Following the suicide of Pranay Kumar, the second-year student of PES Institute of Technology (PESIT), one of the city's leading engineering colleges, fellow students staged a protest against what they termed as the “student-unfriendly academic policies” of the autonomous institute.

Depressed as he felt he may not make the cut in the Continuous Internal Evaluation (CIE) and consequently the main semester examinations, the 19-year-old buckled under pressure.

Student protests forced both college authorities and the University to step back and take a relook at the existing system.

In this particular case, students blamed the college rule that those who did not get the minimum internal marks could not appear for the exam. In non-autonomous colleges, students can make up for the deficit in internal evaluations in the main examination, they said.

In turn, PESIT blamed the Visvesaraya Technology University (VTU), which exercises this rule on autonomous institutes affiliated to it.

Students countered this saying even the autonomy part was an issue for it vested far too many powers with the college, and unlike their counterparts in other VTU colleges, they had no grievance redressal mechanism.

Too much pressure?

While academics agree that the VTU syllabus itself is not too tough — in fact, it is easier than the syllabi in many other universities — they feel that colleges don't do enough to ensure that students cope well.

The response from students The Hindu spoke with was markedly different in autonomous and VTU colleges.

In some autonomous colleges, students complained that individual departments ramp up pressure by conducting weekly quizzes and unit tests, which are all part of the CIE. “The rules are not uniform and differ from college to college. The stricter college impose more rules and tests, which puts students under pressure. This can prove disastrous, particularly in the first year where students are still trying to get into the new mould of studying,” said a lecturer at a leading engineering college. Some are able to cope with the stress; others struggle, he added.

Hefty fees

Engineering colleges are a melting pot, with students from varied backgrounds. In Karnataka, in particular, a large number of students are from north and north-eastern States. The lack of any support system to go home to (most live in hostels or shared accommodations), makes them more vulnerable.

Sujith, from Patna studying in MSRIT, points out that most students pay hefty fees and have taken loans, or even mortgaged family property. “This weighs on them,” Sujith pointed out.

Poor grounding

Academics also blame poor grounding in mathematics and science for students not being able to cope. The lack of a uniform syllabus across the country only aggravates the problem.

(Some names have been changed to protect identities.)