Tailor-made courses

Print edition : August 01, 2008

IN A LABORATORY in SASTRA University, Thanjavur.-M. SRINATH

Tamil Nadu opens up avenues for higher education suited to the needs of industry.

No candidate from Tamil Nadu among the top 10, read the headline of a news item in The Hindu on May 9. Quoting G. Viswanathan, Chancellor of VIT University, Vellore, the report said that of 9,628 candidates from the State who appeared for the VIT Engineering Entrance Examinations-2008, not one made it to the top 10. Last year, of the 138 students who joined the two B.Tech courses in avionics and aerospace, and the five-year integrated M.Sc. course in applied sciences at the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), established by the Department of Space, in Thiruvananthapuram, there was not a single student from Tamil Nadu.

According to C. Gnanasekaran, Vellore MLA, there were only 174 candidates from Tamil Nadu among the first 6,000 rank holders in the VIT Engineering Entrance Examinations. The majority of those selected were from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This reflects the poor standard of education in Tamil Nadu, he said. Gnanasekaran urged the State government to upgrade the syllabus prescribed by the Tamil Nadu Board of Secondary Examinations to improve the performance of students from the State.

Academics in Tamil Nadu, however, did not see it as a disquieting trend. They said students were not making it to such institutions either because of lack of awareness or because of their predilection for engineering colleges in the State itself. Most of our students are into information technology, computer science and engineering, and other related courses. For this, Anna University and its affiliated colleges are the preferred places in their list, said Prof. S. Ramachandran, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Madras. In Tamil Nadu, quality engineering education is available at affordable prices in government colleges such as College of Engineering, Guindy, and Government College of Engineering, Coimbatore. Institutions in Tamil Nadu provide job-oriented education at a relatively low cost [compared with other States] and with better quality.

Tamil Nadu has 349 engineering colleges offering almost a lakh seats in different streams. Seventy-one colleges got approval this year from the All India Council for Technical Education. Of the one lakh seats, 65,000 belong to the government quota and the remaining are to be filled up by the managements of self-financed engineering colleges.

There are 40 universities in the State. These can be categorised into government-funded universities (such as Madras University, Anna University, Bharathiar University and Mother Teresa University); private, government-aided universities (Annamalai University); and private, self-financed universities (hitherto called deemed-to-be universities). Two universities established recently were the Tamil Nadu Sports University and the Tamil Nadu Teacher Education University. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government has used its clout with the Centre to get a Central University at Tiruvarur, near Thanjavur, an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Tiruchi and a world-class university in Coimbatore. The State government has also announced that five government-run arts and science colleges will become unitary universities (as opposed to the affiliating types). They are Queen Marys College and Presidency College, both in Chennai; Government Arts College for Men (autonomous) and Government Arts College for Women, both located in Kumbakonam; and Government Arts College, Coimbatore.

Anna University-Chennai has 131 affiliated, self-financed engineering colleges and six constituent colleges. Of these six, two are coming up at Tindivanam and Villupuram this year. Vice-Chancellor Dr. P. Mannar Jawahar wants the university centres and constituent colleges to concentrate on collaborative research with industry. I would invite the industry to set up incubation centres [in these constituent colleges] and we will provide them with what is practically needed. In self-financed colleges, the staff strength is not high and their quality is low. We will take action on how to improve them. I want to convert the self-financed engineering colleges into the best teaching institutions, he said.

According to Dr. V.J. Philip, Principal of Madras Christian College (autonomous), Tambaram, a big concern was the dearth of students getting into pure science courses. I know that 75 per cent of the students are for joining courses in commerce, business studies, visual communication, computer applications, and so on. Only 25 per cent are for basic sciences and social sciences, said Philip. Of the 25 per cent, only 5 to 10 per cent were committed to studying pure science subjects. The rest were those who did not get admission in engineering colleges.

Philip was, however, confident that the situation would turn because the rate of development cannot sustain the engineering courses. A slowdown in the economy of the U.S. or Europe would affect the software industry in India. When the bubble bursts, things will even out. Ultimately, it is the core sciences that will stand us in good stead, he said.

Echoing the view was Dr. K. Sarukesi, Principal, Rajalakshmi Engineering College, Thandalam, near Chennai. The predilection for engineering education has caused damage to education in fundamental sciences such as B.Sc. in mathematics, chemistry, physics, zoology and botany, he said. The net result is that creativity in science and love for research are not available. This needs to be attended to by the policymakers.

Dr. S. Swaminathan, Director, Centre for Nanotechnology & Advanced Biomaterials, Shanmugha Arts, Science, Technology and Research Academy (SASTRA) University, near Thanjavur, said, Everybody is crazy about electronics and communications engineering (ECE) and computer science and engineering (CSE) today. Students who do not get admission in these get into allied circuit branches such as electronics and instrumentation engineering and electronics and electrical engineering. Courses in industrial biotechnology, bioinformatics, biomedical engineering and agricultural biotechnology continue to rule the roost.

Winds of change, however, are blowing. This year, the demand for admission to B.Tech in mechanical engineering and civil engineering has gone up because of the burgeoning construction and automobile industries.

Civil engineering companies have started facing a manpower crunch. They have started coming to our campus to recruit students, Swaminathan said. Personnel from C & C Constructions Limited have been training seventh semester civil engineering students of SASTRA on weekends. In the eighth semester, the students do project given by the company. The training is such that when they pass out they are ready to be employed on the site, he said. Ashok Leyland, Lucas TVS, Siemens Limited and other companies visited SASTRA to recruit mechanical engineering graduates.

DR. V.J. PHILIP, Principal, Madras Christian College.-A. MURALITHARAN

For several years now, Sarukesi has been advocating the marriage of the syllabi of computer science and engineering and IT courses with the curricula of mechanical, civil and electrical engineering courses. He drew attention to the mismatch between the numbers of diploma holders and engineering graduates passing out every year. Engineering education in China was designed in such a way that diploma holders were twice the number of graduates in engineering but it was the other way round in India, he said.

SASTRA, which is celebrating its silver jubilee this year, runs a polytechnic as well. There is a lot of demand for diploma holders in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, said Swaminathan. Construction companies have recruited a number of diploma holders in civil engineering as site engineers and supervisers. With Chennai and places around it such as Sriperumbudur, Maraimalai Nagar and Oragadam having become automotive hubs, the demand for diploma holders in automobile engineering has shot up, he said. The lateral entry scheme enables diploma-engineers to become graduate engineers by joining degree courses in the second year.

Courses that specialise in humanities too are a great attraction now. A postgraduate degree Master of Social Work (MSW) with specialisation in human resource management has become a smash hit with the multinationals. In fact, getting teachers for the MSW course has become difficult because all of them have joined MNCs, who pay them high salaries. Even undergraduates [BSW] are absorbed by NGOs [non-governmental organisations], said Philip.

According to Dr. V.D. Swaminathan, Director-in-Charge, Madras University Students Advisory Bureau, there is a terrific demand for those passing out with an M.Sc. in human resource development psychology.

A student with a postgraduate degree in archaeology, philosophy, journalism or history or an M.Sc. in mathematics or statistics can also go places provided the student has a bright academic record and is given to analytical thinking and can communicate coherently. V.D. Swaminathan called the decline in interest in the study of humanities an illusory trend. Every course/discipline has its own scope and potential. If you study history, there are several avenues open to you, he said.

The University of Madras has extended choice-based credit system in undergraduate and postgraduate courses in all its 104 affiliated colleges from the academic year 2008-09, said Ramachandran. Hitherto, the system was available only to postgraduate students of departments in the university.

The choice-based credit system allows a student to learn two subjects of his choice other than those in the main course of study. For instance, a student of chemistry (B.Sc. or M.Sc.) can take music as a subject. Or a student of Music can study biotechnology. A student attending one class a week is said to be earning a credit. The number of credits that a student earns would differ from course to course.

Another important step the university has taken this year is to introduce compulsory internship in industries for postgraduate students, including those pursuing humanities, in its affiliated colleges. So far, only postgraduate students of departments in the university did internship in industries. An M.Sc. student in chemistry in an affiliated college can now opt for internship in a pharmaceutical company or in the leather industry.

There is a great demand for B.Com and BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) courses. A number of students join B.A./M.A. in English Literature because of job opportunities in business process outsourcing (BPO) companies. M.Sc. psychology and actuarial science are also in demand.

Since 2006, Madras University has been offering an innovative three-year M.Sc./M.Tech course in nanotechnology. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has sanctioned Rs.30 lakh to the university to start an M.A. degree course in Buddhism, which will be a full-fledged one from 2009-10. The Department of Indian Philosophy will offer a paper in Buddhism as part of M.A. in philosophy from this year.

Departments in the university concentrate on three different types of courses: (1) M.Sc. in biotechnology and nanotechnology; (2) M.Sc. in industrial microbiology, medical biotechnology, biochemistry, polymer chemistry, and so on; and (3) postgraduate courses in human resource development, public administration, English literature, econometrics, actuarial sciences and political science. Courses in German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean are also on offer. There are also courses in Christian studies and Islamic studies.

There has also been a demand for courses in fashion technology, garment designing, performing arts, folk arts, IT-enabled services, hotel management, food technology, clinical microbiology, clinical psychology, and so on.

Seven new distance-education courses have been introduced. In addition, we have courses tailored to suit the needs of the industry, in subjects such as immunotechnology and stem cell technology. They are in good demand, said Ramachandran.

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