Boom time

Print edition : August 10, 2007

College of Engineering on the Anna University campus in Chennai.-K.V. SRINIVASAN

Information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology hold the key to the future, and Tamil Nadus colleges have realised this.

It does not matter what subject you study, be it B.A./M.A. (philosophy or history), B.Sc. (botany or zoology) or B.E. (civil engineering, chemical technology or leather technology). If you score good marks, pay attention to detail and have the right aptitude and ability to communicate and are given to analytical thinking, any employer will grab you. This is the message that rings loud and clear from Dr. D. Viswanathan, Vice-Chancellor, Anna University; Dr. V.J. Philip, principal, Madras Christian College, Tambaram, Chennai; or D. Susila Mariappan, Director, University Students Advisory Bureau, the University of Madras. Interviews with them yield insights into current trends in college education.

There is a general decline in interest in humanities and an engineering degree in electronics and communication engineering, computer science and engineering or information technology is still the lodestar for students. Next comes biotechnology, which has become popular. In Tamil Nadu, Bharathiar University at Coimbatore and Shanmugha Arts, Science, Technology and Research Academy (SASTRA) at Thanjavur have woken up to the importance of nanotechnology. If the prediction of technologists is anything to go by, IT, biotechnology and nanotechnology are likely to dominate the education and employment scene for the next 25 years.

A surprise finding is that between B.E. and MBBS, students show an increasing predilection for the engineering degree. A course in engineering lasts four years, and they are assured of placements if they do well in the campus interviews, while the medical course lasts five and a half years and a postgraduate degree in medicine is a must if a doctor is to do well in his or her profession.

There are other surprising trends as well. There is a big demand for admission to B.A. in journalism, B.A. or M.A. in English literature, B.Sc. in geography, tourism and travel management, and M.Sc. in mathematics, statistics and actuarial science. But the bottomline is that whatever course a student may study in arts, science, engineering, law or medicine, if he or she is bold, articulate and good at interpersonal relationship, the student will have no difficulty in getting a job.

Job opportunities are available for those who study well in any engineering branch. If their performance is good, they will be rewarded, said Viswanathan. The scope for conventional, core subjects is increasing, he added. He emphasised that students should be good at expressing themselves. Anna University, with 255 engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu, and a student population of more than four lakhs, has brought in several reforms, which have helped in enhancing the students ability to communicate and their employability. The introduction of communication skills as a compulsory subject is one of them.

There are about 40 companies, said Philip, which come here [MCC] for interviews. They test your aptitude, your personality and they recruit you based on your analytical thinking, and then they give you the training necessary for that particular job. It hardly matters whether you do economics, physics or history. That is why we have developed a course called personality development course. Every second-year graduate student takes this course, which has several components. The course teaches students how to face interviews, take part in group discussions, gain general knowledge, think analytically and take quick decisions. Postgraduate students also have to enrol on the course.

Dr. Susila Mariappan, who, during her two-decade long tenure as Director, USAB, has guided hundreds of students in choosing their subjects of study, summed up thus: Students should develop employability. They should cultivate communication skills, interpersonal relationships and an interest in acquiring general knowledge. A mere degree is not enough.

Ram R.V., Director, Smart Training Resources, which provides back-up training for furthering careers, said the role of humanities and social sciences was crucial in imparting liberal education. Graduates in humanities and social sciences from first-rate universities are in great demand because they can be relied upon to possess proficient skill sets. At Harvard, philosophy graduates do as well in the job market as any engineering major. Indian misconceptions are getting cleared gradually, Ram said.

In the past two months, Tata Consultancy Services recruited more than 7,500 students from colleges in Tamil Nadu. A.K. Pattabiraman, Head, Accreditation Process for Southern India, TCS, called it the single largest recruitment drive in a State by any company in India. Of the 7,500 recruits, about 1,000 were from the affiliated colleges of Anna University; 800 from the Vellore Institute of Technology; 550 from SRM; and 340 from SASTRA. The rest were from the PSG College of Technology, Government College of Technology, Coimbatore Institute of Technology (all three in Coimbatore), RMK College of Engineering, SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Rajalakshmi College of Engineering, and so on. Most of the students recruited belonged to colleges in tier II cities and small towns such as Tirunelveli, Kovilpatti, Sivakasi, Thuckalay, Vallam, Kavaraipettai and Srivilliputhur.

While the demand for admissions to engineering courses in IT is high, sufficient number of students also get into core disciplines such as mechanical, chemical and electrical engineering. For the past one decade, demand for seats in civil engineering has come down. We are now trying to convince students that civil engineering also has tremendous scope because infrastructure development is proceeding apace in our country, said Viswanathan.

Multinational automobile and electronics industries are flocking to India, especially Tamil Nadu. Any manufacturing industry needs mechanical and electrical engineers.

There is a big demand for graduates in civil engineering and Architecture and postgraduates in digital architecture and landscape design. Sumathi Ramesh, a young architect, said, There is a big demand for architects in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore. Multinational companies are outsourcing drawings from here. However, a disturbing feature is that engineering courses in self-financing colleges or private universities have become expensive, with parents ready to fork out lakhs of rupees for their wards education. Besides, many self-financing colleges charge donations of a few lakh rupees for courses in electronics, IT and communication engineering.

Susila Mariappan said, It costs a lot of money to study B.E. Many students cannot afford to join engineering colleges because of the high fees and the capitation fee. So they join polytechnics, acquire some work experience after finishing the course and then seek lateral entry to B.E. courses.

According to Ram, law as a career has always been a favourite among students and it continues to retain its position, but with a difference. A legal career is no more confined to the precincts of courts but extends to leading multinational companies and legal process outsourcing [LPO], he said. The list of recruiters coming to the national law universities was a virtual whos who of the corporate world. Some of the top law schools in the country are the National Law School of India University, Bangalore; the NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad; the National Law Institute University, Bhopal; the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata; and Symbiosis. All law schools admit students on the basis of marks scored in all-India entrance examinations. Elite national law schools in the country today boast of 100 per cent placement for their final-year students, said Ram.

V.J. Philip, principal, Madras Christian College.-A. MURALITHARAN

There are seven law colleges in Tamil Nadu in Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Tiruchi, Chengalpattu (all government-run) and in Salem (the Central Law College, which is privately run).

There are 34 universities in Tamil Nadu. Important educational centres in the State are Chennai, Chidambaram (Annamalai University), Tiruchi, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Karaikudi and Coimbatore. Vellore is an emerging centre. The State has the largest number of engineering colleges in the country. There are 13 universities in Chennai alone, including the University of Madras, Anna University, Dr. MGR Medical University, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Law University, Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Science University and five private universities established under Section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, which were earlier deemed to be universities.

A perceptible trend, according to Philip, is that students now look for job-oriented courses rather than traditional courses in humanities because most of them come from middle-class families for whom the economic factor is important. At the end of the day, they would like to have a job. The traditional concept of a wholesome education, education for educations sake, has become a luxury. More students are now focussed on certain courses, the MCC principal said. For instance, courses such as bachelors or masters in computer applications, visual communication, mass communication or M.A. in communication fetch jobs.

In fact, I had difficulty in finding a teacher for M.A. in communication because all our students were grabbed by companies, said Philip. There are students who prefer an M.A. in journalism to an M.A. in English literature. There is rush for admission to journalism courses that all the 40 seats in B.A. (journalism) started this year got filled up quickly.

Susila Mariappan acknowledged that there is a craze for joining media courses, especially those connected with television. Several colleges offer an M.Sc. in electronic media or a B.Sc. in visual communication. Students want to produce television films, write screenplays, learn editing or join advertising companies as visualisers or copywriters.

However, there is still a rush for B.A./M.A. in English literature. It is amazing the kind of demand that exists for English, said Philip. Quite a few students graduating in English literature find jobs with business process outsourcing (BPO) companies. There is an exceptional demand for B.Sc. (geography, tourism and travel management) in MCC. Fifty seats were available this year; 45 students joined by July 13. The sudden growth in the tourism industry explains the rush for the course. Besides, with the aviation industry growing by leaps and bounds, there are jobs available in this sector as well.

Both Susila Mariappan and Philip are of the opinion that B.Sc and M.Sc. in mathematics and statistics continue to be favourite courses among students. A postgraduate degree in mathematics or statistics helps students land bank jobs.

We have received hundreds of applications for mathematics because our mathematics department is renowned. People like Dr. George Abraham and Dr. Gift Siromoney have led the department, which is strong in research and publications, Philip said.

Susila Mariappan, Director, USAB, Madras University.-K.V. SRINIVASAN

The perceptible decline in interest in humanities has led to a reduction in the cut-off marks for admission. Despite a drop in the number of applicants to arts courses, you will find the class nearly full. And in each stream, you will find committed students, he said.

Susila Mariappan was bitter that most colleges do not offer courses in history, philosophy or even economics. Some of the colleges do not offer humanities as subjects at all. Or, they offer only B.A. (economics) as a self-financing course, which means students are required to pay high fees.

In the backdrop of changing perceptions of humanities and social sciences, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, has introduced a five-year integrated M.A. course in economics, development studies and English studies from 2006. Thirty students are admitted to each course on the basis of an all-India entrance test.

As usual, there is a scramble for admission to diploma or degree courses in hotel management and catering technology because there is an all-India demand in the hotel industry, passenger liners, offshore rigs and onshore drilling sites and big guest-houses of public sector undertakings, for students graduating in catering courses.

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