A mammoth institution

Published : Jun 04, 2004 00:00 IST

WHEN Prof. E. Balagurusamy, Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, Chennai, says that his university, with 243 affiliated colleges in Tamil Nadu and about 4.5 lakh students on its rolls, is the largest technological university in the world, he is aware of the burden it has placed on his shoulders. "We enroll 75,000 students every year. Owing to Anna University's size, our primary concern now is to improve the teaching skills of our teachers, provide quality education to the students, and make the students more employable," he says. Anna University is a mammoth institution that offers 40 undergraduate engineering programmes in disciplines that range from Civil Engineering to Leather Technology, 83 post-graduate programmes, and five M.Phil. programmes. Facilities are available at the university for students to pursue M.Phil. in science and humanities and doctoral programmes in all faculties.

Anna University has come a long way since its establishment as a school of survey in 1794 and its upgradation into a civil engineering school in 1858. It became a unitary university on September 4, 1978, with four institutions coming under its jurisdiction: the College of Engineering, Guindy; the Alagappa Chettiar College of Technology, the School of Architecture and Planning, and the Madras Institute of Technology located at Chromepet, on the outskirts of Chennai. In December 2001, the State government decided to bring all engineering colleges under the administrative control of Anna University. "The self-financing engineering colleges are affiliated to it today, with a total student population of 4.5 lakhs. Probably, in terms of size, this is the largest technological university in the world," Balagurusamy says.

It is the first university in the country to have a community FM radio of its own. It is building a micro-satellite for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

In order to improve the skills of teachers, Anna University has established the Centre for Faculty Development to help them update their knowledge, train them in new and emerging areas, and encourage them to undertake research. The university has trained about 1,500 teachers belonging to its affiliated colleges. Another 3,000 will be trained from June to August. "We are totally changing the syllabus, incorporating recent developments in science and technology and in order to meet the industry's requirements," says Balagurusamy. The university is aiming at making students more employable by cultivating in them proper attitudes and values. "We are teaching engineering students ethics and values. For if an engineer were to mix more sand in cement than the required proportion, the building may collapse," he says.

Anna University has introduced several new courses. These include B.E. in Food Technology, B.E. and M.E. in Pharmaceutical Technology, M.Sc. in Electronic Media, and M.Sc. in Information Technology. From June, a new course - M.E. in Plastic Technology - will commence.

Anna University has been conducting the Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Examination (TNPCEE). Through this single-window system, online admission of students is done to engineering colleges in the State. Around 70,000 students apply for admission to the engineering colleges every year and online admission is done for about 50,000 of them, based on merit-ranking.

Employment opportunities for IT engineers have improved, the Vice-Chancellor says. There was a slight slump in 2001 and 2002 in job opportunities for them because companies had spent a lot of money in solving the Y2K problem and the situation that obtained after the 9/11 terrorists attack in the United States was unfavourable. The situation has been "reversed", and "companies have started recruiting [IT professionals] in large numbers and this will continue for the next few years," he says. According to him, tremendous opportunities await IT engineers because IT is "basically an application tool". More important, India has a great potential for IT professionals because Indian companies have not used more than 15 per cent IT application. There is an 85 per cent gap in IT application. "If you start using IT in all spheres of trade and industry, there will be huge opportunities for the IT engineers in India because India has a big market. We can thus retain them and our companies' productivity will improve," he says.

Anna University is taking steps to improve the basic infrastructure in the private engineering colleges "as per our norms". Many of the colleges, he says, are cooperating because "those who do not, face the risk of disaffiliation". The university has disaffiliated three colleges for not adhering to its norms.

Anna University has also introduced placement service for all its affiliated colleges in order to enable the recruitment of students from rural areas.

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