Deepa Kurup

BANGALORE: This recession, which has tens of hundreds of careers in the software and engineering sector on the line, may have a silver lining as far as higher education is concerned. The number of candidates seeking admission to postgraduate courses in government engineering colleges or science institutes has increased by nearly 60,000 countrywide.

The Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE-2009), which is being conducted in 147 cities across the country on Sunday, has 2.3 lakh candidates vying for PG seats/doctoral programmes at central institutes and other government scholarship/assistantship at engineering institutes which use GATE scores. Last year, this number was 1.7 lakh, a 27 per cent increase in the number of aspirants. This figure does not include applicants to State and private universities.

An official at the GATE office in the Indian Institute of Science, which conducts this examination along with the seven Indian Institutes of Technology, told The Hindu that the number of applicants had increased from 15,000 to 28,000 in the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh region. “There is a dramatic increase in numbers in south India where several engineering colleges are concentrated. Hyderabad and Bangalore are the key centres,” the official said. Bangalore alone has 13 centres, and eight new cities across the country have been added to the list this year.

Academics, who have long resented IT companies snapping up the most talented minds, are gleeful that it will be a “more talented profile” — in terms of quality — seeking higher education and research roles this year. Charting trends in numbers, the official said the GATE exam had seen a similar surge in 2001 during the “dot-com bust”. “Since then growth has been slow, with the numbers plunging in 2006. This bounced back in 2007, but this kind of surge is unprecedented,” the official remarked.

Given the uncertainty in campus placements and the rapidly deteriorating job market, hundreds of students and even working professionals will be vying for 2,000-odd seats on offer in engineering courses. Jawahar D., CEO of PES Institute of Technology, said there was considerable anxiety even among those who have just landed cushy jobs. “Joining dates being delayed and rumours of recruitment freeze across sectors have led to students panicking. Even those with three offers are giving this exam a serious attempt,” he explained.

Vidhyuth M., a student of BMS College of Engineering, says competition can be tough.

His brother Avinash, a software engineer with three years of work experience, is also appearing for the exam. “Career growth in all companies is in a stunted phase, so it doesn’t pay to stick around. Many of my friends, who have been laid off, are writing both GATE and CAT this year, so they can be back in the market when things look up around mid-2010,” he explains.

Companies have been doing a U-turn on several placement offers made on campuses. Offers made as early as 2007 are still awaiting call letters, says Avinash S.K., a 2007 batch student who was placed in HCL. Wipro, for instance, recently offered job profiles in its BPO wing to engineering students.