Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why engineering seats find few takers

Mushrooming engineering colleges have outpaced the number of students they can take in. Today, an estimated 10 to 12 per cent of 1.4 million seats lie vacant in the country’s nearly 3,500 engineering colleges. The absence of enough eligible students is only one part of the problem. Efforts to address it by lowering the eligibility criteria have only compounded the other, larger problem — that of quality.

In the space of three years, the number of engineering colleges doubled from 1,668 in 2007-08 to 3,241 till 2010-11, and the seats from 650,000 to over 1.3 million. An estimated 100,000 seats have been added for 2011-12, with 281 new colleges approved so far.

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) says it cannot turn down a proposal to open an engineering college. “We can’t deny them their right to a profession. If they say opening an engineering institute is their profession, we can’t say no citing the large number of such colleges already existing,” said AICTE Chairman S.S. Mantha.

Seats, Students
Standardising the eligibility criteria at 50 per cent in Class XII physics, chemistry and maths, and 45 per cent for reserved seats, made it even more difficult for states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, already struggling heavily with empty seats. Following appeals from some states, the AICTE lowered these cut-offs to 45 and 40 per cent. In any case, the revision will not plug the seat-student gap. In a country that has been adding 100,000 or more seats a year, the AICTE estimates 50,000 students will benefit from the lowered cut-offs.

States have individual norms and exams for selection but the cut-off will apply to all. Last year, Maharashtra had 22,000 seats vacant in a total of 114,000. This year, the state has 13,000 newer seats and Director of Technical Education S.K. Mahajan says 13,000-14,000 students will benefit from the relaxed norms. The original gap is, however, expected to remain, with only 104,000 applications so far for the 127,000 seats.

In Karnataka, the number of unfilled seats last year was 8,067 out of 80,000, the vacancies matching the rise in seats from the 72,000 of 2009. “Seats in engineering colleges tend to go unfilled because a large number of new colleges don’t have basic facilities and infrastructure. As a result there is a flight to quality colleges among students,” says former senior Infosys HR executive T.V. Mohandas Pai who has been closely associated with higher education in Karnataka. Seats are going empty in spite of entrance examinees rising by 2,000-3,000 every year, a Karnataka Examination Authority official said.

In Andhra Pradesh, 70,000 of 290,000 seats went vacant last year; 207,000 have qualified for the same number of seats this year, a vacancy of 83,000. Andhra Pradesh State Council for Higher Education Secretary Dr. Rajasekhara Reddy says the cut-off relaxation will benefit 3,000 students. State Council of Higher Education Deputy Director Venugopal Rao agrees only a few extra seats will be filled up, though colleges are still waiting for the the state government to issue the order on the relaxed cut-off.

The Telangana agitation has contributed to the vacancies, with students avoiding colleges in the region that includes Hyderabad, which accounts for nearly 250 of the state’s 698 colleges. Till the agitation began last year, 94 per cent seats were filled up. Mantha cites another reason for the vacancies — too many streams. “The common perception is that branches like civil, mechanical, computer science, electronics would entail them to better jobs. This perception creates demand for certain courses and not so much demand for other courses.”

The AICTE says the number of seats needs to keep growing, pointing out that only 5 million of 8 million students who passed XII in 2008 went on to enter any course, professional included. “With a growing young population we need to provide for even more professional and other institutions in future,” Mantha said, while stressing the importance of quality.

Quality Control
Mantha says time and competition will put the poorer quality colleges out of operation. “We expect that in time, poor quality institutes will shut down simply because they can’t attract enough students to break even,” Mantha said. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President, Centre for Policy Research, agrees there is an element of truth in the argument that competition will ensure accountability, but stresses the need for creating quality institutions.

“Whether you have less or more institutions, faculty shortage is the bigger problem. Nobody has a strategy of fixing this,” he said. Production of faculty is not related to supply and demand, he said, adding one needs to create a supply of quality faculty. He said public universities too have deteriorated and unless they are fixed, there will be no relief in the supply pressure.

Mantha disagreed with the general belief that the AICTE is not cracking down firmly enough on poor quality colleges. Describing the system in place, he said the AICTE can, and does, withdraw approval given. “Based on an authenticated complaint, a showcause (notice) is given, a surprise visit conducted, a hearing and an appeal provided and then the decision is ratified in the council for implementation,” he said, adding 700 institutions had been served notices for violation of AICTE norms and 20 had their approval withdrawn.

The Government is in the process of setting up an NCHER Act to set standards for universities and accreditation agencies. It will gradually replace the UGC Act, the AICTE Act and the NCTE Act. The bill will be tabled in the next Parliament session.

Surveys have shown 75 per cent of technical graduates are unemployable by India’s industries, including information technology and call centres. In Andhra, only eight per cent find jobs, a NASSCOM study has shown. “Employability and employment are two different concepts,” Mantha says, calling for a national perspective plan compiled from inputs from universities and states. “Similarly, mapping needs to be done for the industry, service sectors or the infrastructure sector and consequently the jobs sector. The two put together would give an idea of how many professionals are required in each sector and a supply chain then can be designed,” Mantha said. “Merely saying that the graduates are unemployable is not tenable.”

Source: The Indian Express, July 12, 2011
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