If you thought the Internet was a place to only buy clothes, books and household stuff, think again. Engineering students are increasingly using the Net to pick up academic projects, all done and dusted. All they need to do is look for the assigned subject, view photos and then go physically to the seller’s office and finalise the deal.

One of the websites selling its services states “Over 2014 VTU projects completed.” Another claims “Satisfaction 100 per cent guaranteed.” And, engineering students in their final year, who are expected to mandatorily work on their projects for a total of 100 marks, mostly concur.

Posing as an engineering student, this reporter visited one of the websites online and made a call. The person on the other end said: “All you have to do is choose the project and negotiate a price. We will give it to you in a short time.”

When this reporter said she was scared of being found out by the teacher, the person replied: “Do not worry. We will also coach you on the project so that it would seem like you have done it.”

Another project provider said he had sold at least 300 projects to engineering students over the last two years. He manufactures projects ranging from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 20,000. “The cheapest are infrared sensor projects that cost Rs. 2,000. Embedded systems projects are expensive and cost around Rs. 20,000. You will get better grades with these. We have 70 embedded system projects that you can chose from,” he said.

“Isn’t your business illegal?” asked this reporter. He retorted saying, “I am an aeronautical engineer. I have developed projects for various companies over the last 20 years. I do this just to make extra money. We help engineering students as most have only basic knowledge and do not know anything in depth.”

Students told The Hindu that these project providers were a boon. One student said in her class of 65, only 25 did their projects on their own. Among the remaining, some bought projects wholesale while others bought projects in bits and pieces. “Our professors are aware of this practice. So, they review our projects every month. To prevent us from getting caught, these companies make our project according to our needs.”

Anand M.S., a graduate of PES Institute of Technology said lack of knowledge and a support structure in the institutions led students to buy projects. No wonder the National Employability Report Engineering Graduates Annual Report 2011 states that only 17.45 per cent of the engineers surveyed in India are employable in the IT sector. Even the NASSCOM-McKinsey report 2005 did not rate engineering graduates highly.

Academicians say this is a “systemic problem” and add that students are not the only ones to be blamed.

K. Rajnikanth, former principal of the M.S. Ramaiah Institute of Technology said that dubious practices like these reflect the inadequacy of the faculty in colleges. “Teachers contribute to the perception that it is meaningless for students to undertake the projects within the campus,” he said.

He said there was a need for the faculty to take a proactive stand, undertake periodic reviews and ask for presentations. This would help reduce this trend to “outsource” the projects, he added.

Krishna Venkatesh of Jain University said: “The onus of tackling this issue lies with the college”

Vice-Chancellor of Visvesvaraya Technological University H. Maheshappa said the university had issued strict instructions to colleges that the guides should monitor the process. He said that even if a teacher doubted the credibility of a project, the university could not take action as there was no “concrete evidence” that it was done illegally.

“All we can do is reduce the marks,” he added.