Here is a wake-up call for engineering education in India. The time has come for it to re-invent itself, if only to survive in the extremely dynamic ecosystem, which is increasingly becoming nimble, agile and to some extent mercurial in character. There is no denying the fact that the present academic content and course structures of various engineering streams per se, are certainly not below par, at least at the current reckoning – and therefore cannot be faulted. But, what can be – rather should be faulted – is their academic process, their pedagogy and ultimately the class room delivery, which matter most in competency building.
Result is there to see, like an open book. Out of 15 lakh engineering graduates coming out every year, just about 10 % are “employable”, a euphemism for their non-trainability. In other words, about 90% of them, after about 3,250 hours of study, spanning across four years of their course, remain largely below par for the purpose they were originally admitted. McKinsey Report: A McKinsey report, published some three month ago made another startling revelation. By 2025 – less than a decade from now - as many as 14 lakh middle level workforce in the IT industry, accounting for 45% of the total workforce as of now, will face an uncertain future in an era of fast moving changes brought about by Digital Five Forces and the resultant adoption of automation in a big way.
Considered as ‘mainstay’ for survival and sustainability, the workers in this segment, unless they get themselves trained to meet the needs of tomorrow, will be an unacceptable burden on the coffers of enterprises without any corresponding return in terms of profit and, therefore, may have to go out lock, stock and barrel. Apart from presenting a horrendous situation of an over-crowded market of unemployed professionals with attendant consequences of social unrest, this demonstrates that a knowledge-gap exists not only between academic institutions and the industry, but also within the industry itself – that too at a dangerous level. This will spell disaster.
Recognising this incipient trend, pioneering Leaders in the IT enterprises took several proactive measures some three years ago to combat the impending disaster. They feverishly started reskilling their employees, mostly in the Digital Technology, on a massive scale at a huge cost, and make their workforce “relevant” to the future needs of the customers. Reports indicate that these well-meaning and carefully crafted exercises are not yielding great results, with occasional exceptions. Middle level professionals, having crossed their middle age, tend to sulk in their “comfort zones” of “conventional work practices” and loath to make a foray into “virgin zones” – which are “largely un-treaded and untested” ones “full of uncertainties but full of opportunities” for fear of falling on the wayside. This indicates what is important is not training but learning - and this is the flip side of the problem.
These unfolding denouements pose a larger question. Enterprises draw their talent from the universities and colleges. Are our technical institutions producing professionals capable of meeting the needs of the future? Are the current courses and curricula, though on par with the current requirements, futuristic in their content and character? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Teachers’ viewpoint: Admittedly, teachers and managements have their own mandate -cover the portion, show the results and thereby build up the brand equity of the college – all for survival. Compressed within, say 200 plus credits, each having some 15 hours learning, typically a student will have to traverse through Thermodynamics, Combustion, Heat and Mass Transfer, Machine Elements, Production Planning Control, Machine tools etc., to call himself a mechanical engineer at the end of his undergraduate course. The academic calendar is thus tightly programmed so that each course not only achieves its pre-designed “Course Objectives” in their entirety but also stand the scrutiny of independent examination. To maintain the academic purity, this is how it should be – and cannot be diluted under any circumstances by interpolating extraneous considerations. So, what is the way out? Educational institutions have no option other than to stick to their well set out academic agenda, yet have to produce industry-ready, job-ready and future-ready professionals capable of tackling real time challenges in the practicing world.
Answer at the Local Level: How to do is the question. The answer lies at the local level as well as in the apex level. At the local level, action essentially is in the class room – and the actor is essentially the teacher. What needs to be done is to fine-tune the delivery in a manner the learner not only learns his lessons but also learns how to learn, how to solve the problems and also learns the business environ where his technology will be used. This is holistic learning process, which makes a student a life-long learner. The question is whether our teachers are equipped to train our students on the lines suggested above. This calls for massive training of the trainers for which super trainers are needed.
Answer at the apex level: At the apex level, a very-high-order leadership, which can think ahead, strategise ahead and work out a road map ahead, is called for. This should rest on the shoulders of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) – the country’s watchdog for quality in engineering education. Being the educational czar of the country, it should not confine itself to accreditation and affiliation but also take serious initiatives to enhance the quality of education, expected by the end users.
The Council must look into the future requirements in the technology space at global level, and encourage universities and colleges to introduce such courses to meet those futuristic demands. For instance, there is a great paucity of qualified and competent professionals in the area of Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, 3-D printing, Cognitive Computing, Industrial IoT etc., in the country as well as at global level.
Multi- disciplinary studies, though existing in various premier institutions, have not percolated to tier two or tier three level colleges. Industry looks for such talents in vain. AICTE must facilitate proliferation of such courses, which, needless to say, requires a lot of spade work. Industrial acceptance vs Government accreditation: In this context, it must be stated several hi-tech enterprises in the country have their own process called “accreditation” which is nothing but “selection of campuses” for “campus selection”. It should be a matter of surprise that just 10% of the technical institutions have been able to get this industrial accreditation, while a vast majority of them are able to pass muster with National Board of Accreditation and National Assessment and Accreditation Committee, both working under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the final arbiter of quality in education. How come this is happening?
This is a matter for the Government to ponder, considering technical education and its concomitant off-shoot, namely technological advancement, are the ones that fuel the economic development of the country.
(The writer is a senior software professional extensively networked with educational institutions. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)...