There is a lack of quality engineering education in India

There is no shortage of places or capacity constraints, but a shortage of institutions offering quality engineering education at an affordable cost

There is no shortage of places or capacity constraints, but a shortage of institutions offering quality engineering education at an affordable cost

Jhe Union Department of Education released the 2022 National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) rankings in July. An analysis of the top 200 institutes of technology and engineering schools paints a disturbing picture. The best institute in the category obtained 90.04%. But the 50th best got only 50.11%; the 100th best institute obtained only 40.14%; and the one ranked 200th only got 33.7%. One can imagine the situation of the remaining 1,049 institutions that applied but did not obtain a ranking. And how dire must the situation be in the nearly 4,500 institutions that haven’t even applied for the ranking?

These top institutions enroll around 30,000 students against 11 lakh-12 lakh who register for the JEE main exam. The odds of getting a place in one of the top 100 institutions are as low as 2.73%. Only 0.9% make it to one of the top 10 institutions.

Misleading titles

Meanwhile, at the height of the internship season, we keep seeing news about engineering graduates offering job vacancies worth thousands of rupees. Sprinkled liberally with eulogies like “hard work pays” and “institutions matter,” these stories both appeal to prospective students and justify the tuition hike. They rarely specify that the packages reported are the rupee equivalent of US dollar salaries without considering cost of living or purchasing power parity. Those who obtain such placements know well that by American standards, these salaries can only be considered decent.

They also know that their take home pay is only a fraction of what is mentioned in the headlines. A significant portion may include a signing bonus, relocation allowance, restricted stock units (RSUs), and employee stock option plans (ESOPs). RSUs alone could make up around 30% of the annual package, but are typically paid out over four years, with only 5% and 15% paid in the first and second year respectively. What seemed to be ₹30 lakh would turn out to be only ₹1.5 lakh in the first year. The login bonus is rarely paid upfront; instead, it is usually disbursed over around 24 months. The base salary component is only a fraction of the total package.

Internship headlines also rarely reveal that such offers are rare, limited to a tiny number of graduates, and usually limited to international internships, mostly in the information technology sector. Of the roughly 30,000 students graduating from top tech institutions, no more than 100 offer such offerings.

But who cares about such details? Most parents dream of ₹1 crore plus from the placements for their children, not caring about the immense stress they put on their young ones. This sets off a frantic race to get students to institutions of national importance. Students are looking for quality institutions, which for them are those that offer assured placement, preferably with a dream package.

This, coupled with the scarcity of seats, provides fertile ground for commerce to capitalize on. The supervision for the entrance tests now starts from class 9, if not earlier. Children are often forced to take time off from their studies to focus on admissions. In doing so, they are stripped of their ambitions and passions. They are forced to fulfill the dream their parents and peers saw for them and become doctors and engineers – not so much to serve society as to earn big bucks. Dejection on the one hand and persistent peer pressure on the other cause anxiety, depression and even give rise to suicidal tendencies.

Shortage of quality education

But does this mean that India has a severe capacity constraint in higher engineering and technology education? Official data says otherwise. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has already approved a sufficient number of engineering and technology institutions to admit at least 23.67 lakh students. This is double the number of aspirants to engineering training. There is therefore no shortage of places or capacity constraints. In fact, the nation faces a shortage of institutions offering quality engineering education at an affordable cost. In business parlance, it is the ability to optimize resources.

A quick look at the data reveals that the task is daunting. AICTE has so far approved 5,926 institutions to offer engineering and technology programs. Of these, only 1,249 (21.07%) showed up to be classified under the NIRF in 2022. India probably does not need more institutions. The scope for improving admission to existing quality institutions also appears limited. What is needed is to improve the overall quality of higher technical education in all areas.

Young people are ambitious. Monetary rewards are a major attraction. But that does not mean that they are not geared towards national development. Investments in securities are intended to support these motivations. It is now up to the nation to reduce the growing gap between the best and the others and to ensure equal opportunities in access to quality higher technical education.

Ayalur K. Bakthavatsalam is HAG Professor at NIT Trichy and had previously held the position of Dean at NIT Trichy. Views are personal; Furqan Qamar is a professor at the Faculty of Management Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia and a former Education Advisor to the Planning Commission. Views are personal

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