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Updated: February 2, 2010 14:55 IST

Technical education — challenges ahead

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P. Mannar Jawahar, Anna University vice-chancellor. Photo: S.S. Kumar
The HIndu P. Mannar Jawahar, Anna University vice-chancellor. Photo: S.S. Kumar

Accreditation norms do exist, but their foundation needs strengthening, says Anna University vice-chancellor P. Mannar Jawahar.

In India technical education has been booming of late. Earlier it was dream-come-true for only a handful, but today a popular choice for lakhs of students. In the current academic year and in Tamil Nadu alone 85 new self-financing engineering colleges were approved by AICTE and the total number is 444, second to Andhra Pradesh (523). The five southern states account for 69 per cent of 8.19 lakh students enrolled in 2,297 engineering colleges across the country.

Obviously the courses being offered have almost quadrupled recently. In Anna University itself from just three basic branches known as Civil, Electrical and Mechanical (Soil, Coil and Oil branches), it has expanded to 41 courses in UG and beyond 100 courses in PG. New and emerging areas like Biotechnology, Nanotechnology, Ocean Engineering and Climate Change, Environmental Engineering, etc., are also added.

States such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa together account for just 14 per cent of India 's technical colleges. This regional imbalance and quality are now the grave concerns.

To improve the technical education and reach global standards the following need immediate attention.

Global accreditation norms

The proliferation of manufacturing industry in early 1990 and IT in late 1990 created demand for churning out quality engineers in great qualities, mainly from countries enriched in youth population. But, professional service like engineering requires graduates who are confident about their knowledge and skills and adept in planning and execution. Infrastructure and faculty strength are the cornerstones for success in such practical-oriented courses. While accreditation by national agencies like NBA helps ensuring quality, our standards and procedures are not as stringent as that of international (ABET, IET) agencies. Therefore a common accreditation mechanism has to be evolved for establishing uniform global standards for serving the global community.

Moral fabric, the missing component

Ethics and moral values like self-discipline, commitment, character and integrity are as important as intellectual brilliance. A professional course is meant for creating professionals, whose knowledge and conduct could be trusted at face value. It is ironical that ethics, which should be part of their personality and profession, is insisted and imparted through special lectures and courses even for experienced engineers. Students are obviously ignorant of such values and imparting it is more difficult compared to imparting knowledge. It has to be imbibed from exemplary teachers and senior colleagues who should serve as role models. The administration and management of educational institutions, accreditation bodies and Councils should ensure the system has this in place.

Facilitating the needy

Being an agrarian State, 70 per cent of Indian population is rural and lacks facilities available in urban settings. In Technical Education, the rural-urban divide should be eliminated by facilitation. The language and communication skills, culture and practices, etc., need special attention and molding methods. The technical institutions have the best opportunity to bridge the gap taking it as societal responsibility for uniform professional development across the country. Anna University-Chennai has successful working models for such adoption.

The future — Entrepreneurship development

Technical education should accord equal weightage to science, engineering and technology, since science contributes to engineering and engineering contributes to technology. Analytical thinking, intellectual reasoning and research pertaining to industrial development, should be the primary goals. Unlike science, which could remain investigative and fundamental, engineering and technology deliver products.

Therefore practical utility of the theoretical knowledge is essential for technical education and institutions should accord high priority to industrial training and entrepreneurship development. Students should be job-providers rather than job-seekers. They should be knowledgeable in IPR, legal contracts and other business mechanisms.

In conclusion, technical education of our country is in the threshold of having to undergo major reforms as indicated above for building a credible professional workforce which has to build the nation for the welfare of our future generations.

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