Centre of learning

Print edition : July 04, 2008

The Bharathiar University campus in Coimbatore.-M. PERIASAMY

Coimbatore, known for its textile industry, is shifting its focus to quality, job-oriented higher education.

COIMBATORE, earlier known for its textile industry, has now changed its focus to education. With seven universities, more than 90 arts and science colleges, 30 engineering colleges and two medical colleges, higher education in Coimbatore arrived ahead of the information technology (IT) wave.

With two universities already in existence Bharathiar University and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) February 2007 saw a branch of Anna University (with an affiliation of 55 colleges in the western region) being set up here. Besides the two deemed universities Karunya and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham there are Avinashilingam University for Women and Sri Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University catering to special education.

This is not all. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has a proposal to set up a world-class university here. The State government has introduced a Bill for upgrading the PSG institutions and the Government Arts College as unitary universities. The number of colleges in the city, too, is set to increase. Bharathiar University is expected to get around seven colleges this academic year, while Anna University will get 30 more colleges. Since its inception, Anna University has added 16 new colleges. The overall figure of 71 is expected to touch the 100 mark shortly, says Vice-Chancellor R. Radhakrishnan.

While all the institutions are in their own way making their presence felt in the market by introducing or redesigning demand-driven courses, tying up with industry or with international institutions for dual-degree programmes, the focus is to make their graduates employable. Ensuring 100 per cent placements is the unique selling proposition (USP) the institutions use to enrol students.

While the general trend in the arts and science streams this academic year continues to be IT-oriented, Bharathiar University and its affiliated colleges have redesigned some outdated courses to make them job-oriented.

With the IT sector ruling the roost in terms of providing jobs, it is no wonder that more and more students are attracted towards computer education. Students do not realise that non-IT jobs will be in great demand in the years to come. There was a 7 per cent reduction in IT jobs last year. Computer science should be learnt in combination with a basic science or arts subject, says G. Thiruvasagam, Vice-Chancellor, Bharathiar University.

The university offers 10 free seats for deserving students and has introduced programmes such as earn while you learn, one-college-adopt-one school and Kaitharikku Kai Koduppom (encouraging handloom) and has strengthened its distance education programmes.

The university recently established a BU-DRDO Centre for Life Sciences and an automatic weather station on its premises. It will have a nano-science centre and also start work on a 100-acre (one acre is 0.4 hectare) Science Park with funding from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation to create a science research environment.

Undergraduates of the TNAU taking their examinations last April. Vice-Chancellor C. Ramasamy (standing, right) is inspecting the process.-M. PERIASAMY

Shri Nehru Maha Vidyalaya, an affiliated college of Bharathiar University, offers all courses along with computer education. We have not closed any of our basic science courses. Our focus is on practical teaching and learning that will extend to research. Some professional courses such as biotechnology are combined with a management course. We also offer add-on career-oriented courses, says M. Chandrakanth, joint secretary of the college.

Anna University is making rapid strides in terms of offering innovative courses and upholding good educational practices. The university has granted autonomy to seven colleges in a single year.

The university has introduced new patterns of evaluation and assessment. The revised internal assessment will carry 50 marks. It has outsourced the entire English syllabus. The overall grading system is by SGPA [Semester Grade Point Average] and CGPA [Cumulative Grade Point Average] rather than marks. The nine-point scheme of the international system is being followed, says Radhakrishnan.

It proposes to offer B.E. courses with Tamil as the medium of instruction from the next academic year. It is also planning to start outreach programmes through institutional tie-up with government, public and private organisations and to open overseas campuses.

Park College of Engineering and Tekhnology, an affiliated college of the university, plans to include complete solutions for aviation needs. We plan to make our flagship department Aeronautical Engineering a centre of excellence. We also propose to start an aircraft maintenance course, says Anusha Mahesh, chief executive of the Park Group of Institutions. The college is also pushing for a commercial pilot training course.

Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Ettimadai, has introduced a course in aerospace engineering. Prototypes designed by its students will be taken up for manufacture and marketing.

To start with, the insulin pump prototype, successfully tested by its students, will be taken up for manufacture this year, says the universitys Chief Operating Officer Abhayamitra Chaitanya.

Karunya University has adopted a green campus policy. It has been increasing the acreage of jatropha cultivation for its biomass project. Its present focus is on wind energy. The university is talking to private players to set up windmills on the campus, says Registrar Anne Mary Fernandez.

The RVS Group, which has a total of 60 institutions, focusses on educating rural students.

According to K. Senthil Ganesh, the managing trustee, the spotlight is on making students industry ready.

The PSG Institute of Management has applied for international accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. R. Nandagopal, director of the institute, is confident that the accreditation will give an international touch to its programmes and encourage student and faculty exchanges.

The higher education map of the city is expected to expand further. Educationists feel that Coimbatore will be making rapid strides, even faster than Chennai.

Many students come from neighbouring States, especially Kerala. Easy access and a wide choice of courses is the reason for this, says Thiruvasagam.

Some others believe that it is the industrial flavour and infrastructure, as most of the promoters of higher education are from business or industry, and a healthy mix of quality education and opportunities that are attracting students to the city.

The main building of the TNAU.-K. ANANTHAN

The university had its beginnings as an agricultural school in Chennai in 1876, and later blossomed into a college. In 1906, the college was shifted to Coimbatore and in 1971 it was upgraded as an agricultural university. Its alumni are among the top scientists in the country. Ten constituent colleges and four affiliated colleges function under the TNAU.

Apart from imparting education, the university is involved in intensive research carried out in 35 research stations and extension activities by 15 Krishi Vigyan Kendras located in various parts of Tamil Nadu.

The university offers 12 undergraduate programmes in its constituent and affiliated colleges. They are B.Sc. (Agriculture), B.Sc. (Horticulture), B.Sc. (Forestry), and B.Sc. (Home Science), B.Tech. (Agricultural Engineering), B.Tech. (Horticulture), B.Tech. (Food Process Engineering), B.Tech. (Energy and Environmental Engineering), B.Tech. (Bio-technology), B.Tech. (Bio-informatics), B.Tech. (Agricultural Information Technology) and B.S. (Agribusiness Management). It offers 29 masters programmes and 23 doctoral programmes in various disciplines.

Under the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) system, the university offers certificate courses and diploma and postgraduate programmes for farmers, rural youth, field service providers, entrepreneurs, extension personnel, non-governmental organisations and private sector institutions.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi, has entrusted the work of creating interactive and multimedia course content for the entire B.Sc. (Agriculture) programme to the TNAU, which will be hosted on a national server, to be shared by 44 State agricultural universities of India.

In a bid to make graduates develop a global mindset, the university will offer dual degree programmes from this academic year in partnership with foreign universities. According to Vice-Chancellor C. Ramasamy, these programmes will give the graduates a global edge and mould them as agri-business managers.

The university, in partnership with Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC), Canada, offers dual degree programmes in B.Tech. (Environmental Horticulture) and B.Sc. (Horticulture). In partnership with Cornell University, United States, it will offer two dual masters degree programmes Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree one in Food Processing and Marketing, and the other in Food Science and Technology.

The new programmes are intended to make agri-business managers out of farm graduates, the Vice-Chancellor says.

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