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2 lakh IT engineers to lose jobs annually in the next 3 years: Head Hunters India

The Economic Times | By PTI | May 14, 2017 | Opinion|

BENGALURU: Executive search firm Head Hunters India today said the job cuts in IT sector will be between 1.75 lakh and 2 lakh annually for next three years due to under-preparedness in adapting to newer technologies. “Contrary to media reports of 56,000 IT professionals to lose jobs this year, the actual job cuts will be between 1.75 lakh and 2 lakh per year in next three years, due to under- preparedness in adapting to newer technologies,” Head Hunters India Founder-Chairman and MD K Lakshmikanth told PTI, analysing a report submitted by McKinsey & Company at the Nasscom India Leadership Forum on February 17.  McKinsey & Company report had said nearly half of the workforce in the IT services firms will be “irrelevant” over the next 3-4 years. McKinsey India Managing Director Noshir Kaka had also said the bigger challenge ahead for the industry will be to retrain 50-60 per cent of the workforce as there will be a significant shift in technologies. The industry employs 3.9 million people and the majority of them have to be retrained. “So, when we analyse these figures, it is clear that 30 to 40 per cent of the workforce cannot be retrained or re- skilled. So, assume that half of this workforce can continue to work on old skills, then balance will become redundant. “So, the number of people who will become redundant in the next three years will be about five to six lakhs. This will workout to, on a average, between 1.75 lakh to 2 lakh per year for next three years,” Lakshmikanth explained. However, he said job cuts will not take place in major cities like Mumbai or Bengaluru, but cities like Coimbatore or a few remote places.
Lakshmikanth further said the IT services industry is passing through an uncertain time as the growth in digital technologies like cloud-based services is happening at a much faster pace and the companies are combining learning of some of the new technologies and reskilling. “Because of the changing technology, the most affected will be the professionals aged 35 and above, for it would be very difficult for them to get jobs,” Lakhsmikanth said.  Asked if it is fair to blame US President Donald Trump’s policy for job cuts, Lakshmikanth said it is not fair because he has fulfilled the promise after winning the elections. “How can we blame Trump, for he has fulfilled the election promise of giving jobs to local people including IT professionals by tightening H1-B visa norms, which were being misused by companies by paying less to foreign professionals working in US. It is for companies to tackle the situation, and such situation they have undergone in previous years. It is not new for them. They know to tide over it,” he said.  Lakhsmikanth also said it is not fair even to target the Indian government as the IT industry grew on its own in India, but at later stages respective state governments and central governments provided them facilities like land or creating special economic zones, among others.- Courtesy

Industry consultation in engineering colleges: Useless idea from AICTE

Hindustan Times | May 11, 2017 |   Dheeraj Sanghi  | Opinion |

AICTE appears to have forgotten that it regulates only affiliated colleges, and it has little regulatory control over universities. Affiliated colleges have no control over their curriculum. They teach the curriculum that the affiliating university decides.

Reports suggest that only 5% of computer science and information technology graduates have any reasonable programming skills(PTI)

The employability of engineering graduates in India has been a matter of concern for the last several decades. Many reports have stated that only 20-25% of the graduates are employable in industry. A recent report has mentioned that only 5% of computer science and information technology graduates (a majority of our engineers are in these disciplines) have any reasonable programming skills, which is the most basic skill for such a graduate. Another 15% can still be trained to perform tasks in IT industry.  Whenever a new report comes out, there are immediate calls for greater interaction between industry and academia and to have more industry-focussed curricula in colleges. And seeing that such calls have not had any impact on the ground level, AICTE has announced that such interaction will now be mandatory. Each college must have an industry consultation committee to rework the curriculum of each course taught there every year.  AICTE appears to have forgotten that it regulates only affiliated colleges, and it has very little regulatory control over universities. Affiliated colleges have no control over their curriculum. They teach the curriculum that the affiliating university decides. These universities are expected to have a Board of Studies for each program, and that board invariably has members from industry as well. So there is already an industry input to the curriculum design. Now, if a college creates such a committee and the industry person advises even small modifications to the courses, can the college implement these modifications? The answer, unfortunately, is in the negative for all colleges, barring a few “autonomous” ones.

More fundamentally, do we even know whether unemployability is because of an outdated syllabus, or is it due to poor quality education? How many of our graduates know what they have learnt in existing courses? GATE (graduate aptitude test in engineering) results show that almost half the graduates get a zero in the exam. How are they getting a degree at all? I have been involved with drafting of computer science syllabi in several universities and even AICTE model syllabus. I can confidently say that even if the syllabus is not changed for 10 years, there will be no impact on employability. AICTE should focus on finding out why someone who has never written even a single line of code is not just passing a course on programming, but passing it with distinction. A majority of our engineering graduates do not deserve their degrees. For computer science, that number could be as high as 95%.  Talking about industry, how many people in the industry are capable of understanding the impact of various curricular and pedagogical interventions on learning? How many of these people will be able to understand the interplay of various courses, recognise the gaps, and then suggests revisions to plug those gaps? This is difficult even for experienced academics. Very few people in the industry are capable of this. In the absence of such people, these committees will become another ritual, as most AICTE directives have become.  If the AICTE wants to improve the quality of engineering education and ensure that a larger number of graduates are employable, it has to stop coming up with new regulations. Instead, every month, it should send a note to all colleges on what all previous regulations it is junking. If you don’t control every aspect of a college, they will figure out how to survive in a market where supply is more than demand. For now, their only hope is that AICTE will allow them to close. –  Dheeraj Sanghi is dean of academic affairs and external relations, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi (on leave from IIT Kanpur)Courtesy

How to re-engineer the engineering curriculum to provide better employability

Financial Express | May 8, 2017 | Shekhar Sanyal | Opinion |

The change in curriculum combined with compulsory internships and induction programmes for students should equip them with a healthy mix of personal growth and professional progress.

The decision taken by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to revise the curriculum for engineering colleges is, therefore, welcome and much-needed.

In April, the talent assessment company Aspiring Minds released the “National Programming Skills Report”. Among other things, the report noted that “only 4.77% candidates can write the correct logic for a program, a minimum requirement for any programming job.”In 2013, another Aspiring Minds study found that, in India, “only 7% of the engineering graduates have the skills to handle core engineering tasks.” In 2011, a study by the software industry body Nasscom suggested that 25% of the engineering graduates in the country are employable.These are alarming statistics. These are not simply numbers, but also point towards a possible catastrophic impact. The decision taken by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to revise the curriculum for engineering colleges is, therefore, welcome and much-needed. This should serve to ease the stress levels of students and improve the quality of education across the country.  In the past few years, we have seen that a majority of institutions in the country have, more often than not, been focusing on churning out more and more graduates every year. In this process, the general focus is on theoretical skills with minimum attention being paid to applicability or hands-on skills. The lower employability rate—as has been found out by multiple reports over the years—is attributed to the skills gap in students and one of the reasons of this is lack of practical exposure.

Going forward, with technological advancements including Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, virtual reality etc, engineering aspirants need to have specific skill-sets to respond to the evolving environment. It is also important to remember that these new technologies have very few or no structured courses. In addition, there are a handful of books that one could refer to in order to get more information on these new-age technologies. The only way to study these is through practical application. The suggested curriculum should, therefore, focus more on skill development rather than just theory. This change in the curriculum, brought by the AICTE, should address these dire shortcomings instead of paying lip-service by cosmetic variations. For instance, the proposal of mandatory internship will go a long way in giving students clarity on how they stand vis-a-vis industry requirements. Similarly, the introduction of an induction programme will help reinforce the fundamental concepts and the required language skills for technical education. This combination will encourage students to pursue creative interests, reassess their goals and work towards a future where the two balance harmoniously. The curricula change combined with compulsory internships and induction programmes should equip students with a healthy mix of personal growth and professional progress. In addition, the curricula should include vocational training for students which will help bridge their skills gap. Mandatory accreditation is required to make sure that the teaching methodology is focused on outcome and engineering graduates are able to compete at the global level. While the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) is doing a great job, the sheer number of courses to be accredited in India is mind-boggling. If 3,300 institutions were to get accreditation for just five of their core courses, we are talking about 16,500 accreditations across the country.

And with re-accreditations every few years, we are talking about numbers that are impossible to meet unless the NBA and the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) also invite global bodies like the IET to support them in their quest.  It should be mandatory for every teacher, in each of the technical education disciplines, to undergo an annual refresher course delivered through the government’s SWAYAM portal, encapsulating all the major advances in the field of their study.  These initiatives will serve as a start to the mammoth exercise of curriculum and methodology change that the engineering education in this country sorely needs, and that all these measures will overhaul the outdated curricula of engineering and technical institutions. This is just the start and a lot more needs to be done. While the government has made its intentions clear about the change, the academic institutions and, more importantly, the industry needs to get together to support and advise all the stakeholders in this change. After all, the industry is the final consumer of the engineering talent that the universities produce. –  The author is director & country head of The Institution of Engineering and Technology (The IET)Courtesy

Break the chains: Javadekar admits higher education regulators like UGC are stumbling blocks, so subdue their powers

The Times of India | May 4, 2017 |  TOI Editorials | Opinion |

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The All India Council for Technical Education has told institutions under it to involve NSS and NCC in a campaign to end spitting. This is a telling sample of the micromanaging mindset of India’s education regulators, whose top-down whimsies choke bottom-up innovation. With more than 10,000 engineering and technical institutions and more than 20 lakh students under it, the big picture before AICTE is an uphill global jobscape. Infosys for example plans to grow more jobs in the US in response to the rising protectionist tide there. Also, the newer IT jobs require higher levels skills in cloud analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence, etc. The need to promote excellence in Indian higher education is paramount. But as HRD minister Prakash Javadekar acknowledges, far from doing this regulators like AICTE and UGC have become “stumbling blocks”. Along the same lines Association of Indian Universities secretary general Furqan Qamar points to data proving the unhealthiness of regulatory cholesterol. For example none of the 16 central universities established since 2009 feature in the HRD list of top 100 universities but various IIMs, IITs and other institutions set up with greater autonomy fare much better.

So it’s commendable that in a bid to encourage excellence in higher education, government plans to grant top ranked colleges and universities full autonomy in framing curriculum, hiring faculty and other academic matters. The same kind of thinking is being seen in the scheme to set up 20 world-class universities. But the puzzle is that although all the evidence shows that heavy-handed regulators like AICTE and UGC are obstructing rather than advancing first-class education outcomes, they continue to roam free among the masses. Why are only elite institutions being provided shelter from them? This will only widen inequality of outcomes of different institutions. Perhaps today’s regulatory snarl is too labyrinthine to be sorted out quickly, but government must at least make that a goal and a priority. In the interim it should promote special educational zones, where institutions can formulate independent policies on everything from admissions and fees to conducting exams; where for-profit and not-for-profit institutions are both welcome and so are international ones. The important point is that excellence and quality cannot be made to order through government or regulator fiat, but grow in free and competitive environments. – Courtesy

NIRF – It is unfair to compare Central, State varsities

THE HANS INDIA |   Apr 29,2017 |  Dr K Nagaiah  |  Senior Principal Scientist at IICT, Hyderabad | Opinion |

Central universities and institutes have “unfair advantage” while state universities have to rely on meagre state finances grants. For placement, companies prefer to visit IITs and IIMs. Even central universities cannot attract placement firms. For example, no placement person doesn’t look for M Sc or PhD science graduates even from central universities, only exception being Organic Chemistry for jobs in drug industries.

A few days back, the HRD Ministry announced ranking of higher educational institutions and  universities, under the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF).  This is the second time to announcing rankings, but this time they are given under several categories: a) Overall (IISc, Bangalore First Rank); b) Universities (IISc., Bangalore, First Rank); c) Management (IIM, Ahmadabad); Pharmacy (Jamia Hamdard); Engineering (IIT, Chennai); Degree College (Miranda, New Delhi).   It is a wise decision to rank ourselves instead of always criticising ourselves that none of our institutes figured in first 200 universities in the survey done by Thomson Reuters (THE).  Such an Indian survey helps us assess where we are, so that remedial measures can be taken to increase the standards.  However, several drawbacks are noticed in the ranking system. First several universities and institutes have different rankings in different categories.

Two examples are IIT Madras is ranked 2nd in Overall category, while it is the first under Engineering. Nearer home, Osmania University got 38th rank in Overall category, and 23 in the University category. There are several such examples, which lead to confusion.  Next the parameters that are taken are “teaching, learning and resources.” Importance is given first to financial grants and their proper utilisation. In this category, central universities and institutes have “unfair advantage” while state universities have to rely on meagre state finances grants.  To compare both central-funded and state-funded universities is unreasonable. Second for placement, the companies prefer to visit IITs and IIMs. Even central universities cannot attract placement firms. For example, no placement person doesn’t look for M Sc or PhD science graduates even from central universities, only exception being organic chemistry for jobs in drug industries.  Once again quality publications depend on funds and equipment. State universities with meagre finances cannot support high funded research. Only hope for state universities is some short-term funds from UGC. As a matter of fact, quality publications depend on funds and equipments. Here again NIRF seems to rely on citations (provided by Scopus).

It is better to rely on “impact factor” that reflect the standard of journals in which papers published. Again, faculty-student ration.  This factor is definitely favorable to central institutes. Most State universities are under-staffed and run by contract staff. Only IIMs and IITs graduates get highest salaries. Therefore, all this exercise is unnecessary which places state universities at lower rank.  Besides, state universities being local in nature have to give seats to locals that too under various reservation categories and even the staff selections are also from local talent only.  Turning to Osmania University, its rank is 38 under Overall category or 23rd under Universities category. Under these lists, if one looks at State Universities only,  the 38th rank becomes 11 in Overall category; likewise,    its 23 rank under Universities category becomes 11. Therefore, by this analysis, Osmania University which is presently celebrating centenary is better placed than many of the state universities (see tables for details).   I hope this centenary celebration gives further fillip to the university performance. At the end, it is better if HRD Ministry helps State universities to come up to the level of Central Universities, by directly funding them. It should not make rich become richer, poor become poorer.  They may rank state and private universities together for further funding. Yearly ranking of Central institutes, universities and IIMs is an unnecessary exercise, since anyway those are better placed, with two or three ranks this side or that side. – Courtesy

Common Entrance Test for Engineering colleges hits a roadblock

Prakash Kumar | NEW DELHI | Deccan Herald | April 28 2017  | Opinion |

However, the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry has put the plan on hold for evolving a consensus among the States.

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The Centre’s plan to hold a common entrance test to engineering colleges seems to have hit a roadblock. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), clearing the Centre’s proposal, had last month formulated a regulation for holding a nationwide test for entrance to all engineering colleges from 2018.  However, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has put the plan on hold for evolving a consensus among the states.  “The common entrance test plan has been put on hold for now as its successful implementation would require a consensus among the states,” an AICTE official told DH.

A consensus is required to bring in clear provisions for common counselling. “This is necessary to ensure that engineering colleges offer seats only on the basis of all India merit list of the candidates,” the official said.  The ministry initiated the move to hold a common test for entrance to engineering colleges, taking a cue from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical and dental colleges introduced last year.  TheCBSE conducted NEET following a Supreme Court order. “Under NEET, there is no clear provision for medical colleges to offer seats on the basis of all India merit list. This leaves scope for the colleges to continue with their past practice of admitting students on the basis of their capacity to pay for the seat,” the AICTE official said.  The ministry does not want to roll out its plan for holding a common entrance with “such a loophole”. “It wants to start holding a common entrance test with a clear provision which makes it compulsory for all engineering colleges to offer seats to candidates as per their rank in the all India merit list.  Otherwise, the purpose of holding such a test will remain unfulfilled. This is possible only when the states come on board. We are holding a consultation with the states,” the official said. – Courtesy

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

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

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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

India provides youngest engineering talent in the world: NXP

Economic Times, Auto |

In an exclusive interaction with ETAuto, Lars Reger, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology officer – NXP Automotive said, “India will be a huge R&D site for us, though we have not yet decided on manufacturing here.”

NEW DELHI: At a time when there is a lot of hue and cry over H1B visas and Indian talent eating the jobs abroad, the $10 billion Dutch chipmaker NXP Semiconductors sees Indian engineers as the largest asset for the company when it comes to R&D and developing complex technology to support autonomous vehicle.  In an exclusive interaction with ETAuto, Lars Reger, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology officer – NXP Automotive said, “India will be a huge R&D site for us, though we have not yet decided on manufacturing here.” In total, NXP has 15 big R&D centres across the globe out of which three such centres are in India; the biggest one in Noida followed by Bangalore and Hyderabad.  Lars Reger emphasises on the fact that, for the company, the average age of engineers in India is lowest among all other centres which allow them to get the fresh talent and design new things.  “We need people who have fresh knowledge from universities as the technology is getting complex and changing rapidly,” he said. To keep the momentum going the company further plans to hire more than 100 engineers this year in India.

While Indian R&D centres are working closely with the global team, yet it has become a hub for developing complex micro controller used in autonomous and electric cars.  According to Lars Reger, “NXP India is growing at a rate of 11 percent which is much faster than the standard industry growth rate of 6-8 percent globally.” This is because the need to bring electronics for functionality is also increasing at a faster pace here. Lot of regulations like safety and emission norms, demand for infotainment and telematics are also increasing which is further triggering the growth. The company is also working very closely with tier-1 suppliers on radios and immobilizers.  With electrification and autonomous vehicles coming in, the electronic content per car is expected to grow manifold. Currently, in the developed markets like Europe and US, on an average every car has electronic content worth $400 which is expected to double to $800 per cars as the volume of electric cars grows in the next 4-5 years. India still has minimal electronic content per car compared to these nations but expected to grow fastest with changing policy in safety and emission.  The value of electronic content per car will further rise with additional $400 to $1200 of electronic content when self-driving cars become reality in the next 10 years. Thus, NXP which has developed India as its R&D hub will have a massive contribution.  However, as the technology gears up for the next leap the danger of hacking and misuse increases. In such a scenario companies like NXP has big focus towards creating safe and secure environment. “We spend one-third of the expenditure on making the chip and software hackproof,” Lars Reger said. – Courtesy

Rate, and don’t rank, academic institutions

The Hindu Business Line |  Ashish Nanda | 31 March 2017 | Opinion |

Rankings distort organisational behaviour, forcing them to focus on measurable and limited, rather than qualitative, goals.

A colleague recently told me: “NIRF rankings are coming up. We will have a gala event, like last year, with tremendous publicity. These rankings are becoming our Oscars.” His remark crystallised for me some of my concerns with the NIRF (National Institute of Ranking Framework) ranking of higher education institutions. I believe rankings should be replaced by ratings, and these should be done by an independent agency. Rankings accentuate competition. They anoint champions of tennis tournaments, winners of beauty pageants, fastest athletes in track races. Competitors not only want to win, some also want others to do poorly. As they identify winners from a competitive choice set, rankings amplify zero-sum dynamics.

Winner’s market

Academic contexts are not zero-sum settings. The best of academic institutions collaborate with their peers and build shared strengths. Ranking them competitively weakens the motivation to cooperate.  Rankings magnify the winner to the exclusion of everyone else. You might recall Moonlight won the Oscar for best film last month. How many of the eight other films nominated for best film can you recall? Because of asymmetric rewards, those being ranked go to extraordinary lengths to be highly ranked. This leads to two distortions in behaviour: focus on measurements rather than goals, and susceptibility to herd mentality. Since rankings are high-powered rewards, those being evaluated focus on what is being measured even to the possible exclusion of what is important. When schoolteachers were rewarded based on students’ test scores, although the students’ test taking abilities improved, their creative abilities, social skills, and love for learning fell.  Rankings reduce performance on many dimensions to a single ordinal number. When all are being measured on the same metrics with the same weights, ranking-sensitive subjects eschew differentiation, and avoid innovation.

Cheap tricks

Some higher education institutions are tailoring their strategy narrowly; others might be gaming in their reporting, with the objective of improving their NIRF rankings. When an institution reports area dedicated to sports in square feet rather than square yards, is it due to an honest error, or desire to raise NIRF score? I heard the director of a reputed institution justify to their alumni focus on activities, not because of their institutional value, but because they would improve rankings. Since rankings raise the stakes, evaluators must ensure that criteria and measurement are robust. Though National Board of Accreditation (NBA) is valiantly administering NIRF, the criteria remains fluid. For example, should research output of institutions be recognised only if it is management research, or should it also include work done in core disciplines such as economics, statistics and psychology? One of the criteria used to evaluate management institutes in 2016 measured their commitment to Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs are valuable to education in India. However, given their high fixed cost and increasing returns to scale, MOOCs should be offered from only a few platforms. Making it a ranking criterion influences all institutions to invest in MOOCs, risking socially inefficient investments in sub-scale offerings.

Evaluation systems must be built on broad consensus on appropriate criteria and their weightages, as well as audit capability to ensure submissions are correct. Whether this can be done by a body subsidiary to the HRD ministry is an open question.  Although it operates as an independent body, membership of various authorities of NBA suggests significant influence of the government, especially MHRD, on its operations. The shadow of NIRF rankings can induce overly compliant behaviour from academic institutions. Even if entirely aboveboard in its actions, MHRD’s ability to influence rankings might be seen as compromising the independence of academic administrators. So, what’s the way forward? Evaluating higher education institutions and publicising how they stand on various criteria is useful. A reliable, independent evaluation is socially beneficial. The approach to evaluating academic institutions should be to rate, not rank them. Academic institutions should be measured against yardsticks, not against one another.

Bring third parties

Ratings may create less buzz, but are more aligned to what the government is trying to achieve: encourage academic institutions to accomplish high quality standards and oversee the institutions in a way that differentiates between them based on quality.  To my knowledge, nowhere else in the world are rankings or ratings of academic institutions conducted by government bodies. To prevent politicking, and avoid even the appearance of conflict of interests, ratings should be done by a neutral, third party that is at a clear arm’s length from the Government, as also from the institutions being ranked, and is seen as capable in evaluation and audit.  This will only increase public trust in the ratings.  –  The writer is Director, IIM-Ahmedabad –  Courtesy

End of the temptation of engineering courses

The Free Press Journal | | Opinion |

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THE impact of competition on our engineering colleges will similarly depend on the underlying economic conditions. The portents are not good. Large numbers of these colleges are already in trouble. Around 70 per cent of the total seats in engineering courses are lying vacant in the state.  Human Resources Minister Prakash Javadekar has laid a new philosophy of higher education. Until now the government provided funds to engineering colleges and they churned out graduates while charging nominal fees. The Minister has challenged this proposition and has brought in the new factor of competition. Speaking at a function at Jalandhar, he said, “We feel, whether government or private, only good institutions will flourish and bad will go. Survive through competition and that is 21st Century India.” This market-driven approach is welcome. But competition can be either killing or invigorating depending upon the underlying conditions. Competition leads to invigoration and innovation if the market is growing. Businesspersons find new ways of producing better and cheaper goods. The same competition becomes killing in a slowing economy. Businesspersons have to cut costs in order to survive. They compromise on quality of the goods produced by them. A destructive cycle is set in motion. A slowing economy lead to less demand, which leads to losses for businesses, which forces them to cut costs, which leads them to producing low quality goods, which impose hidden costs on consumers, and in turn it kills the economy.

The impact of competition on our engineering colleges will similarly depend on the underlying economic conditions. The portents are not good. Large numbers of these colleges are already in trouble. The number of students taking admissions has dropped from 89,000 to 79,000 in Maharashtra. Around 70 per cent of the total seats in engineering courses are lying vacant in the state. Many engineering colleges have been put on sale in Andhra Pradesh. They are finding that their graduates are unable to secure jobs. New applicants have vanished and colleges are in trouble. The employers blame this on poor quality of the graduates being churned out of the private colleges. While that is true on the surface, the malaise lies deeper. This can be understood by looking at the controversy regarding H1B Visas. Companies in the United States say they are not able to find skilled workers hence they have to employ foreign nationals. But this often is a ruse used by private companies to access cheaper imported labour. A report in the Los Angeles Times gives the example of Qualcomm, an American multinational semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company. The Company claimed that they “face a dire shortage of university graduates in engineering.” But only a few weeks later it cut its work force by 5,000 people. Qualcomm was making a phony plea of shortages to put pressure on the US Government to allow more foreign nationals on H1B visas that are willing to work at lesser wages. Another study quoted by the Atlantic Magazine says, “No one has been able to find any evidence indicating… widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations…  Were there to be a genuine shortage, there would be evidence of employers raising wage offers to attract the scientists and engineers they want.” These examples show that there is actually reduced demand for engineers and the talk of shortage of skilled engineers is more due to the unwillingness of the employers to pay the salaries demanded by the graduates. The situation in our country is similar. Employers complain that they face difficulty in finding candidates of good quality. What they mean to say is that they are not willing to pay the correct price for a candidate of good quality.

There is a dynamic connection between the demand and supply of any item in the market. Consider the supply of potatoes in the market. Good quality potatoes are available at Rs 30 a kilo while those of poor quality are available at Rs 15 a kilo. Now a buyer wants good quality potatoes at Rs 20 a kilo which is not available in the market. So he complains there is ‘shortage’ of good quality potatoes in the market just as Qualcomm complained that there was shortage of engineering graduates. Now, let us say there is a huge demand for good quality potatoes in the market. Customers are willing to pay Rs 40 a kilo for them. The increase in price is proof that there is a shortage. The message will go back to the farmers. They will produce more of good quality potatoes and the price will come down to Rs 30 a kilo in the next season.  The same applies to engineering graduates. Let us say there is a huge demand for good engineering graduates. Employers would then be willing to pay higher salaries, say, Rs 50,000 per month. The message will go back to the youth that engineers can get high salaries. They will apply for admission in engineering colleges in large numbers. The colleges will be swamped with applicants. They will increase the fees which the students will be willing to pay in expectation of high-paying jobs after graduation. The colleges will be able to pay good salaries to the faculty, and the supply of good engineering graduates will increase in a few years. The fact that there is no increase in the salaries offered to good quality engineers in our country today in proof that is problem is lack of demand for the graduates.

We must understand the saying of the Mr. Javadekar in the above backdrop. Let us consider the private sector first. Competition between the private colleges is taking a toll because jobs are not available. An owner of a private college in West UP said that they are getting more applicants in their diploma courses. Employers prefer diploma holders to degree holders because they are willing to do all types of jobs. Degree holders have a sense of superiority. Thus, both diploma and degree holders get the about the same salary in the market.  That shows the state of the market. There simply is no demand for higher skilled degree-holding graduates. Competition among private colleges in this situation will only lead to the production of more low-skilled diploma holders and fewer high-skilled degree holders. That will not take the country forward. But the Minister of Human Resources cannot do much. The state of the economy is outside his domain.  He can do much in respect of government colleges, however. They have less constraints of money. Teachers are paid according to the scale. But teachers have no interest in teaching. Thus graduates of government colleges often get lower salaries than graduates from private colleges. This is where the Minister must focus his attention. The way forward is to make student evaluation of teachers mandatory in all government institutions. All teachers should be subjected to an external review and the lowest 10 percent should be dismissed every year. That will revive government colleges and provide good quality engineers to the country. The private sector will follow suit. –    The author was formerly Professor of Economics at IIM Bangalore.  –  Courtesy