What ails engineering education

Engineering education in Tamil Nadu, which is the best in the nation, produces brilliant students but does not necessarily produce path-breaking research in the country that can cause global difference.

The reasons are deep and fundamental in nature. The crux lies in the structure, the syllabi, and the attitude of the entire system.

Starting from the top, the structure needs a change. Engineering colleges in the State come under one major university. Essentially what happens is that there is hefty lobbying for the pristine post of Vice-Chancellor and, as a result, numerous obligations are present for the man at the top post; as such, objectivity in policy-making is almost non-existent.

The man at the helm is given a mere three years and while a three-year term is a good barometer of one's performance, there does not seem to exist structured processes which check the level of performance, the level of corruption, if any, and the level of personal gains from any of the policies undertaken. If the committee to choose the top post is monitored by the Supreme Court (since such a huge set of colleges are under it), then there would be more transparency within the system. Furthermore, more continuity and independence should be given to the VC's so that he/she can implement policies without hindrance. The engineering syllabus barring the IIT is outdated and needs a revamp. For example, there is a course called professional ethics. This is crucial but if you ask any engineering student, he will laugh at what goes on in this class. The person teaching the subject is clueless and would be reading a bunch of rhetorical monologues from a book throughout the course. On the contrary, the coursework should be more interactive, and not just theoretical in nature, aiming at showing the student how much he/she could relate it to his or her future profession. The emphasis should be not on how much you memorise, but on how much you apply what you memorise. Courses should be based on industry-student interactions and have a broader outlook on life, not the narrow mindset of passing an exam. One of the major changes that can be done is to bring young professors in the university on the review committee for syllabus change. A perfect amalgamation of the young and the old would help revamp the syllabi in such a way that it fits into the youthful dynamics of today and yet retains the wisdom of the stalwarts of yesteryear.

Attitude needs a change everywhere. One of the major drawbacks with government colleges is that they have a sloppy administration. Professionalism and accountability need to be brought in in the form of having a private organisation monitor the administration till it reaches a certain level of efficiency. One of the ways to inculcate professionalism and make the staff accountable is to pay them more.

Fortunately, after the Sixth Pay Commission the professor earns a creditable Rs. 80,000 a month and this would help change the attitude of some faculty who are grudging the lack of a decent salary. Their grudge is justified considering the disparity in pay with graduated students profitably employed in the private sectors. Having said this, if this grudge gets translated into being lethargic at work and grading students with a personal vendetta, this trend can get dangerous. An increase in pay also results in more quality faculty coming into the system within the engineering colleges and thus following the law of cyclic reactions, the knowledge imparted to the students also increases.

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