Thursday, May 30, 2013

Traditional engineering courses rule the roost in an evolving world

Early this month, when counselling at the Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) in Tamil Nadu began, merely four students opted for the institute's civil engineering course. This was at a time when the institute had about 200 seats on offer. Computer science engineering was the preferred choice, followed by mechanical and electronics & communication engineering courses.

"This is only a case in particular. While in the initial one or two days, a course may not be opted for by students, all seats in civil engineering would be filled by the end of the counselling session," said the admissions director of a Chennai-based university, on condition of anonymity.

Traditionally, civil and mechanical engineering courses have been the building blocks of engineering in India. While institutes have introduced new areas such as aeronautics, biomedical and automotive engineering, traditional courses continue to attract students. "With a slowdown in the general information technology/information technology-enabled services sectors and an economic slowdown, it is time for consolidation and back to basics," says Shankar S Mantha, Chairman of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the country's technical education regulator. He added today, the trend was to return to core engineering branches such as the civil, electrical and mechanical streams.

AICTE data say, as of 2012, there were 210 engineering streams. These could be grouped into 15 major groups such as mechanical and allied, electrical and allied, computers and allied, chemical and allied, etc.

Mantha said the demand for traditional courses was due to the versatility of these courses and the inherent capability most of these courses had to provide employment and create entrepreneurial avenues.

Devang Khakhar, Director, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay, agreed. "Due to the fact that job prospects in these traditional areas are now stronger, courses such as mechanical and civil engineering have again become popular in the engineering segment," he says.

In 2012-13, there were 1.7 million engineering seats at the entry level across 3,820 colleges and 126 engineering institutes. In the last five years, the number of engineering and management seats has nearly doubled.

Human resource (HR) experts say while Indian institutes have tried to offer specialised engineering courses in areas such as automation and information technology, demand for traditional courses would never fade. "Mechanical and civil engineering are the bread and butter of engineering. While demand for niche courses may come and go, that for traditional engineering subjects wouldn't disappear. Some students may take up new courses, considering the pay packages. But this doesn't mean traditional subjects have less demand," says a Mumbai-based HR consultant.

Narayanan Ramaswamy, national head (education) at KPMG, says now, the trend is to offer blended courses, with stronger fundamentals. "The courses are the same, but they are run in a different way. For example, now, a student prefers to do a course in mechanical engineering and join fields such as 'mechatronics', rather than specialising in this niche field," he says.

With headhunters still positive on the segment and the process of counselling set to continue for the next two months, VIT and its likes can be hopeful. 

Source: Business Standard, May 30, 2013

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