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Crisis in Engineering Education: Time to re-think approach to education

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The Hindu Business Line |  Chennai, April 26 |  Swathi Moorthy | Opinion |

Outdated curriculum, lack of soft skills, and automation pose major challenges to students

CHENNAI, 16/04/2011: Aspirants writing the VIT Engineering Entrance Examination at the University’s Chennai campus on Vandalur – Kelambakkam Road on April 16, 2011. Photo: A. Muralitharan

Skill gap

According to a study by Aspiring Minds Research Cell, Tamil Nadu lags in average quality of talent. The study was based on an employability test, AMCAT, taken by 1.2 lakh engineers across India for IT services and related jobs. It stated that though Tamil Nadu is considered an engineering hub, the State’s engineering students’ employability is only 8.33 per cent.  A senior professor in a well-known engineering college in Chennai says: “That is at the core of all the problems the engineering discipline is facing now. Engineering calls for lateral thinking, for students to apply what they have learnt; that is not happening.” When a school student is suddenly faced with a system that is different from what she is habituated to, it is tough to cope. “Curriculum should be changed in such a way that it trains students, right from class VI-XII, to think out of the box and apply what they have learnt,” the professor added.

N Saravanan, an assistant professor from a government engineering college in Kanyakumari, says: “Another issue is the attitude towards knowledge-oriented education. Colleges focus on coaching students just like schools, to get 100 per cent pass percentage. That is what most parents too demand.” Unlike Chennai, where some colleges are taking the initiative to look beyond syllabus, most colleges are text-book focussed and students lack communication skills.  K Thyagarajan, Principal, Ponjesly College of Engineering, Kanyakumari district, said: “Most of our students come from villages in Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and some parts of Kerala, and lack soft skills. This is a major challenge when it comes to placements as companies prefer students with good communication skills.” The college has started providing spoken English classes right from the first year. “We are getting good feedback from companies that come for recruitment,” he added.  To enhance technical skills, Anna University is introducing choice-based credit system, where the curriculum is designed based on industry requirements. This allows students to choose inter-disciplinary courses, which is not an option right now. For example, a mechanical student can choose an electrical or a computer science course. Electives too are changing. A faculty from the Centre for University Industry Collaboration, Anna University, says: “We keep changing electives every year based on the current trend, to be in line with industry needs. Now the classrooms are IT-enabled and staff are trained by industry people. This is to make students employment-ready.”

Placement hurdles

But that alone is not enough to ensure 100 per cent placement, as the trend is moving towards product development and automation, from pure services. IT services companies have traditionally been mass recruiters. But in the past few years, fresher recruitment is shrinking across Tamil Nadu as these firms too are looking for niche skills.  According to technical institutions, IT companies are recruiting less people now as they shift increasingly to automation. Companies are looking for niche skills for core product development, and according to JP Jayaprakash Gandhi, a career consultant and analyst, they find students lacking in this area.  For colleges, placement is an important factor as it is directly proportional to the student intake and their reputation.  According to a placement cell staff from Ponjesly, recruitments have not been good this year as only IT services companies are come for campus placements. The college claims to have so far managed to place 70 per cent of its final-year students with salary ranging ₹10,000-50,000.  “Students pay several lakhs of rupees to earn a degree, so they find the salary inadequate, Gandhi says “This is the issue the State is facing right now. We are overproducing engineers who do not have the right skills needed for the industry.” A senior professor from Anna University feels students, right from the beginning, aspire to work in a comfortable environment and are not willing to go to the shop floor. This is causing industries that have huge potential such as textile and leather, to lose out on good talent. “We have about 90 students passing out of textile engineering every year. Since most of the jobs are in rural area, they shift to IT or drop out in the middle of the course. –  Courtesy

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