Priscilla Jebaraj and K. Lakshmi

Engineering students buy a project package or get mechanical labour done

The centres have a readymade list of projects in each subject, from which students must choose

While colleges condemn the practice in public, many faculty encourage it in private

CHENNAI: His college may be shut by government order, but Anand* still has classes to attend. Three evenings a week, he goes to an engineering project centre in Kilpauk to pick up the basics about the fourth-year project that the centre is completing for him and two classmates – at the cost of Rs. 18,500.

“We had planned to do a robotics project, to make a fire-fighting robot. But when we told our guide about it, he told us it would take too much time to do on our own, and suggested that we go to the project centre,” says the final-year student of a private engineering college on the outskirts of the city. “They pretty much do the entire project for you – build the robot, do the project report and the documentation, give us the power-point presentations for the reviews. The classes are so that they can teach us the theory background and programming, so that we know what to answer in the reviews.”

Anand is not alone. At many private engineering colleges, at least 80 per cent of the students use these project centres, either to buy an entire project package or at least to do the mechanical labour, often spurred by their own teachers.

Sumitha* and her classmates are doing a project on automatic braking systems, and are doing their own research and reports. “But we can’t be expected to go out and buy components or do actual soldering, so our guide has accepted that we go to a project centre for that,” said the electrical engineering student, who is shelling out Rs. 10,000 for the work.

Project centres have a readymade list of projects in each subject, from which students must choose. If they insist on using their own ideas, they would be charged a higher fee, students say. Cost can vary from Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 30,000 per project.

While the project centre business is clearly booming – an internet search for such centres in Chennai throws up hundreds of addresses with detailed advertisements – some prefer to buy projects from their own seniors. D. Ram, a recent alumnus of an engineering college in Sriperumbudur, bought his final-year project on wireless communication devices from one of his seniors, as “three months is just not sufficient to complete a project.”

While colleges condemn the practice in public, many faculty encourage it in private. “There are staff who get commissions to point students to a specific centre,” says Jhansi*, a final-year student working on a digital multi-security system project. Many centres also hire the expertise of professors.

The quality is not always consistent, as Anand found out last month. “The power-point presentation they gave us for the second review was not very good, so we had to manage. I hope it is better for the final review,” he says. Sumitha adds: “There are centres which cheat you. They take your money and then halfway through, they say the components are not available,” she warns.

Anna University Vice-Chancellor P. Mannar Jawahar admits that the problem is widespread in private colleges. “In the university departments, we have facilities and experienced faculty so that we can either give students an in-house project or refer them to good universities,” he says. “But apart from 20-odd private colleges, all the rest recruit inexperienced, poor quality staff. If the faculty himself bought his own final year project, how will he guide students a few years later?” he asks. Companies are also reluctant to give project opportunities to students, he said.

K.S. Babai, Principal of Meenakshi Sundararajan Engineering College, says lack of experienced faculty is not an excuse.

“They should also learn while doing the project with the students,” she said, adding that she urges her staff to pull up students during the reviews. She also holds sessions in project planning and presentation during the third year so that students are more familiar with what will be required of them in the final year.