Why No Takers?

The diminishing popularity of ME/M.Tech programmes is a cause for concern. These programmes need to be strengthened with innovative schemes, academic flexibility and the inclusion of emerging technologies

October 05, 2019 11:18 am | Updated 11:18 am IST

Close to 80% of seats in the ME and M.Tech programmes at engineering colleges, under the purview of Anna University (Chennai), remained vacant after the admission process was completed this year. This is definitely a matter of concern for educators, particularly in technical education.

The field is already suffering from diminishing popularity at the undergraduate level, and one of the major causes is the dearth of competent postgraduate and doctoral teachers. According to a recent review committee report of the Tamil Nadu government, there are 1,930 vacant teaching posts in the 33 government/university departments/colleges and 85 polytechnics in the state. Since today’s students become tomorrow’s teachers, this trend of decreasing admissions in PG engineering programmes could forecast a worsening of the situation, not only in academic degree programmes, but also in engineering research.

It may, however, be interesting to know that even during the times of higher popularity of engineering education, admission in postgraduate programmes was not always as coveted as for undergraduate programmes, even in IITs, IISc, NITs and constituent colleges of Anna University.

Failing popularity

The reasons are many, one is that for most students, “education is for a job”. While a good undergraduate degree in engineering is often sufficient to fetch you a decent job, a postgraduate degree may not improve the prospect too much. This is most apparent in areas like computer science in which we have faced a dearth of teachers with postgraduate degrees, for a long time. It is funny that a postgraduate degree may even reverse the charm of just an undergraduate degree, since, ultimately, you may end up as a ‘teacher only’, which you may despise (unjustifiably).

The second reason is that the two-years that one spends on the ME or M.Tech programme is too much as a professional experience of that length could bring in more benefits to the student. For this reason, some join the course in lieu of a job and quit the moment they get one. This attrition leads to valuable seats being left vacant since it would be too late to fill them with those wait-listed. Migration to other institutions for reasons such as better academic status, placement history, credibility, the possibility of financial assistance and the like is another reason for the attrition.

Some institutions are indulging in disservice to education by conducting half-baked PG programmes in engineering without proper infrastructure, faculty, periodic assessment, attendance requirements, and so on, but are awarding degrees verging on fake degrees. These institutions do not complain of low admission. Such academic offences must be dealt with greater severity and admonition than economic offences.

Solutions

One way of making the ME/M.Tech programmes more inviting is to strengthen the ‘teacher-candidate’ scheme that we had in reputed institutions like College of Engineering, Guindy in Chennai. Under this scheme, bright raw BE/B.Tech graduates, with an aptitude for teaching, were taken in as lecturers for undergraduate classes, with reduced workload, and simultaneously allowed to undergo the relevant postgraduate programme in the same institution for an extended duration, with the condition that they would serve as teachers in the same institution after finishing the course. This not only helps to add better and motivated postgraduate students, but also assures quality teachers to replace the contract teachers who have limited tenures and responsibilities.

Another way is to bring back the old system of one-and-a-half-year ME/M.Tech programmes that we had some years ago. The resulting reduction in the duration of the programmes will be definitely more inviting to many. We will still be better than some of the western countries where one-year postgraduate programmes are offered. M.Sc programmes in Advanced Mechanical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, the U.K.; MS programmes in Computer Science at the University of British Columbia and Western University, Canada; and Computer Science and Information System at the University of Utah, the U.S., are samples of 12-month programmes.

Introducing emerging technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) with data science, IoT (Internet of Things), quantum computing, augmented and virtual reality, blockchain and cybersecurity, microbots, and stem cell therapy as specialisations, at the postgraduate level, will add value to the programmes.

Providing for dual specialisation within the same major discipline and dual programmes in different disciplines will also enthuse takers. Duration, of course, will be longer. Catering to smarter candidates, accelerated programmes that allow them to finish the course on a compressed timeline will also be helpful. With the choice-based credit system in vogue, an overload of credits can be allowed, enabling early course completion. Possession of professional experience can be given credit to reduce the course load.

A recent announcement by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) chairman, Anil Sahasrabudhe, stated that postgraduates who plan to become engineering faculty will be required to undergo eight modules of training and three weeks of internship should not be a deterrent, but a welcome feature for those with a real aptitude for teaching.

The diminishing popularity of postgraduate education is definitely deplorable. The undergraduate programmes are often only the gateways to higher education and never complete in themselves. This is because, at this level, most fundamentals are exposed to the learner in a diffused way; the real and deeper understanding of at least some chosen specialised area is made possible only in a master’s programme. It is imperative, therefore, to save our ME/M.Tech programmes.

The writer is a former professor and Director, Entrance Examinations and Admission, Anna University, Chennai.

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