. Unfortunately, could not get ice cream as the shop was closed by that time.

By the time, I could observe that and Ketan was still in that mid-night (shock) meeting. I casually inquired…

What happens boss? What is the matter… ?

“Nothing, it is just paining”

“What? What is paining?”

“My palm is paining… Mala scratched my palm with her long nails… could not say any thing to her..” 😦 🙂

Oh! that is interesting” — I just made this comment with a smile…

I could see that Ketan was feeling bit restless, but I could not figure out whether his restlessness was because of his meeting this girl at a wrong time and wrong place? or because of the scratching and the pain 🙂

It did not take much time to figure out … “it was his meeting her at a wrong place, at a wrong time and in my presence”, which was the cause of his restlessness. Afterwards, he made several stories, and has been clarifying since … that “she is just a school mate of mine, had never spoken to her before, just a friend… blah blah…”; trying to convince me and lab mates… 🙂

This is not only the story of Ketan… In my last 7 years of campus life, I have witnessed at least some hundred different incidents.

Interestingly, most of them were at night, between 12.30 am to 4.30 am. I could remember meeting Boni with his “friend” at about 4.20 am on a rainy night (morning?) while going to the station to get the early morning local train to Khopoli. Both of them were standing, under a tree in the main road, completely drenched in the rain… I was in a hurry, just said “Hi” and went on my way. Poor Boni called me at least some 4 times on that day… with different reasons… just to know, what was my reaction…!!

Another such incident happened, while I was returning to my room from lab at about 2.30 am. I saw Nutan going towards lake side at that time of the night with her new friend. I was in half sleep, was about to rummage my cycle into them. I thought it was my mistake and was about to say sorry, but they just vanished in no time.

Next day, Nutan called a friend of mine and invited her for a dinner treat at Laxmi. Though my friend could not understand the reason of her sudden invitation, she could smell some thing fussy during the dinner. Nutan inquired many things about me from my friend, and finally asked, “did aamjunta say anything to you?” It was just a bouncer for my friend. Realizing that my friend does not know any thing about the last night’s incident, Nutan changed the topic in no time.

On a different note, I could remember when Suryapratap narrated the story of Nidhi and Mohan. Both of them were in their initial days of love, used to go for dinners, movies, malls; but when some of our friends saw them or spotted them, they used to behave as if they are just strangers…

Once during my graduation days, I was on a vacation with my family to Koraput (Odisha). While getting down from the bus at a hill station near Koraput, I saw Radha and Sid waiting there for a Bus. Before I could go closer and say a “hi” to them, they just vanished from the place, reason… they had bunked classes and had come to this place without any one’s knowledge. Embarrassing for me, because they did not acknowledge, and my parents were asking…“is there any thing wrong between you and Sid?” Why did he leave without saying a Hi to you? Embarrassing for Sid as well… for obvious reasons.. I had no other way out but to convince my parents, that he was not Sid, but some one else….

That happens 🙂

People behave interestingly when they meet some one at a wrong time and wrong place. Moreover, our cultural and societal restraints make us slightly conscious when we are in the initial days of “dating” — though I still do not understand the full-implications of the term. 🙂

Being discreet about relationships is common — me, you, the politicians, celebrities, and the aamjunta. The answering patterns are common… “we are just friends”, “it was a courtesy visit”, “we are family friends”, etc., etc. Celebrities use these tactics very coolly for the camera and paparazzi and so does the aamjunta. But, paparazzi exists in all societies and these statements are sometimes forgiveable because after all there is something called : “privacy” ! 🙂

Aamjunta, have you experienced any thing of this kind?

Disclaimer: All names used in this post are fictionalized. However, the incidents described are inspired from real-life stories.

From Single-Seater to Multi-Seater: Vision of Higher Education

“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.”

Joel Barker

In order to decide the future course of a huge country like India, “right” vision at every level is required. Without right vision, it is not only difficult, but also impossible to cater the need of the nation. The purpose of this article is to emphasize the fact that unless a nation (especially people who are in charge of planning or decisions making) has a vision or insight into the kind of decisions that can affect its long term goals and realizes the problems that can crop up with one mis-step, many generations can suffer in the long run.

In the recent past, the Government of India has increased the number of seats in all institutes of  higher education including IITs and IIMs to accommodate the new OBC quota. There have been debates and counter-debates on the issue of quota. It also  met protests ranging from the aamjunta’s court to the supreme court.  But, it was a political decision which had to be accepted. These kind of decisions are irrevocable in nature and need to be accepted as “facts” of our society. But, the idea of increasing  the number of seats to meet the quota and the inclusion of quota itself have serious repercussions. The massive inflow of students resulted because of which it became a practical issue and a challenge for all IITs in 2008-09 . IIT administrations buckled up and started increasing the number of seats. However, unfortunately no decision making bodies ever bothered to examine the repercussions of the increase in the number of  seats. The question of infrastructure, faculties, quality, availability, environment, etc., seemed to be not even taken into account. The seriousness and hurriedness that was shown in implementing the quotas in all IITs and IIMs was at least not seen in creating the right infrastructure to accommodate that quota.There were mere announcements as to such and such number of seats have been increased in IITs, IIMs etc., but no steps were taken to create and to provide the right ambience to sustain the quality while increasing the quantity of students.  Interestingly, quota came first, then the increase of seats to counter and then the question of infrastructure and quality; shows the depth of their vision. Committees were formed as a reactive measure, not as a proactive measureOne has to realize that vision is proactive, not reactive.

If increasing the number of seats along with quota is the vision, then some one has to suffer. Who suffers in the end? The students! Existing students in all the premier institutions are now being forced to share accommodations, change hostels, etc, etc. Even in the final year of your  BTech or MTech it is not certain whether you will get a single-seater or  a multi- seater room in your hostel. New students who might be joining in the coming semesters will even be in a worse position; (a) they will obviously have to compromise with the existing infrastructure of the new institutions and might be at the receiving end since preferences will be made mostly on seniority basis, and (b) they will have to cope up with the demands of academics while still groping for the basic minimum facilities. Neither parents nor students nor authorities realize this until they really experience that how frustrating this can be. Just an increase in the number of seats does not solve the problem of quota in higher education.

Forget the undergraduate programs, the PhDs are also sharing accommodation. Research is supposed to be the most crucial and sensitive activity, which if we take the given parameters, need at least the best facilities and infrastructures. Researchers are supposed to be at least entitled for a single accommodation if not all the benefits that a researcher in the west gets during his/her research tenure. But where is the space to accommodate the massive inflow? Starting from cycle stands to hostel council rooms, from guest rooms to corridor, everywhere constructions are on in full swing. THE REASON: there are no rooms for new students. Single rooms have now become double rooms and double rooms might be tripled or quadrupled. Even then, it is not going to accommodate the huge number of new comers. Some have to still suffer.

Fortunately or unfortunately, newly constructed hostels are coming up of late. But at what cost and at what speed? In IIT B for example, authorities have allowed many huge trees to be felled. Even those trees which were planted as part of “vanmahotsavs” and other such occasions are now completely chopped down. While the country’s Prime Minister and cabinet are making speeches and tours to huge environmental summits to protect the ever-deteriorating environmental conditions, in one of its most prestigious institutions there is a rampant felling of trees. IIT B boasted of some of the best ecology of the country and was no less than a shady gurukul, but thanks to the vision of our decision makers now we have a dry-dreary campus which is facing the tough blows of a hot summer. Moreover, for creating all new buildings most of the time roads are being dug, Internet/electricity/ telephone cables are cut, water pipes are broken

The fault is also of the aamjunta’s, because of our ignorance we do not even bother to ask about the environmental concerns that comes with reckless development. All that which matters to us is our greed for our children and ourselves to get an opportunity to “study” in IITs or IIMs or elsewhere. However, we do not have the foresight that may be our grandchildren or the next generations may never know that such an institution ever existed in India. Our governments and decision making bodies are amazingly good with “maximal use of available resources” without actually thinking of “optimizing” or generating new resources. Where is the vision to understand the capacity of a certain institution or establishment? If an intake has to be doubled up, then why is not there an equal allotment of new land and new space to accommodate the numbers? In addition to it, the red-tapism, contract procedures, tender rules, etc., etc., .. all these things create hurdles to build new hostels even in the existing land (forget about getting new lands). The pace of construction of these buildings are pathetically slow, usually takes 200% times more than the stipulated time.

However, it is not the students who only suffer. To meet the huge intake, the intake of faculties into IITs have also significantly steeped up. Similar problems are also faced by faculty for faculty quarters and offices. There are no quarters for new faculties and most of them are staying in 1 hall-kitchen type flats. Office rooms are also a big problem. IITs which are considered to be aggressively growing research organizations, cannot provide all faculties the minimum facility of a lab and a decent office. Younger faculties who join the institution cannot even expect to bring their spouse, as there is no certainty if they will get a quarter. If this practice and apathy continues how do the governments expect to attract new faculties required to teach/guide the huge population of places like IITs.

But, the problem of infrastructure and other fundamental facilities in higher education in India is neither new and nor is it limited only to institutions like IITs. Universities and especially state universities are in an equally sorry state. An earlier instance of my own experience with this huge intake without a vision comes to mind in this context. In 1995/1996, Govt of Odisha decided to go for a 30% women’s quota in all engineering colleges, since elections were around and the vote bank had to be appeased. I was in the 3rd year of my engineering. Fortunately, we were the last batch and did not suffer the unprecedented inflow into our college. We could manage to get single accommodation in our final years which was very important because of our semester exams, placement and other career decisions badly required at least some personal space for ourselves. There was a ladies hostel with 40-50 seater capacity. That was grossly inadequate to accommodate the massive 30% inflow of female students into our college (UCE, Burla). Nothing was done and no allied campus was set up. Finally, as is typical of our decision making authorities, it was decided that our single seater hostel which was meant only for final year students was to be converted into a ladies hostel. The reason; contract process had not even started to build a new ladies hostel while the government had already issued orders to allow immediate increase in the intake. But, then who suffered? Final year BTechs who succeeded our batch. Ironically, the vision of authorities was such amazingly regressive that the final year BTech boys were doubled and tripled up in the hostels while the first year BTech girls got completely single accommodation :(.

One tends to ask the question that do the authorities not think about all these aspects? If yes, then why is there an apathy and a delay? Who is accountable for this? Why should the common man, students especially suffer?; no infrastructure, no hostels, clumsy classroom, what else is required to prove the amount of respect that the governments, political parties and decision making bodies have for the thing called “education”? If no, then who is responsible for this gross lack of vision? Who is going to take care of the environment and people – planning commission, knowledge commission, MHRD, parliament, judiciary or the aamjunta?

As said before, my intention here was not to debate on the pros and cons of the quota system. Quota has become a brutal reality of this country. But through this article, I appeal specifically to those who are in power, who are coming to power and those who are aiming for power to kindly not to play politics with the educational aspects, which is the actual future of the country. Before implementing any decision, make sure that it is properly studied and its requirements are met. Implement with your eyes open and with a vision, not with closed eyes. The common man also needs to understand and be a part of the process of planning the future of the nation and the world.

Think 1000 times before taking such big decisions. And learn to take appropriate decisions. Action without a vision will not lead to anything productive.

Aamjunta, what is your vision?

The Fear of Asking in a Class Room….

Should I ask him/her? No… What will people think of me, if I ask this? Stupid? No, I think it is a silly question? I should not ask him/her !!

Most of us must have experienced this some day or the other of our day-to-day life.

This is a common fear for most of the students in a class; be it in school, or in college. In general people don’t ask questions thinking that the question that comes in their mind might be a silly one or it might not have the worth to be asked. Some times we think that the teacher might scold or shout at us if we ask. But, by not asking the question and clearing the doubt at the right moment don’t we think we harm ourselves? increase our doubt level?

And the result is, we struggle to find out the answer and spend more time and resources. We loose our self confidence or struggle to excel in our day to day life. We should remember that questioning is a process of learning, one has to ask, either to himself or to the other in that process.

The exact opposite is seen in case of a child. If he/she does not understand, he/she will ask more than a thousand questions, “why, how, when, whom, blah blah blah…”, till you either get irritated or he/she gets satisfied with your answer. He/she will get his/her doubts cleared at any cost. But, the same kid starts feeling shy, looses self confidence once he/she grows in time.

The fear of should I or should not I, the fear of loosing (be it self confidence or something similar) starts resulting in the development of a fear or shyness to ask in day-to-day life.

For an example, one can very well experience/observe this in a typical class (lecture) where students from MTech, BTech, PhD etc. are there.The BTech students usually ask many questions, irrespective of the type and quality of the question. Most of the times they do not fear and simply ask the teacher and do not let the teacher go unless their query is answered. This is a very good sign.

Whereas in the same class, one can hardly find any question from the MTechs or the PhDs. Not that they understand every thing in the lecture; they too have doubts like any other student, but the self confidence is low, the feeling of inferiority complex is very high, and the sensitivity towards “what others will think about me” is so high that they cannot ask any thing. They just can’t come out from the should I or shouldn’t I barrier. This is quite common in the case of new entrants, 1st yearites, be in 10+2, BTech, MTech or PhD, which usually disappears over time.

Some times language creates a barrier in questioning. Those who have studied in Hindi or in any regional medium usually feel shy to ask, because they feel, that their English is not that good. In some cases the social or cultural background of the student also creates the barrier in asking. If they are in minority in the class, they do not feel comfortable and do not ask much. A good example can be in cases of female students who sometimes do not ask any question if they are out numbered.

This kind of shyness and lack of confidence can be observed in many fields and in many different places, be it in class room or in office or at home. Now the question arises how should we take this problem? In lecture/class the teacher must realize the problem of 1st year students and encourage the students to ask. May be by making the lecture more interactive and involving more students, might help to some extent.

Remember that by asking even silly questions you are not going to harm any one, but if you do not ask, you will not be able to clear your doubts in the class room premises, resulting in no clear understanding of the topic and also spend more time doing the same thing. By doing this, the barrier between should I or should not I increases. The more you fear, the more you loose. But, do we want to loose? No. Then? …

aamjunta, what do you think? Better ask and clear your doubts in the class next time 🙂 . It is better late than never.

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