Why are there no takers for the 55,000 engineering seats this year in Tamil Nadu?

This was mega rejection. Seats for which parents prepare kids in kindergarten, seats that entice students with a promise of El Dorado, seats that were fought over till five years ago, remained discarded like all that paper you see outside Anna University during counselling days. After the last admission slip for engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu was handed over, some 55,000 seats were found “not-taken.” These were almost entirely in the self-financing institutions. Strangely, the final number of admissions was 1,20,712 of about 1.75 lakh seats — a record, said officials of Tamil Nadu Engineering Admission (TNEA), compared to those in the years 2008-2012. Why were so many colleges left staring at empty chairs?

Had to happen, say people in the know. “A clear case of supply outstripping demand,” said educationist Dr. E. Balaguruswamy, endorsing TNEA secretary Prof. V Rhymend Uthariaraj’s contention that the increase in the number of private engineering colleges was the main reason. The number of applications was the same, but 25,000 seats had been added since last year when 45,000 seats went empty, added the former vice-chancellor of Anna University. Many of the mushroomed colleges severely lack in teaching, social management and infrastructure, he said. “Those who pass with arrears and a poor degree become faculty when they can’t get a job elsewhere, perpetuating an unsavoury circle.” Students reject them and go for other streams when they can’t get into reputed colleges. No, engineering hasn’t lost its sheen.

Changing notion

Approved intake has also increased, said Prof. PT Manoharan, IIT and former VC, University of Madras. And slowly, the notion that engineering is the only way to get a good job is changing, he added. Engineering placement is shrinking and targets the best (“no ads even in good colleges”), and those with low scores end up hunting for jobs for several months.

Simultaneously, the Department of Science & Technology has been promoting pure sciences for promising careers. Some 90 per cent applicants opted for Mechanical Engineering seats this year because there is a demand for them in the middle-east. “It will be an interesting study to find out how many students get into “other” courses — like nursing, physiotherapy and hospitality,” he said.

Course or college?

It is the course, rather than the college, said Prof. Uthariaraj, adding Mechanical Engineering (25,391) and Electronics & Communication Engineering (24,500) topped “preferences” this year.

Yes, students do want to join branded colleges, said a Coimbatore-based HR consultant. “Many of the new colleges have nothing to boast of,” he said. The fee-structure doesn’t help, when large numbers from underprivileged homes knock at the engineering college doors. “Many are average academically. If they are going to be supported by bank loans, will they be able to fulfil the demands of self-financing colleges and repay when placements are delayed and settle for low salaries?” The Government has made counselling mandatory for loan eligibility. Banks refuse loans to those who join on the management quota and these are the seats that mostly go untaken. “And how many colleges faithfully charge the government-fixed fee? The minimum a student has to shell out is around Rs.1.25 lakhs.”

Beyond core engineering

A conversation with B. Arch students Kaushik, Ajay, Nazer, Krishna, Kavith and Karthi threw up exciting sidelights to the issue. “Our parents just let us choose our courses,” said this group that has made an award-winning short film. “We came to know of a lot of new courses like audio engineering, leather technology. Also, how good is the demand for core engineering graduates in subjects like B.Tech, Civil? Have core companies multiplied? It’s IT all the way. And these have been hit by global recession.” They thought for a while. “It could also be because girls aren’t flocking to Computer Science degrees. They know long hours will force them to quit IT jobs. They’re applying for courses (MassCom) for less strenuous jobs.”

The demand for architecture is up by 50 per cent, said the HR consultant. There are more girls in it than before. The National Aptitude Test for Architecture requires just basic abilities in drawing and maths. “With 40 per cent, you can come out as a decent architect.”

Networking technology must be added to the list of factors for the trend. Word-of-mouth has been replaced by click-of-icons spreading information about colleges and alternative courses to large groups at once.

The fall-out has been strange, even bizarre. Reports say some colleges admit a sibling free if one takes admission. Students often double up as recruiting agents. But there could be solutions. “Only PSG, Coimbatore, keeps an alumni record,” said the consultant. “It will be good if engineering colleges track students for at least five years. We might find how many end up in clerical/underpaid jobs.” And the standard of engineering teaching must be improved, they assert.