Shaping the future

Print edition : June 15, 2007

A VIEW OF Arunai Engineering College. The bio-spectrum course here is rated as the best in India and themechanical engineering course among the top five in Anna University.-V. GANESAN

The Arunai Engineering College and its sister institutions are ringing in change in Tiruvannamalai by providing quality education.

ESTABLISHED in 1993, Arunai Engineering College (AEC) is the premier institite for technical education in the backward and predominantly rural district of Tiruvannamalaiilometres, near Chennai. Established by the Saraswathi Ammal Educational Trust, its progress has been driven by the energy of its founder chairman, E.V. Velu, who is now the Minister for Food and Cooperation in the Tamil Nadu Government. The Trust has also pioneered the concept of residential schools in the area by establishing the Jeeva Velu Residential School .In recent years, the Group, in association with its sister institution, the Jeeva Velu Trust, has established the Kamban Engineering College, another institution for technical education. The three institutions, situated close to one another, are the premier institutions in the district.

In a state where educational institutions have been sprouting everywhere, the significance of these institutions lies in the fact that they offer quality education - of the kind hitherto possible only in urbanised environments - to rural folk. Tiruvnnamalai district is considered to be one of the most backward districts in Tamil Nadu. Poor irrigation facilities, a relatively backward industrial base and a relatively high level of illiteracy are some of the salient features of the district's profile. More than 80 per cent of the population in the district live in rural areas, which is rather high in a state which is considered to be the among the most urbanised in the Indian Union.

Professor K. Thirunavakkarasu, principal of the the AEC, told Frontline that the vision of the founders of the institutions were keen to "do something" for the backward district. He said that the predominantly rural district, without a meaningful industrial base, also suffered a fairly heavy burden of illiteracy, which they hoped to mitigate. Thirunavakkarasu said that the institution has played the role of a catalyst in the regime, "by inculcating the spirit of technical education in the minds of the rural students.",

The AEC, a coeducational institution, is located in a spacious campus, covering 110 acres, near Tiruvannamalai. With a built-up area of more than 75,000 square metres, major facilities, such as classrooms, computing centres (the centralised facility is known as the Arunai Gateway), library, auditoriums, hostels and labs are all located within the campus. A fleet of 35 buses enables students from the surrounding hinterland to commute to the AEC. The AEC is one of the few technical institutions to have been awarded ISO 9001:2000 certification, for having adopted the best practices standards and processes. Faculty members said that the institutions has adopted norms and processes which are far above the norms laid town by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The institution has won approval from the National board of accreditation and all departments, barring the department of industrial biotechnology, which is a relatively young department, have gained accreditation.

The AEC now has about 2,700 students in its rolls, about half the number from rural backgrounds; this year the intake is to be increased to 3,000. The college has a communications lab and a language lab, which enable students from rural backgrounds. Thirunavakkarasu said that the facilities and training in these labs enable these students to close the gap between them and others from more privileged backgrounds.

Arunai Gateway, the centralised computing facility at the AEC.-A. MURALITHARAN

The AEC's course on Bio-spectrum was rated last year as the first among biotech schools in India. Its mechanical engineering course has been rated among the top five in Anna University. Apart from the regular teaching, there are also research centres attached to the mechanical Engineering department, Electrical and Electronics department and the Computer science department. There are also a number of research scholars pursuing their doctorates at the AEC. The AEC is also conducting a number of research projects. Among them is a Rs.10-lakh project undertaken by the Electrical and Electronics Department, which is sponsored by the AICTE. The Defence Research and Development Organisation ( DRDO) is also sponsoring a project worth Rs. 14.91 lakhs, which is being conducted by the mechanical engineering department.

Placements are a key concern among students in technical institutions. The AEC has paid particular attention to this aspect because the management realises that future growth hinges on its ability to send its students to the best companies. Nearly 125 students in their third year of the four-year course have already been placed with prestigious companies such as Wipro and Tata Elxsi. Thirunavakkarasu said that more4 companies are likely to come to recruit students on campus in July. "Most students," he said, "will be placed before they complete their course."

The AEC also has a tie-up with an external agency, which trains students to prepare them for placement interviews. About 30-50 training sessions are conducted training sessions during the year, on weekends. There are also guest lectures by reputed HR professionals, apart from tutorials and tests. There are also "drill" tests for students to prepare them "for success on the job front".

How does one attract good and well-qualified teachers to an institution located in a rural setting? More importantly, how does one ensure that the academic quality is maintained, given its rural setting? Thirunavakkarasu said that the founders were aware of the challenge right from the beginning. Eighteen members of the college's faculty have have doctorate; 12 more are pursuing doctorates. The fact that there not many institutions, with a comparable track record, in the area ensures better quality intake of students, Thirunavakkarasu said. He also said that the "turnover of faculty is low". More than half the faculty have been with the institution for more than five years. The avenues provided for "upgradation of skills" is an important reasons why many teachers "do not fly away", he said.

Moreover, the "quality of student input" is good because the institution has "a high rating." This is reflected in students' performance in university examinations. Last year, one AEC student won a gold medal from the Anna University. Moreover, according to Thirunavakkarasu. "Every year 10-15 students are rank holders," said Thirunavukkarasu. The AEC is ranked first among technical educational institutions in Zone 5 in Tamil Nadu, which covers, among others, towns such as Arni, Vellore and Arcot. Thirunavakkarasu said that in order to improve quality, the institution encourages faculty and students to publish papers and to participate in conferences and seminars. The faculty also has "mentoring" sessions with students to help them develop problem=solving skills.

E.V. VELU, founder-chairman of the Saraswathi Ammal Educational Trust and the Jeeva Educational Trust. He is now Minister for Food and Cooperation in Tamil Nadu.-S. THANTHONI

The institution has top class infrastructure, not only for academics but also for sports and cultural activities. There is a bank and an ATM, which is particularly useful for outstation students. A well-stocked library, with about 35,000 titles, 75 international technical journals (some of them e-journals) and 75 more journals published in India are available for students. The computer centre, with more than 600 nodes, is also available to students. Apart from these nodes, there are terminals within the departments for students to access. The connections speed, currently 2 mbps (maga bits per second) is to double shortly. A large playground and facilities for indoor sports provides students respite from the rigours of their curriculum. Four dining halls in the four hostels, including one for women students, provide quality food.

Regarded to be the first of its ind in the area, the Jeeva Velu residential <15,0m>School is a unique instititution in Tiruvannamalai district. Established in 2002, by the Saraswathi Ammal Educational Trust, the school conducts classes from kindergarten to Class twelve. The school currently has 20 NRI students - from Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Dubai. However, Kalyanasundaram explained that the "main catchment areas" for the school are Chennai, Pondicherry, Tiruchi, Dharmapuri and Hosur.

The school has about 900 students, of whom about 500 are in hostels. Class rooms are all air-conditioned. C. Kalyanasundaram, the principal of the school, said that the institution is focused on training students for examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), apart from entry into the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the various all-India examinations for entry into engineering and medical colleges. The all-inclusive fees are about Rs.70,000 for each student in a year.

KAMBAN ENGINEERING COLLEGE. It is increasing its capacity in the IT-related courses to 429 this year.-V. GANESAN

Hostel facilities are offered to students from Class One. Extra-carricular activities include dance, karate and sports, which students have to participate in for one hour every day. There is also sports coaching for students. They can choose from a range of sports, which include tennis, cricket, basketball and volleyball. A swimming pool is almost ready. Students have to do yoga and meditation every day for one hour.

The student-teacher ratio is maintained at a healthy 1::15. Tuition classes are in batches of at the most ten students. Serious academic "coaching" begins from Class 8. For students studying in the higher grades, the evenings between 6 and 10 PM are entirely consumed by a rigorous coaching schedule. All hostel residents undergo `special coaching" for an hour everyday. Saturdays are reserved for various club activities such as reading, journalism, quiz and cookery. However, all students must participate in the science and maths club activities. A field trip is organised every term.

Kalyanasundaram explained maintaining "discipline" is a very important priority of the school management. "Rigorous, continuous testing of students" is what enables the school to maintain high standards of academic performance, he observed. The district topper in the last plus Two examinations, E. Iniavan, was from the school. Moreover, 14 students got the maximum marks possible in mathematics. Students from the school, mostly from rural backgrounds, are regular participants at the annual National Children's Science Congress competitions and have won several awards. The school has consistently returned a hundred percent pass rate in the Tenth and 12thTwelfth class examinations.


The school is planning "virtual" classrooms, using the services of a private satellite service. Classes, conducted by experts from Chennai, will enable students from the Jeeva Velu school to "participate" in the class. Students will need to pay Rs. 300 each for the four month series of lectures. Kalyanasundaram said that by using this facility students will be "able to communicate with their teachers located far away."

The Kamban Engineering College, a "sister institution" of the Arunai Engineering College (AEC), was established in 2001. The Jeeva Educational Trust, also founded by E.V. Velu, in the name of his wife, Jeeva Velu, governs this institution. E.V. Kumaran, Velu's son, is the vice-chairman of the institution.

The college with 850 students on its rolls, is in expansion mode. A large building, to house the administrative block, a central computing facility and a library and conference hall are being built at a cost of Rs. 5 crores. A separate computer science block is being built with a budget of Rs. 1.5 crores. In line with the increasing demand for seats to IT-related courses in technical institutions, the college is expanding its capacity in IT branches from 240 to 420 during the next academic year. Nearly 300 of the 850 students live in the hostels. M. Arumugam, principal of the Kamban Engineering college, said that most freshers prefer to stay in the hostels, whereas final year students prefer to live outside campus. Arumugam said that the college is `still in expansion mode." The college currently offers courses in four branches. The college has applied to the AICTE to start a Masters in Computer Applications (MCA) course, which was discontinued earlier.

The college implements a "dress code", which requires students to dress "neatly", wear shoes, and uniforms in labs. Women students have to wear overcoats. Faculty members have to wear ties. The college is is applying for ISO certification. This, Arumugam said, will ensure that systems and processes are in place, which will enable better monitoring and better compliance.

The college has not been awarded accreditation yet. Arumugam explained that at least two batches of students must have passed from a college before it can apply for accreditation. He said that in the current year the college will become eligible and that it is likely to get accreditation soon.

The management also wants to make the college a deemed university, which will enhance its prestige and give it greater freedom in designing courses. More than half the final year batch has already been placed in companies.

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