Decline of Self-Financing Engineering Colleges and Fall of Tamil Nadu
uncontrolled expansion of self-financing engineering colleges, absence of competent teachers in most of them, and the deplorable quality of school education have made engineering education a farce in Tamil Nadu. More than a lakh seats in these colleges remain unfilled this year. By T.S. SUBRAMANIAN
THE bigger the advertisement promoting an engineering college, the lesser the quality of education provided there. This remark made by a former Vice-Chancellor during a television debate provoked some laughs, but the current state of engineering education in Tamil Nadu is no laughing matter.
Graduate courses in engineering appear to have lost their charm. This academic year (2015-16), there have been no takers for more than one lakh seats for various courses offered by the 539 self-financing/private engineering colleges in the State. In other words, one lakh seats in Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.) or Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech.) courses in Information Technology, Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Mechanical, Civil or Electrical Engineering, Biotechnology, Metallurgy, Rubber Technology, and so on, have not been filled.
The trend was noticed in 2011-12 when 45,062 seats in different engineering disciplines remained unfilled. It became glaring in subsequent years. In 2012-13, 50,000 seats remained unfilled; in 2013-14, it was 80,700; and in 2014-15, the figure rose to 1,00,819. The situation forced three self-financing engineering colleges to close down last year. This academic year, 20 engineering colleges have not admitted fresh students and 15 colleges could fill only 10 per cent of the seats.
The situation can be described as a case of supply far outstripping demand. But the rot began to set in 10 years ago with the uncontrolled expansion of engineering colleges, aided by the All India Council for Engineering Education (AICTE), at the cost of the quality of education. There was a race among politicians, real estate sharks, caste outfit leaders and moneybags to start engineering colleges. They had no idea of what running a good engineering college entailed. The State government stood by and watched, refusing to read the signals.
Tamil Nadu has the highest number of engineering colleges in India—571. Of these, self-financing institutions account for 539, and the remaining are State-run or State-aided engineering colleges, university department colleges, and constituent colleges. Andhra Pradesh has 364 engineering colleges, with 2.2 lakh seats on offer. This year, 35,000 seats have remained unfilled in that State. In Telangana, which has 340 engineering colleges, 33,000 seats remained vacant this year.
The quality of engineering education in Tamil Nadu is very bad, said E. Balagurusamy, former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University and a former Member of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). “In the past ten years, it has reached rock bottom. His refrain during a conversation with this reporter was: Tamil Nadu is gone. The situation in the State is so bad that it can be written off.
The government should wake up, compile data and close down colleges whose admission rate is less than 10 per cent in the last 10 years.” The rate of admissions to post-graduate engineering courses has also declined so much that deemed universities now offer M.E. courses over weekends. “There is a glut of M.Es, too. So we have half-baked B.Es and half-baked M.Es.
These M.Es are happy to accept jobs that fetch them a salary of Rs.18,000 a month,” said a gentleman who was a technical assistant to a former Vice-Chancellor of a technical university. If the norms stipulate that only 18 students should be admitted to an M.E. course in a particular discipline in a college, the self-financing colleges or deemed universities admit as many as 80.
Balagurusamy blamed the quality of school education in the State for the crisis in engineering education. He said: “The quality of school education is bad. Students from Tamil Nadu do not shine in national level competitive exams. Plus 2 students, who score 100 per cent marks in various subjects, are not knowledgeable. The overall quality of school and college education has come down. It cannot go down any more.”
Balagurusamy, Shankar Vanavarayar, joint correspondent of Kumaraguru College of Technology (autonomous) in Coimbatore, and top-level placement officers of software majors, identified three factors behind the sharp fall in the quality of engineering education in the State.
The first factor is the “mindless, uncontrolled expansion of engineering colleges”, aided by the AICTE. The AICTE merely checked whether an education trust or a person wanting to start an engineering college had the requisite 2.5 acres (1.5 hectares) in an urban setting or 10 acres (4 hectares) in a rural one, whether each classroom had a minimum of 66 square metres of carpet space and whether the trust could furnish proof of a fund of Rs.1 crore as operational expenses. “The AICTE merely satisfied itself whether a newly established engineering college had the required infrastructure. It did not bother about the quality of education imparted there,” said Shankar Vanavarayar.
The second factor is the deplorable quality of teaching in these colleges. One of the essentials for good engineering education is good teachers. But it is now the case of “student yesterday, professor today” in these colleges, Shankar said. Colleges recruiting fresh graduate engineers as teachers did not care to find out whether they had teaching skills. “We do not have a set-up to impart teaching skills to engineering college teachers. While those aspiring to teach in schools need a bachelor of education degree or college lecturers need an M.Phil. [Masters in Philisophy], no such qualification is prescribed for engineering college teachers,” Shankar said.
A professor, who is knowledgeable about engineering education in the State, said: “The situation is extremely bad in most of the self-financing engineering colleges. Qualified teachers are available there. That is, they merely have the qualifications prescribed to become teachers. Whether they are quality teachers is the big question. Most of them do not know how to teach or interact with students. They handle classes in the question and answer format. They write the questions and answers on the blackboard. So the knowledge gained is zero.” (Frontline, September 5, 2014).
A senior professor from a government-run engineering college said the faculty members merely coached the students to get the minimum pass marks in the examinations. “The very purpose of receiving engineering education is not addressed,” he said. The third reason is the abysmal quality of students joining the private engineering colleges. Shankar said there was no entry barrier for students aspiring to join a graduate engineering course.
Every student who applies for admission gets a seat in some engineering course. He may or may not get the course and college of his choice if he does not score high marks in the Plus Two examination. However, seats are for sale under the management quota. So, if the parents have money to spare, they can buy a seat of their ward’s choice in any engineering college even if the marks scored are low. This “democratisation of higher education”, as a wag put it, has led to a situation where a majority of the students who graduate from engineering colleges have become unemployable.
On January 3, 2011, the Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal flagged the issue of unemployability of engineering graduates. “We have over 3,000 engineering institutions and colleges across the country, which produce nearly five lakh engineering graduates,” he told the Indian Science Congress held at SRM University near Chennai. “While this expansion has made engineering education accessible to a large number of people, the quality of education imparted is a matter of concern,” he said.
“I am informed,” Sibal added, “that out of every 100 campus candidates interviewed, most reputed companies are able to recruit only 10 to 20. The strike rate varies industry-wise. This, when there is no dearth of jobs. Undoubtedly, we need better quality education, as also new courses, new content and new delivery standards.”
Although principals of private engineering colleges argued that the situation had changed after steps were taken to ramp up the employability of their students, the bitter truth is that there is no change in the situation. Balagurusamy said, “Eighty per cent of the students are not employable. Colleges that produce these students do not have competent teachers. So this is the situation in Tamil Nadu…”
In Coimbatore, the premier industrial centre of Tamil Nadu, graduates in mechanical engineering work as trainees in operating CNC machines in foundries and textile mills for a salary of Rs.10,000 a month.
V. Krishnakumar, vice-president (marketing) of Aquasub Engineering and Aquapump Industries, Coimbatore, said: “Parents of first-generation graduates have sold their land or mortgaged their houses to raise money to make their sons graduate engineers. But they do not know the reality of the market. If these educated young people are not employed properly, there will be social unrest.” He attacked the government policy that allowed students with a mere 40 per cent score in Plus Two examinations to join engineering courses.
Since most of these self-financing engineering colleges are run by politicians and real estate sharks, informed sources alleged that black money went into financing the establishment of these colleges. “The colleges are totally run on a business model,” they said.
For instance, a deemed university in Tamil Nadu sells about 21 lakh application forms, each costing Rs.1,000, at the start of every academic year. Students who want to sit for the entrance examination conducted by this college have to download the form, fill it in and email it back to the college officials. So the college, without spending any money in printing the application forms, makes a neat profit of Rs.21 crore by making the forms available online. “At the most, this deemed university may be spending a few million rupees to conduct the entrance examinations at various centres.
Politicians running these colleges have not only taken huge swathes of land but have also diversified their business interests. With the black money generated from running them, they have established business empires that are now into production of milk, manufacture of sweets, steel and cement, and footwear, bottled water, electricity generation, and so on.
Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder Dr S. Ramadoss has constantly drawn the State government’s attention to the fact that fewer students from the State crack the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). In a statement on June 29, he pointed out that of the 26,546 students who passed the JEE (Main) and JEE (Advanced) examinations this year, only 33 (compared with 65 last year) who wrote the Tamil Nadu State Education Board examinations at the Plus Two level, were selected. Whereas, 15,311 students who wrote the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)’s class XII examination cleared the IIT JEE.
Students of the Andhra Pradesh State Board came next with 1,787 of them joining the IITs followed by Rajasthan with 1,610 students. “Students, who studied the syllabus of apparently backward Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh [State Examination Boards] also have passed [the IIT JEEs] in significant numbers. Only students of Tamil Nadu have fared badly,” Ramadoss said. Although the situation has remained the same for years, successive governments had not shown any concern for the future of the State’s students, he said.
Ramadoss said: “The curriculum of Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan is designed to stimulate creative thinking among students and enable them to pass competitive entrance examinations. But the Tamil Nadu State Board curriculum is designed to promote rote learning and writing.
Although a major reason for the poor performance of students from Tamil Nadu in the entrance examinations to national institutes is that the State’s school education syllabus lacked vision, it is irrefutable that teachers, parents and students are also responsible for this appalling situation, he said. Teachers did not enlighten them about IIT, AIIMS [All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences] and other national-level educational opportunities. It is a shame that out of the nine lakh students who took the class 12 examinations in the current academic year in Tamil Nadu, only 1,770 students [0.20 per cent] wrote the JEE,” he said.
This statement is corroborated by the fact that no student from Tamil Nadu got admission to the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IISST) at Valiamala in Kerala in the first three years of its inception. This deemed university uses the IIT JEE marks to admit students. Most of the students who got admission to the institute were from Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.
In the past several years, the number of students taking engineering courses in Tamil Nadu has remained the same. But the number of engineering colleges has burgeoned. The State has one-fourth—28 per cent—of the number of engineering colleges in India. Balagurusamy said, “The AICTE gave permission to whoever made an application to start an engineering college.” Often, there were four engineering colleges under different names on the same campus. “The AICTE never looked into this. A system has to be worked out to distribute the colleges all over the State,” he said.
In Tamil Nadu, Kancheepuram district has 83 engineering colleges, Coimbatore has 76 colleges, Trivellore 43, and Tiruchi and Namakkal 34 each. But a backward district like Ariyalur has four, Cuddalore, Theni and Dharmapuri six each, and Perambalur eight. Tiruppur district, a hub of hosiery situated close to Coimbatore, has only nine colleges.
A placement officer said: It is the mindless pursuit of expansion by a former AICTE Chairman, who had no idea of affiliation of colleges, which has led to the glut of engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu. The AICTE’s principal role is to ensure quality in engineering education. But it gave a wide berth to quality teachers and infrastructure and concentrated only on expansion. It was unplanned expansion. This foolish policy has led to the present glut.”
Shankar Vanavarayar said, “Parents tell their children that if they study engineering, they will command respect in society. Society’s wrong branding has led to thousands of students, who have no aptitude for engineering, to study engineering courses. So, students should take correct decisions.”
An important reason for seats in engineering courses falling vacant is that placement opportunities have dwindled over the years. “There are plenty of placement opportunities for A- and B-level colleges. Corporate companies do not visit colleges in rural areas,” the placement officer said.
Besides, IT companies now prefer students with BSc or MSc degrees in I.T. Electronics or Computer Science and Engineering to graduate engineers. The companies make higher profits by employing science graduates for low salaries instead of recruiting engineering graduates for high salaries.
The placement officer said: There is no return on investment in engineering courses. A student of engineering is not sure whether he will get a job. So the allure is gone.”
Another factor that has led to the rot in the educational system in Tamil Nadu is interference from Ministers. Balagurusamy said: I have spent time in Odisha and Bihar. Ministers do not interfere in education there.