The emerging job markets demand a broad-based curriculum, standardised evaluation and excellent faculty.

t the 12th Annual Meeting of the AICTE, held in April 1959, the Chairman, Prof Humayun Kabir, observed: “Our institutions are lavishly planned regarding buildings and sometimes also in the matter of equipment, while teaching posts remain unfilled or inadequately filled for long periods. Let the improvement of the quality of teachers be one of the highest priorities for our Third Five Year Plan.”

Accordingly, the Government initiated a Technical Teachers Training Programme (TTTP) in 1959 – 60, through which brilliant graduates were recruited and trained over a three-year period in select centres. This illustrates how carefully the initial phase of expansion of technical education in this country was planned and executed.

One cannot help comparing this with the unplanned and unbridled 'sudden expansion' which the field has witnessed since the 1980’s — 337 institutions and 68,600 intake capacity in 1990 to 3148 institutions and 10,45,691 intake in 2011.

No compromise

No wonder there is an acute shortage of qualified and experienced teachers, and the quality of education has taken a severe drubbing. The average pass rate in most states is below 40 per cent and in many colleges; it is less than 10 per cent.

The compulsion to fill up the seats at any cost, has inevitably increased pressures to lower admission qualifications. All this is done with the sole aim of making the colleges profitable because most of them have been started as business propositions.

A highly respected academician like Prof Anandakrishnan, former Chairman of Tamil Nadu Higher Education Council, and Chairman, BOG, IIT Kanpur, had commented that “a large number of promoters who came forward to start private colleges in the 1980s and 90s were not qualified or competent to do so.

A plethora of powerful former politicians and promoters with political connections and money power began running business enterprises in the guise of engineering colleges. Therefore, it became very difficult for AICTE to impose regulatory mechanisms to control growth and quality and even professionals heading AICTE found it impossible to manage the political pressure which assumed monstrous proportions.”

Unregulated

Tests conducted at all-India levels indicate that the employability of engineering graduates in the country averages around 20 per cent. One of their interesting findings is that “The employability per cent decreases with an increase in the number of engineering colleges in a particular state, clearly establishing that opening more engineering colleges will not solve the problem of quality.”

All the expert committees have unanimously advocated curbs on the unbridled expansion of the field of technical education, but every year we hear new colleges being sanctioned.

The AICTE says that the States are responsible for giving NOCs to new institutions. The States complain that they are helpless, and that the AICTE bypasses them.

The universities do not discharge their lawful responsibility in ensuring quality in the affiliated colleges. There is a general air of laissez faire, with the market and money power deciding matters of crucial importance.

Talent pool

This is where we are now, at a crossroads. If we want to go the right way, there is no doubt that we should begin with a moratorium on new colleges, and then a ruthless culling of the existing institutions, eliminating all those who are not dedicated to imparting quality education. Admission standards should not be lowered at any cost. Instead, the aspirants should be guided to other areas of study, for which they have the taste and talent. Finally, a new Technical Teachers Training Programme aimed at attracting some of the best and brightest of our graduates into teaching and research should be launched at the national level.

The recent move, making a master’s degree compulsory at the entry point, is a retrograde step, in this context. As distinct from sciences or humanities, the best graduates in engineering may not choose to go for higher studies, because they have so many more attractive options. So, there has to be campus recruitment at final year B.Tech level, if we want to attract the best of them into teaching and research. Then they can be deputed for M Tech and PhD, on the basis of a bond to serve as a teacher for a fixed period.

Finally, both the curriculum and pedagogy need to be revised drastically. Most of our universities still follow the age old rigid and formal system. True, the syllabus may be modernised periodically, but that is not enough. Continuous and comprehensive evaluation, as well as choice based credit system have to be introduced in a meaningful way.

The curriculum has to be broad-based and flexible to meet the challenges of the new emerging job markets, and the student should have a greater role in choosing what he / she should specialise in. This will definitely pose a much greater challenge to the faculty and management, to meet which, they will have to be enriched and empowered.

The author is a former Principal, Government Engineering College, Kannur