The dismal show by engineering colleges in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) rankings has come as a grim reminder of the stagnancy in the field of technical education in the State.
Only five engineering colleges under State universities could make it to the list with two figuring between 201 and 300. While many argue that the ranking system did not take into account factors that vary from State to State, there is consensus within the academia and the industry that the scant importance reserved for research in Kerala’s academic system.
“We struggle to transform our examination-oriented education system to one hinged on research and innovations,” says Saji Gopinath, CEO, Kerala Startup Mission and Director, Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management Kerala.
Echoing the view, APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University Vice Chancellor Rajasree M.S. emphasised the need to create interdisciplinary research ecosystems that nurture start-ups on campuses before enabling them to set up base in IT parks.
The failure of higher education institutions in collaborating with research institutions and industrial organisations has also been a dampener.
Anoop P. Ambika, CEO of Technopark-based CLAP Research and executive committee member of Group of Technology Companies (GTech), a consortium of Information Technology (IT) companies in the State, said colleges must include industry experts among the faculty in various disciplines.
“The initiative will motivate students and encourage teachers to reshape the way knowledge is imparted. We need to clearly redefine our higher education system if we are serious about promoting Research and Development (R&D),” he said.
Educationist R.V.G. Menon said the teaching community should remain in sync with the changing times. For this, quality, rather than seniority, should be made the criterion for appointments and promotions.
Dr. Rajasree also advocated governance practices that incentivised research and merit on campuses. Universities and colleges must give priority to equipping students with problem-solving skills rather than confining academic activities to the curricula, she said.
Case for autonomy?
The poor show by the engineering colleges in the NIRF rankings is bound to renew clamour for granting academic autonomy to colleges that have for long complained of being stifled in a university system. It also comes at a time when five self-financing colleges have applied for academic autonomy. The University Grants Commission is conducting inspections in three of them.
While expressing doubts on whether autonomy could improve private colleges, Prof. Menon rued the opportunity that the College of Engineering Thiruvananthapuram (CET) had lost when it came close to attaining the status in the past.
“While academic autonomy would have enabled CET in gaining quality, it continued to rest on its past laurels,” he said.
Incentives for the best
Proposing an alternative for autonomy Dr. Gopinath called for creating a multi-tiered system that would enable greater freedom for the best-performing institutions. Currently, the rules framed to accommodate the least-performing institutes prevented the better ones from raising their standards, he said.