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How self-financing colleges lost the course – Crisis in Engineering Education: Tamil Nadu

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The Hindu Business Line | Chennai, April 26 |  R BALAJI  |   SWATHIMOORTHY  |  Opinion |

There is a mismatch in what the industry demands and the talent that is on offer

Representational Image

No student has been admitted to 23 private colleges, including two teaching architecture, this year. Just 14 colleges have filled their entire allocation of sanctioned seats. In between are 50 colleges that have not been able to fill even 10 per cent of their sanctioned seats, and over 250 colleges have less than half the number of students they are allowed to handle.  At least 20 colleges in Tamil Nadu have opted to close and are part of 250 country wide, according to reports.  Many of these self-financed colleges are simply not financially viable. Many that are pulling on do not have the wherewithal to offer quality education. For instance, engineering colleges lack sufficient infrastructure such as well-equipped labs to keep up with the changing trends. Due to this gap, they lose out to the ones that are financially stable. It is one of the main reasons why deemed universities are doing well, says V Balu*, an engineering college faculty in Tirunelveli. An administrator from a college in Kanyakumari, says. “Our admissions have come down by half. But the founder has different business interests because of which we are able to run the college,”These colleges are backed by politicians, businessmen (mostly in real estate) and religions institutions with deep pockets.

Capitation fees

One good news is that the exorbitant capitation fees are no longer the norm. According to an engineering college faculty, around five years ago, the capitation fee for reserving seats in engineering colleges ran to lakhs of rupees — over ₹6 lakh for Mechanical and Civil Engineering and ₹1 lakh for Information Technology. Now things have changed for better, at least in majority of the colleges. It makes sense, considering how colleges are struggling to fill their seats every year. The focus is now on attracting more students for the fixed fee set by the University.  Balu said the starting salary for teachers too have come down in the past five years as admissions decreased. “Initially, most colleges gave a salary of ₹19,000-33,000 for a fresher. But now that has come down to ₹12,000-14,000. In addition, professors are forced to bring 2-3 students each for admission or they face a pay cut of close to three months,” he said.  Sundar Ram*, a faculty in the mechanical engineering department of another college, concurs. He has been instructed to find three students for the upcoming academic year. “We try to find scholarship students from Scheduled Caste or Tribes or first-generation graduates, who are eligible to get free education,” he added. “When you cut the pay and commercialise education, quality faculty will leave the institution for a better job. The seats are then filled by mediocre staff and ones who are fresh out of college,” Ram said.

The mismatch

The issue is the mismatch in what the industry or job market demands and what is on offer. Also, the “perception of quality” of these colleges among students is a reason for applicants not choosing them, said an official speaking on condition of anonymity.  The issue is not self-financed institutions, which effectively expanded the capacity of technical education over the past three decades in the State. This had happened after the then MG Ramachandran Government in Tamil Nadu allowed establishment of private-sector colleges in 1983.  In these years, the number of government-run engineering colleges has remained at three, government-aided colleges at 10 and constituent colleges of Anna University at 17. The rest of the 584 are all self-financed. These institutions contributed to Tamil Nadu becoming a major hub for Information Technology and manufacturing by providing skilled human resource.  But times have changed. IT companies have cut down on recruitments and are also settling for less qualified applicants. They are able to train diploma holders and arts and science graduates for the same jobs that engineering graduates did and at a lower salary, the official said. Many courses have become redundant. Apart from the demand to shut down institutions, “we are flooded with applications to shut down courses,” an official said.

Market assessment

A senior official said AICTE needs to do a continuous, close analysis of the courses and the potential number of skilled persons needed by the industry annually. There are just 5-7 branches that are in demand by the students. Students see their seniors in a well-placed position and opt for the course, but by the time they graduate the marketplace changes.  “We need a better assessment of the job market and assist students at the school level when they choose courses,” the official said.  Students are not given the market data to make an informed choice. Typically, the best and the brightest, as decided by the exam marks-based system, opt to study medicine; the next rung chooses engineering followed by commerce, and the rest take a range of college courses. Also, the quality of education in schools needs to be addressed in Tamil Nadu, said an educationist. We follow a purely marks-based system and the quality of the syllabus does not match the CBSE’s. The marks scored in the Plus-Two public examinations are the primary criteria for admission into engineering colleges through a single-window counselling system.

NEET solution

This is also why the State government is against a national-level, common entrance exam for engineering colleges, the National Eligibility and Entrance Test, proposed by the Centre, according to educationists.  Students following the Tamil Nadu school syllabus may lose out in a common entrance exam. Self-financed institutions are also concerned about accountability to a central authority if admissions are overseen through a common entrance exam.  But experts believe that shifting to a common entrance test is inevitable for engineering college aspirants just as it has happened for medical colleges.  –   (* Names changed)  –  Courtesy

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