Changing trend

Print edition : August 26, 2011

A class in progress in Presidency College, Chennai. A file photograph. - V. GANESAN

Arts and science colleges received 30 per cent more applications this year though 32,000 engineering seats are expected to remain vacant.

THE traffic on E.V. Ramasamy High Road (formerly Poonamallee High Road) is roaring at high noon. But as one steps on to the wooded campus of the Government College of Fine Arts, less than a kilometre away from the Chennai Central railway station, the decibel level drops drastically. In this quiet and clean-air surrounding, students sitting in front of a heritage building (the administrative building of the college) are engrossed in making a sketch of it. One of the students doing the sketch is P. Abirami of Kasuva near Periapalayam village in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu, a second-year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) student. I love drawing, she says, making it clear why she joined the course. I belong to Sevalaya Home at Kasuva. Sevalaya runs a school there, with 1,500 students. When I obtain my degree, I will join the school and teach painting, she says.

Her classmate N. Yuvaraj of Villivakkam in Chennai, seated a few steps away, is making a sketch of the building's facade. I was interested in drawing right from my childhood. My friends encouraged me to join this course. There is no use studying animation without knowing how to draw because skill in drawing is essential for 2D and 3D animation, he says.

Seated on a bench on the spotlessly clean campus of Rajalakshmi Engineering College at Thandalam near Poonamallee, a group of students hold an animated discussion. Most of them are students of Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE), Electrical and Electronics Engineering (EEE) or Computer Science and Engineering (CSE). But S. Sandhya from Ponneri near Chennai is a second-year Biomedical Engineering student. I joined the course because I am interested in Biomedical Engineering, she says. S. Suraj, a student of Aeronautical Engineering, too seems to know his mind. My dream is to become an aircraft maintenance engineer. After my graduation, I will study MSc in Avionics, he says. But K.P. Ramkumar and P. Ramasubramanian admit that they joined the EEE and CSE courses because their parents wanted them to. Of course, we are also interested, says one of them, as an afterthought.

On the notice board at Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Ayurveda College and Hospital, Poonamallee, the list of 50 students admitted to the Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) is posted. Of the selected candidates, 33 are from Kerala, two are from Andhra Pradesh, one is from Mumbai, and just a couple of them are from Tamil Nadu. People in Tamil Nadu are not aware of Ayurveda as a system of medicine. They prefer Siddha, says Dr K.S. Jayashree, Principal and Dean. Once you complete the course, you are sure to get a job in Kerala at resorts, hospitals or State Tourism hotels or you can practise on your own, she says.

At Presidency College in Chennai, A. Muthusamy, who is pursuing BA in Tamil Literature, says he wants to sit for the Civil Services examinations. Although Tamil Nadu has the largest number of engineering colleges in India (517), there is an increasing awareness about the potential of other courses to make a career. Of the 2.2 lakh seats available in the engineering colleges, 1.47 lakh will be filled up through single-window counselling conducted by the Tamil Nadu Engineering Admissions 2011. The remaining 73,000 are management quota seats of self-financing engineering colleges. Of the 1.47 lakh seats, 32,000 are not expected to be filled up. (In 2010-11, when the State had 472 engineering colleges and 1,20,020 seats were available through single-window admission, 8,172 seats fell vacant.)

The Senate Houseon the campus of the University of Madras.-V. GANESAN

In some colleges, Mechanical Engineering seems to buck the trend. According to Ishari K. Ganesh, founder and Chancellor of Vels University, Chennai, there is a huge demand for admission to BE or BTech in Mechanical Engineering this year. After Mechanical Engineering, the run continues for a seat in ECE and CSE. ECE has got its own demand. A number of girls aspire to study ECE, Ishari Ganesh said.

R. Loganathan from Pudupet village near Panruti is waiting for his turn for counselling under the Tamil Nadu Engineering Admissions. He wants to study Civil Engineering but cannot explain why.

There has been a huge demand for admission to arts and science courses in the past few years. There is a change in the trend, said G. Thiruvasagam, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Madras. While there will be no takers for 32,000 seats in various engineering colleges, arts and science colleges have received 30 per cent more applications this year. The reasons he attributes for this are that engineering education has become more expensive, the duration of an engineering course is longer, tuition fees are not charged in government and aided arts and science colleges, and more and more colleges are teaching soft skills to their students to make them more employable.

The main challenge in higher education is to make it employable education to convert the youth into effective human resource power, he said. The university has redesigned several courses to make the students more employable (see separate story).

The issue of unemployability of engineering graduates came to the fore when Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal flagged it on January 3 in his keynote address to the Indian Science Congress held at SRM University, near Chennai. We have over 3,000 engineering institutions and colleges across the country, which produce nearly five lakh engineering graduates. While this expansion has made engineering education accessible to a large number of people, the quality of education imparted is a matter of concern, he said.

G. THIRUVASAGAM, THE Vice-Chancellor of Madras University.-K.V. SRINIVASAN

I am informed, Sibal added, that out of every 100 campus candidates interviewed, most reputed companies are able to recruit only 10 to 20. The strike rate varies industrywise. This, when there is no dearth of availability of jobs. Undoubtedly, we need better quality education, as also new courses, new content and new delivery standards.

While several Vice-Chancellors and those who run self-financing engineering colleges do not agree with Sibal's assessment that most of the engineering graduates are not employable, discussions with placement officers of IT, manufacturing and service sector companies do reveal that a large percentage of the engineering graduates are indeed not employable. The supply outstrips the demand. Every student who applies for admission to the 517 engineering colleges for 2011-12 will get a seat. These 517 colleges come under Anna University, Chennai, government engineering colleges and self-financing engineering colleges affiliated to Anna University of Technology in Chennai, Madurai, Tiruchi and Coimbatore. What is worrying educationists is that 32,000 engineering seats will fall vacant this year although a mere pass is the eligibility criterion for students belonging to the Most Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. The cut-off is 45 per cent marks for students belonging to the Backward Classes and 50 per cent for open competition. Besides, there is the problem of employability of engineering graduates to be tackled.

Professor Mannar Jawahar, Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, took a balanced view of reports that only about 25 per cent of the engineering graduates are employable. This is based on a NASSCOM report. This situation obtained five years ago. It is not like that now, he asserted. He divided the engineering graduates into three categories: those who get good jobs soon after graduation, the underemployed, and the unemployed. The underemployed, who may be working in some company or the other, may graduate to a good job after three or four years. The unemployed engineers will get a job after a couple of years, he said. He estimated that those who got good jobs soon after their graduation would be about 25 per cent.

S. Vaidhyasubramaniam, Dean, Planning and Development, SASTRA University, Thanjavur, said the assessment that only 25 per cent of the engineering graduates were employable was based on a study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2005. It is too old to be repeated now because a lot of effort has been made in the past six years to improve the quality of engineering graduates, he said.

In an article in an English-language newspaper published from Chennai on July 27, Vaidhyasubramaniam said:

The NASSCOM-McKinsey report, 2005, titled Extending India's Leadership of the Global IT and BPO Industries', has been extensively used to show in a poor light the quality of Indian engineering graduates. The genesis of this report is the McKinsey Global Institute study which states that only 25 per cent of engineering graduates in India have the skills to be employed in IT jobs without prior training'. The extent to which this finding has been used is of critical concern.

The report was based on interviews with human resource managers of 10 multinational companies out of a total of 83, he said. It is not fair to assess the overall quality of a country's engineering graduates' output based on responses from a diminutive HR community. Ten out 83 is not a good sample, he argued. Even if one were to assume that the finding was true in the context of the overall standard of Indian engineering education, to quote a 2005 finding repeatedly is tantamount to accepting that no effort has been made to improve the quality in the past six years, he said.

A lot of collaborative effort has been taken by universities, engineering colleges and IT companies to enhance employability, he claimed. It is time NASSCOM commissioned a study with regard to Indian engineering education and the quality of the engineering graduates by including only the circuit branches such as the CSE, IT, ECE, EEE and EIE as the relevant population, he said. This will show a better result than the one obtained by including all engineering graduates as though engineering graduates are made for IT industry alone, he argued. The Vice-Chancellor of a Anna University of Technology pooh-poohed reports that only about 20 per cent of the engineering graduates are employable. The remaining graduates may not get jobs immediately. But they will definitely be employed after a few years, he said.

COUNSELLING FOR ENGINEERING courses in progress at Anna University in Chennai in July.-V. GANESAN

However, an industrialist contested this claim. After remaining unemployed for two years an engineering graduate will not even be considered for a job because fresh graduates would have come in, he pointed out. How can you expect good engineers to come out of colleges when the criterion for admission is a minimum pass with 40 per cent marks? he asked. Are such students capable of studying engineering? If they are unemployed for two years, they will be labelled as unemployable. To convert them into the employable category and make them compete with fresh graduates will be a long haul.

R. Krishna Kumar, general manager (marketing), Aquasub Engineering and Aquapump Industries, Coimbatore, said colleges are now producing more engineering graduates and not engineers. Engineering graduates writing examinations for clerical posts in banks are aplenty. There are enough BCom graduates to become bank clerks, he said. Parents sell their land, house or jewellery to realise their dream of making their children engineers. But it was appalling to see them remaining unemployable or ending up as bank clerks, Krishna Kumar said.

The situation is so bad that industrial units in Coimbatore have employed engineering graduates as CNC machine operators. A unit that manufactures motor pumps has on its rolls 100 engineering graduates.

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