Changing choices

Published : Jul 17, 2009 00:00 IST

A glider at Rajalakshmi Engineering College near Chennai, which offers an undergraduate course in Aeronautical Engineering.-V. GANESAN

A glider at Rajalakshmi Engineering College near Chennai, which offers an undergraduate course in Aeronautical Engineering.-V. GANESAN

WITH the global recession hitting the Information Technology (IT) industry hard, there seems to be a heavy flow of students towards B.E./B.Tech. courses in mechanical and civil engineering this year. There is a run on seats in polytechnics too for diploma courses in mechanical and civil engineering. If students in the past few years preferred a degree in engineering to a medical degree, the situation has reversed now. Medical and paramedical courses, and also veterinary courses in Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University are in great demand.

Anna UniversityChennai Vice-Chancellor Prof. Mannar Jawahar, Rajalakshmi Engineering College chairperson Thangam Meganathan, Vels University Chancellor Ishari K. Ganesh and Jaya Educational Trust chairperson A. Kanagaraj agree that the drop in the demand for B.E./B.Tech. courses in electronics and communication engineering, computer science and engineering and information technology is only temporary. Jawahar and Ganesh pointed out that the IT industry has seen several ups and downs in the past 10 years but jumped back into the reckoning.

Thangam Meganathan does not believe that the initial drop in the demand for computer-related courses will turn out to be drastic because, she says, many people have realised that when their children complete the course after four years, the situation would have changed.

After a slide in 1998, the IT industry picked up only to be hit by the devaluation of the U.S. dollar and then 9/11. In 2004, the industry reached its peak. Everybody wanted to join courses in computer science and engineering and IT. The demand continued to peak. Then came the downfall in 2008, Jawahar said. He argued that India and China had not suffered as much as the U.S. in the current economic downturn. Not all the projects in the IT sector in India are outsourced from the U.S. About half of the projects are from India itself. Industry leaders whom he had met were confident that the situation would normalise by December 2009 and that IT would peak from then on, he said.

Jawahar said a drop in the demand for seats in courses related to computer science and IT had driven the managements of several private engineering colleges to think about starting other courses with permission from the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). But I tell the parents and the children that the situation will not remain the same [when they finish their course]. It is performance that matters whatever course a student may study in whatever college. Marks are important, he said.

There are as many opportunities for those who study mechanical, civil or electrical engineering courses as for those who study computer- and software-related courses, the Vice-Chancellor said. Students of core subjects such as mechanical, civil, electrical and chemical engineering and textile technology have an advantage. They can branch off into hardware or software. This option is not available to students who specialise in software.

There is good demand for seats in B.E./B.Tech. courses in civil engineering. The widening of highways everywhere and the building of bridges, multi-storeyed IT offices, shopping malls and apartment condominiums have led to a sharp rise in the demand for civil engineers. Besides, the government is spending a lot on infrastructure, Jawahar said. Higher education in Tamil Nadu has expanded exponentially, with 23 State-funded universities and 25 deemed-to-be-universities, including the Gandhigram Rural University, near Madurai. There are 354 engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu and another 140 colleges have sought permission from the AICTE for starting engineering courses this year.

Anna University was established in 1978 as a unitary type of university for engineering, technology and applied sciences by bringing together the College of Engineering at Guindy, Alagappa College of Technology, Madras Institute of Technology and the School of Architecture, all in Chennai. Today, 135 colleges in Chennai, Tiruvallur, Vellore, Kancheepuram, Tiruvannamalai and Villupuram districts are affiliated to Anna University-Chennai.

The university offers 35 graduate and 79 postgraduate programmes in science, engineering and the humanities. It has 30 university departments and eight faculties: civil, mechanical, electrical and electronics, and information and communication engineering technology; architecture and planning; management sciences; and science and the humanities.

It has B.E./B.Tech. programmes in Ceramic Technology, Rubber and Plastic Technology, Petroleum-refining and Petrochemicals, Pharmaceutical Technology and Apparel Technology. Students can study M.E. or M.Tech. in Geo Informatics, Coastal Management, Remote-sensing, and Hydrology and Water Resources Engineering. It offers M.Sc. (Electronic Media) and an M.A. (Economics). It has started an MBA in Hospitality Management and an M.E. in Space Technology this year.

According to Jawahar, the majority of the students who study mechanical or civil engineering are from rural areas. Only 5 per cent of the students wanted to go for higher studies, take up research or become entrepreneurs. About 88 per cent of Plus Two students wanted to join courses in electronics and communication engineering and computer science and engineering.

Thangam Meganathan emphasised the need for counselling pupils in schools about the courses they could study when they join colleges. The majority of parents have an agricultural background. Their children should be counselled in school so that they could decide on the courses they want to study, she said. She complained that the way mathematics was taught in schools is not conducive to studying engineering. The emphasis is on rote-learning of mathematical formulae. Thus, despite getting high marks in Plus Two examinations, the students suffer in colleges, she said.

Rajalakshmi Engineering College at Thandalam, near Chennai, offers undergraduate courses in Aeronautical, Automobile, Bio-medical, Computer Science, Electronics and Communication, Electrical and Electronics, Mechanical and Civil Engineering. Students can also join B.Tech. in Information Technology or Biotechnology.

The postgraduate courses offered include M.E. in CAD/CAM, Communication Systems, Computer Science and Engineering, Power Electronics and Drives and Software Engineering; MBA; and Master of Computer Applications.

In June, students of Rajalakshmi Engineering College won the fourth place in an all-India competition held to commemorate the golden jubilee of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). They won Rs.50,000 for their project entitled Deployable low-cost outdoor surveillance system with remote access to sensor imagery. Four members of the college team were offered placements by the DRDO and the National Aerospace Laboratory in appreciation of their design of the surveillance system. The Rajalakshmi group established another engineering college at Kuthambakkam, near Sriperumbudur, in 2008, which offers B.E. in Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, and Electronics and Communication Engineering, B.Tech. in IT, and MBA.

Ishari Ganesh says the slump in the demand for IT courses has pushed up the demand for seats in medical and paramedical courses. Last year, there were not many takers for medical and paramedical courses. The demand has shot up for these courses this year, he said.

Besides Vels University, Ganesh runs Vels Srinivasa College of Engineering and Technology, Sri Venkateswara Dental College and Hospital, Venkateswara Nursing College and Vels School of Nursing, all located at Thalambur, near Chennai. Vels University at Pallavaram, near Chennai, has schools of maritime studies, basic sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, physiotherapy, life sciences, management and commerce, hotel management, and education. From now on, I am going to concentrate on school education, Ganesh said. His group runs Vaels Billabong High International School at Injambakkam, near Chennai, and other schools. The Billabong school has a curriculum that allowed pupils to enjoy themselves, he said.

Kanagaraj feels that there is no relationship between recession and education. He admits that there is a fall in the demand for seats in computer science and IT courses. We tell parents and their wards that this is a temporary recession but most of them are not able to understand, he said. His Jaya Education Trust runs 18 educational institutions, including four engineering colleges, two polytechnics, two arts and science colleges, three pharmacy colleges, a physiotherapy college, a dental college, a nursing college, a college of education, a catering institute, and three schools, all in and around Chennai.

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