The present system allows diploma holders to apply for admission to the engineering course through counselling. They join the mainstream engineering students in the third semester

The option for diploma holders to join the second year engineering course under the lateral entry system, though perceived as an attractive opportunity to enter mainstream engineering, seems to be suffering from “some inherent flaws” from what the faculty and students have to say.

The present system allows diploma holders to apply for admission to the engineering course through counselling. They join the mainstream engineering students in the third semester (second year).  The point of contention is that since the results of the diploma examinations are released in May every year, the counselling is also delayed and hence by the time they join engineering course – late August or early September -  they have lost out on almost two months of portion completed by their Plus-Two counterparts.

The fallout of this is that they not only miss out on the syllabi of that semester, but are not able to cope with because of their lack of expertise in English and mathematics.  The diploma holders who come after a three-year education in polytechnic colleges do not have the mathematical knowledge of their mainstream engineering counterparts who gain that knowledge in Plus-One and Plus-Two.

Some other disadvantages these diploma holders face, according to academics, are: a different attitude because they are trained to become skilled middle level supervisors and not managers, have more shop floor orientation, and lack design skills that are expected of an engineer.

It is a huge paradigm shift for these diploma holders to begin thinking as engineers and also changing their learning pattern when they join an engineering college.

Senior academics say that the system of lateral entry was brought in by the Government for those diploma holders who aspired to advance their professional capability.  But some students use this as a backdoor entry.  Instead of facing the stiff competition that Plus-Two students face during counselling, they choose to complete diploma with high marks and get into one of the premier engineering institutions.  Academics say that some polytechnic colleges boost the marks of students to enable them do so.

P.V. Mohan Ram, Head, Department of Mechanical Engineering, PSG College of Technology, says that it is a struggle for these diploma holders to become part of mainstream engineering, not only content-wise, but also socially. 

“Though these 20 per cent – 12 out of a class of 60 – who enter in the second year are all toppers in diploma course, they are not able to handle engineering education in the same manner.  The main problems are lack of mathematical ability and English knowledge.  It takes much effort on their part and the teachers to help them overcome this difficulty.  Colleges offer special coaching, bridge programmes and peer guidance. The delay, however, is the main problem,” he says.

Feedback from the students, some who are only a few months into the course and those others who have successfully completed a year shows that becoming part of the mainstream is not just a physical effort but much more a mental ability.

Some of them agree that they were misled to believe that studying engineering after diploma would be easy.  “Only when we experienced the first semester (third for mainstream students) did we realise that it is nowhere near the truth.  The syllabi and teaching-learning pattern of engineering and polytechnic are as different as chalk and cheese,” says Vinith Varshan R, who is into the second semester (fourth semester for mainstream students).

Some others join diploma because family situation does not permit them to undertake an engineering course. 

They are oriented to become diploma holders, get a job for Rs. 10,000 a month and supplement the family income. 

The problem arises when these boys are suddenly pushed by the improved family circumstances to become engineers.  It gets compounded when they get very high marks when they pass out with diplomas. They say that they are not able to convince the elders at home that topping in diploma does not qualify them to excel in engineering.

The problems they echo are the same as listed out by the faculty.  Above these are the social adjustments they have to make.  When they join in the second year, the mainstream students have already spent a year together and hence it takes time for the new comers to become part of that established class. Also, lack of communication skills prevents them from mingling freely with their mainstream classmates. While some quit midway with many arrears, there are also others who overcome the challenges and find their place among the toppers.

Pre-final engineering student K. Gowtham, who joined with a diploma in mechatronics, is among the toppers in his class, and attributes his success to having studied in an English medium school, self-motivation and hard work.