“Outsourcing of engineering projects can act as a bar to learning''

“Every body emits a certain radiation. Your robot will have the sensors that signal whenever the radiation is over a limit,” explains V. Elumalai to a group of engineering students. A month ago, they approached him with just the project title allotted to them – ‘A Robot that detects live bodies lying amid debris and dead bodies'.

However, Mr. Elumalai is no retired professor who is guiding them but a Burma Bazaar-based provider of ‘project solutions' to engineering students – an expert at bringing together ICs and cables to create live working models, and a source of much relief to students.

“Until about five years ago, it used to be just final year students, often with half-done projects that required completion. With the surge in Chinese goods that include cheaper electronics and finished goods, now many come a day before their submission,” Mr. Elumalai says. The increase in the number of students and importance given to demonstration of practical applications in colleges has meant a healthy business for people like him. “Many colleges have poor practical instructors and lab facilities. Final year students who come here do not know to distinguish between capacitors and resistors,” says Mohammed Arif, a ‘solution provider' on Ritchie Street.

During March and October, Mr. Arif gets around 40 orders a week, ranging from a compressor to improved wind turbines and solar street lights. And part of the deal is also a 300-page project report with an attached synopsis and interview questions. Students pay anything between Rs 1,500 and Rs 15,000 for these projects. “They even come with their parents to thank me after the project demo,” says Mr. Elumalai.

The web too is a favourite among project seekers. Many websites have projects listed under different categories, depending on the budget and delivery destination. Ninety per cent of threads on engineering forums have students asking for ready- made code. “The reasons are ‘I am late for submissions', ‘I do not know how to start', or simply, ‘I just want my project done, and I am ready to pay',” says Kaustubh Katdare, founder, CrazyEngineers, an online community.

Many students say it is often useless spending time on the project especially when the semester is barely four months long. “Most internally marked projects get high scores, and external supervisors rarely fail people on the project front,” says R. Lakshmi, a student of a self-financed college.

Professors say they usually identify where projects come from. “We urge students to spend at least an hour every week in the college on their project. Instructors are asked to monitor them and test their programming skills by asking them to make changes to the output. But when it is not done, we find most have been designed with excessive professional help,” says R. Ramachandran, associate professor (computer science), Anna University.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012