Resurgence of arts and science?

In arts and science colleges, admissions for university-allowed seats have reached nearly full-house. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat  

Engineering college admissions are coming to a close, and what started as a trend three years ago has been confirmed. Across India — in Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra and Telengana — higher education officials have been left staring at thousands of vacant seats. Have engineering courses lost their sheen?

Of the two-lakh available seats at Anna University in Tamil Nadu, only 1.07 lakh got filled; among the management quota, 50,000 seats remain vacant. In Bhubaneswar, about 20 colleges failed to reach double-digits in student intake. Around 30,000 of the total 46,000 B.Tech. seats have gone unfilled. This has raised serious concerns about the future of private institutions in this State.

In Uttar Pradesh, of the 1.47 lakh engineering seats in more than 300 colleges, only 23,000 are confirmed admissions, though 1.38 lakh candidates passed the SEE. Government colleges report a vacancy of 20 per cent. With thousands of unfilled seats around, the Kerala government is seriously thinking of doing away with entrance tests to increase admission to engineering colleges. Only about 50 per cent could be filled through entrance exams. In Mumbai, even blue-chip government colleges like VJTI and Sardar Patel College of Engineering have reported vacant seats this academic year, indicating falling interest in engineering subjects. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) puts the overall numbers at 40 per cent seats going unfilled. Strangely, even Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE), a popular course, has seen a downward swing.


Why? Reasons touch every aspect of higher education in the country. A common complaint is the disconnect between academic and industry standards — we churn out graduates who are unemployable. An official from Uttar Pradesh linked the diminishing popularity of engineering courses to lack of infrastructure and unfilled faculty posts.

In Odisha, a cry has gone up for the need to review the 15 per cent cap on admitting students not from Odisha to engineering courses. A study by M-tutor confirmed a long-known fact: About 65 per cent of students enrol in engineering out of parental compulsion. This is despite having little aptitude for math and science in high school. Like square pegs in round holes, these students found no interest in the field and ended up accumulating arrears. Another conclusion is that distraction from digital device has weakened students’ ability to grasp concepts and take notes in the classroom.

But it could also be that there is genuine interest in UG arts/science courses. In arts and science colleges, admissions for university-allowed seats have reached “nearly full-house.” After a request from college education authorities, universities have given the nod to colleges to expand arts/sciences admissions by 30 per cent. More interestingly, more than 50 engineering colleges with large numbers of unclaimed seats are planning to convert into arts and science institutions, and they have reportedly sought help from the UGC.

Season’s flavour

What are the students looking for in non-engineering classes? Mathematics must be the season’s flavour since certain Chennai colleges have declared admissions “closed” for this. Demand for physics, chemistry, zoology and geology has also been good, say admission officials. Commerce, of course, continues to hold its value as an undergraduate major. English literature has seen a spurt in demand. “There is a definite attraction and demand for basic sciences among students, said the principal of National College, Tiruchi. Bioinformatics is a hot subject, too.

“A gender-specific selection of courses at the college level has emerged,” said Dr. Usha Ravi, principal, Prof. Dhanapalan College of Arts and Science, Chennai. “Indeed more women students are opting for varied UG/PG courses at arts and science colleges over technical ones,” she adds, attributing it to the revamping of arts and sciences courses at Madras University that has made them interdisciplinary and application-oriented. “Including soft-skill training and value-education modules in the curriculum has helped develop the best employable graduates.”

The shift is marked among first-generation students from rural areas, she says. They believe an arts and science degree is more likely to fetch them a job now and brighten career prospects in the future. “Tamil-medium students want a degree in English, want to be ‘teachers of English’. A degree in computer science or applied-microbiology, biochemistry, biotechnology, nutrition and dietetics or mathematics assures them jobs related to their qualification,” she says.

Students of the college are clear about their choices. S. Yuvesha, a B.Com. fresher is planning to take a stab at the CA/ICWA/Banking examinations. “For lucrative jobs,” she said. P. Danisha, a student from Kerala chose biochemistry because she “Loved biology and chemistry at high school, and always wanted to be a research scientist.” Vidushi Kapoor, Kolkata, who joined this Padur College to attend the nutrition and dietetics programme, too, aims to do research.

“With a Ph.D. in nutrition sciences, I’d like to find ways to prevent diseases.” N. Karpagalakshmi's choice of computer science was clearly inspired by Dr. Abdul Kalam. “He said India would become a computer-oriented society. Besides, where are the jobs in engineering? IT firms prefer computer science graduates for mid-level jobs!”

Programming isn’t the preserve of engineering graduates, insisted H. Shabana, her classmate. “The focus of the undergraduate course isn’t just academics,” said C. Sujitha, a computer applications student. “We will emerge with employability skills such as communication and team-building.”

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 5:04:31 PM |

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