Managements and teachers need to understand what their students want and adapt themselves accordingly.

Industries in India feel that only about 25 per cent of the engineering graduates passing out are employable. Being the end users of the products from engineering institutions, we need to value their assessment and strive to bridge the existing gap so as to make every student employable. Even though everyone is aware of this, not much has been done about this in the higher education institutions. A few of the critical factors that will help in bridging this gap are identified and analysed here, for the benefit of the administrators of engineering institutions.

When students get admitted this year, the institution has to understand that its job is to prepare them for the marketplace in 2020. As predictions go, the marketplace in 2020 will witness a sea change in the office space and shop floor. For example: pen and paper and hard files would be outdated, replaced by touch tables and electronic storage banks. More than 90 per cent of the manual work would be replaced by automation, and digital processing will be the order of day. In general it will be highly technology oriented, net connected, multi-cultural, virtual teams with flexi timing and border-less operations.

Embracing technology

How much have the present day institutions geared up to meet the challenges of training students to cope with these requirements is a question? The infrastructure and the exercises will reflect their preparedness.

Digitisation in academic and administrative processes will not only improve the efficiency of the institution but also help in keeping pace with the ever changing world. Digital learning management systems with software packages such as MOODLE and HOT POTATO make learning interesting and effective for students.

The present generation has a fascination for anything digital. When students are asked to submit their lab records and class assignments in the soft form and are corrected using digital pen and sent back digitally, they appreciate it. This has been tested at VIT Chennai and the feedback is highly encouraging. Students enjoy the flexibility in timing in submission and viewing the corrected version in no time in their palm top. Social networking sites should be effectively channelised and used for augmenting learning.

The major mistake committed by most of the teachers in engineering colleges is that they follow the methodologies of yesteryear which is not appreciated by the Gen Y.

Understanding Gen Y

Engineering institutions, especially the teachers, should understand the Gen Y before formulating the strategies for the various academic processes in the classrooms as well as the laboratories. I am sure that if sufficient home work is done in understanding the Gen Y and redefining the educational processes in the colleges, students will focus on learning and the value addition will be guaranteed, which remains a question now.

Virtual operations seem to attract Gen Y. Flexibility in timing and use of modern gadgets such as iPad and Notebooks enchant them. My students liked it most, when I created an ‘e’ group on Facebook in which all my batch students are members and I gave them assignments after 8pm. In most cases they did not mind working even up to 2 am to submit the assignment. If one student submits the assignment, it is in the open domain, and others can view it. If copied, the mark given is zero. This has worked out very well and all the students enjoyed learning.

Textbooks are no doubt essential in education, but learning comes from experience. The experience of applying concepts in the real-life situation, focusing on higher order thinking, training and testing them on application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation will take the students to the higher level of learning. It may not be easy, but no one can say that it is impossible.

Industries are currently engaged largely in solving Gen Y-related issues. The youth has unique strengths: tech savvy, networking capacity, creativity and ability to absorb things quickly. They do have weaknesses such as being impatient, valuing peers more and being very informal.

The challenge

The critical component of any educational institution is undoubtedly the teachers. Attracting good, committed, qualified faculty members and retaining them is a great challenge. Very few institutions have succeeded in this. An institution which treats teachers well naturally excels. Disparity in salary, not giving UGC approved salary, not giving due respect to teachers, creating a fear psychosis among teachers, not providing a conducive academic ambience for them to do their duty, pulls down the standard of the institution.

The ‘value’ system followed in the institution, the object of running the institution and the ‘mission’ is also important. There is a need for constant monitoring of these; else the credibility will be lost.

The normal excuse given by the institution for the statement that ‘only 25 per cent of graduates are employable’ is that one can only take the horse to the pond and one cannot make it drink.

The horse has to take the initiative and drink. It is true. But what we must understand and check is that whether the pond water is potable; the horse is at a reaching distance to consume water; the ambience and surroundings are clean and hassle-free; the horse is thirsty before taken to the pond, and the water has some nutrients that make it sweeter and healthier.

The responsibility for making these happen lies with the teachers and the institute.

The author is the Pro Vice chancellor of VIT Chennai. He can be contacted at provc@vit.ac.in