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Engineering colleges to be upgraded

October 22, 2007

Only a few elite engineering institutes are recognized outside India today, namely the IITs, the Birla Institute of Technology & Sciences (BITS) and a couple of others. However there are scores of engineering institutes that want that recognition, those that are accredited to the AICTE (the All India Council for Technical Education). If India gets permanent membership of the Washington Accord, this dream may well come true. The Washington Accord is an agreement between the bodies which accredit professional engineering degree programs in the signatory countries. Right now India has managed to get provisional admission into the Washington Accord.

Interestingly, even this had been denied to India earlier. India’s application for provisional membership had been turned down two years ago because there were no sponsors. But this year, India was backed by the UK, Australia and Canada and also by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

Sri Lanka and Russia are the other countries which have been granted the provisional entry status.

What are the benefits of the Accord?
Well, once India is part of the Accord, Indian engineering graduates will find it easier to get jobs in developed countries, even those who are not signatories to the Accord. The IIT’s may have the brand name, but scores of other Indian Engineering Institutes don’t.

Where’s the catch?
Well, the engineering institutes have to set their house in order. Refurbish, overhaul and revamp are the name of the game. All academic programmes and curricula as well as the syllabus, the evaluation and accreditation systems will go under the scanner. A few important initiatives will include:

1. Continous evaluation rather than simply focus on year-end examinations.
2. Curricula to focus on design, innovation and research. Stipends for research to be hiked.
3. Teaching to become more interactive.
4. The syllabus to be regularly updated.
5. International faculty to be allowed.
6. Research papers to be digitalised to stop cheating and plagiarism.
7. Rigorous admission tests for entry into MPhil, PhD courses.
8. Indian universities to be allowed to set up campuses abroad.
9. Indian universities also to be allowed to bestow dual degrees in collaboration with foreign universities.
10. Universities to develop technology parks and invite industry to set up units on campuses to provide training and placements for graduates.

There are also ambitious plans to set up rural campuses, encourage private sector participation in higher education, reduce the number of colleges per university and plans to ask industry to adopt colleges or universities.
Well, I don’t think these are impossible standards. There are a lot of really good engineering institutes in India besides just the IIT’s and some of them already half way there.

Here is a 2005 list of the top 20 engineering colleges and not all are IIT’s.
Here is a list 2006-2007 list of the top 10, and don’t be surprised that they are mostly the IIT’s.
Here is a more comprehensive list from Outlook India, a 2006 list of the top 100 engineering colleges.

Some of these colleges offer high quality engineering education. Colleges like the Vellore Institute of Technology and NIT are excellent institutes. In fact, even the Cummins College of Engineering for Women, which is number 80 on the list is very good.

If any engineering college doesn’t try and upgrade its education, I feel that college should be temporarily de-listed by the All India Council for Technical Education, not so much because we might put the agreement with Washington Accord in jeopardy, but because there is no point letting educational institutions of dubious merit flourish.
If only 25 percent of India’s engineering graduates are employable, some drastic measures need to be taken. A degree for the sake of a degree is of no use. It has to be useful.

Here are some tips on how to choose an engineering college. Another guide, this time from The Hindu.

Related Reading: Who produces more engineers?? The US or India?
Are our engineers good enough?
India could hire from abroad to make up the shortfall of engineers

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2007 10:22 am

    Wow! This is a great news. I think this will allow Exchange programs for both faculty & students across the borders and flexibility of transferring university credits/rankings.

  2. October 22, 2007 12:19 pm

    “there is no point letting educational institutions of dubious merit flourish. If only 25 percent of India’s engineering graduates are employable, some drastic measures need to be taken. A degree for the sake of a degree is of no use. It has to be useful.”

    Nita: In some disciplines more than others, it is vitally important that the graduate actually knows what he is doing. Doctors and structural engineers designing buildings and bridges come to mind instantly.

    Having observed some accreditation bodies and their operations, I am cynical about accreditation as a tool in the absence of fundamentals. As for fundamentals, you have the list of pre-requisites there in your post. Radha and “9 man tel” come to mind!

    Accreditation may have many schools see dollar signs. What they do not realise is that while technical skill is necessary, it is not a sufficient condition for exporting talent either to the west or in the form of servicing clients onshore in India.

    The key skills in communication and basic thinking skills have no correlation with any degree one may obtain. Engineering schools in India constantly fail their students in those skills.

    I always ask: will this work? how? what constraints? what triggers?

    And at the moment, I am stuck on the ‘will this work?’ bit.

    Thanks.

  3. October 22, 2007 12:42 pm

    Bharath, thanks.🙂

    Shefaly, ofcourse what you said is right, the soft skills are necessary….and hopefully the colleges will get their act together. As to your question of ‘will this work,’ well, I can say that I am eternal optimist. There are two things you need if you live in India. Humour and Optimism. Without them you might as well…ummm…..commit suicide!😀 )
    There’s another option. Cambridge.🙂

  4. October 22, 2007 12:49 pm

    “There are two things you need if you live in India. Humour and Optimism. Without them you might as well…ummm…..commit suicide! There’s another option. Cambridge.”

    @ Nita: I have been very fortunate as far as my educational institutions are concerned, in India and outside.

    The current output of colleges mushrooming here is just abysmal. Positivity and hope are good assets – I should like to believe I have both in plenty but this reminds me of the discussion on my post titled “On Articulation”. The skills are too many to teach and with constraints, soft skills are the first casualty.

    However more worrisome is the dubious problem framing and problem solving skills. The absence of those absolutely essential skills are a hallmark of something much more profoundly wrong.

    End-of-pipe considerations such as accreditation do not address and resolve root cause issues. Alas. We are seeing plenty of it in the UK too where Oxbridge colleges are now having to offer remedials in Maths and English to their undergraduate intake, because the kids leave school with pathetic numeracy and spelling skills, a very high standard in both of which is assumed both in class teaching, ongoing assessment and thereafter in life..

  5. October 22, 2007 1:42 pm

    I guess I have been lucky too, in being able to go to the best school in Pune and the best college later…but the problem is that most Indians aren’t so lucky.
    I say luck, because here it’s the students from less privileged families who suffer simply because their school level education is so abysmal that it makes them incapable of gaining the soft skills at the right time. But slowly and surely things will improve Shefaly. I firmly believe it. After all how long as India been free from the shackles for socialism? Not very long…the country needs time.
    And yes, I have heard of the falling standards in the UK too, but don’t know too much about it.

  6. October 22, 2007 4:01 pm

    hi,
    well… being a VIT Vellore alumnus.. I can say… there is lot of talent in VIT… but what bothers me is the huge fee and no of intakes…
    about the college rankings, I have written about it some time back…
    http://fundubytes.blogspot.com/2007/06/indias-top-colleges-rank-list.html

  7. wishtobeanon... permalink
    October 22, 2007 7:36 pm

    Having studied both in India as well as the US, I can find very distinct differences in the methods of teaching as well as the quality of teachers. I enjoyed learning here in the US where as in India, most professors/lecturers were really pathetic. Some of them actually did not even know the subject they were teaching. A good teacher can influence a student to study and think. I am glad the Engineering colleges are going to be upgraded. Professors/teachers need to be evaluated at the end of every semester which will hopefully bring out better quality of teaching.

  8. October 22, 2007 8:20 pm

    wishtobeanon, thanks for your response. Where teachers are concerned, well I have had some very good teachers, in fact most of them were very good. The bad ones were not so much lacking in knowledge, as partial…having their favorites in class etc
    I studied in Miranda House Delhi for 2 years and most of my teachers were fantastic. Even in school, some of my teachers were excellent…but my science teacher was a bit crazy, and used to abuse!
    I guess it not only the educational institution, but also the time…at times colleges fall in their standards.

  9. wishtobeanon... permalink
    October 22, 2007 8:43 pm

    Sorry for my bitter response. Though the college I studied in was supposed to be one of the better colleges in that region, I did not find it living up to its name. Thanks for posting the article and for taking the time to respond to every comment!

  10. October 22, 2007 8:59 pm

    You are welcome! I love having these conversations so thank you too. – Nita.

  11. madhurisinha permalink
    October 22, 2007 9:42 pm

    Hi Nita,
    I guess at the end of the day, students from good engineering colleges are accepted in universities worldwide and also get better jobs. There is campus recruitment in all the well known colleges. So there is a survival of the fittest.
    But many of the engineering colleges, focus more on donations, student admissions rather than better facilities.
    My question however is whether accredition is the same as an upgrade?

  12. October 22, 2007 10:56 pm

    Nita:

    Wishtobeanon raises a wonderful and absolutely critical point on the supply side which adds to my supply side points as well.

    The quality of teaching is the crucial missing piece.

    Why can’t colleges attract the best teachers? Here are my guesses:

    1. Teaching is not a profession, it is a vocation. Some very smart people just cannot teach. I shall leave Rutherford out for now but this means that the catchment is quite small.

    2. The best (read: academically gifted) students of engineering go on and work in lucrative areas such as start-ups in California. Colleges cannot afford to compete with the money on offer. Even IITs in India are now paying sign-on bonuses to retain their academic staff.

    Few schools have the brand name cache to afford to pay badly and still get very good teachers (e.g. Cambridge but we too bleed people. Amartya Sen – although he is not an engineer – may have had more prestige as the Master of Trinity but he sure has more moolah for being at Harvard!)

    One of the funniest things someone in my family says “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. And it is true for professional roles as well as for academia.

    3. As schools mushroom there will not be sufficient supply to meet the demand anyway and the best teachers cannot be “scaled”. This means that more and more monkeys (see 2.) are getting employed.

    Now the flip side. In academic literature, academic institutions are classified as organised anarchies. Deviations from the complex arcane ways of their operating can also bleed academics. I shan’t say which school, but a well known business school in Europe runs academia like a business with targets for teaching hours, student contact (students rate professors each term so this is a catch 22), executive education hours, consulting revenue, research and publishing. You could argue so what? Businesses run like this.. Yes but businesses pay more. They have lost academics to a new school which is willing to pay more and give more freedom to their academics.

    So bottom line is across sectors this is a tricky one. Education business may scale, good education does not because the teacher is a kingpin that cannot be scaled.

    Things like infrastructure and accreditation give an illusion of improvement where as the basic product is still on shaky ground..

    There are good examples of private sector participation raising the game in education but since we can count them on the fingers of our two hands, it can be said with some confidence that the models are not easily replicable.

    Thanks.

  13. October 22, 2007 11:16 pm

    I honestly feel AICTE was kind of dumb or slow organisation.. No offense.. that’s my view w.r.t University I studied during my time..

    The syllabus that I studied during my engineering was too old.. and they never acted fast or upgraded it in time… But like you I was lucky too.. We had few great faculty..

  14. October 23, 2007 4:41 am

    This is good news. The only bad side effect of this I can imagine is that fees might rise. But on the whole, this sounds like a good thing.

    Apart from all the foreign stuff, Indian cross university professorships and collaboration with other Indian universities might come up. Standardization is such a good thing!

  15. October 23, 2007 4:42 am

    Bharath, out of curiosity, which year did you graduate? From what I hear, AICTE has come of age recently and is doing slightly better.

  16. October 23, 2007 5:00 am

    Thanks Shefaly for that good analysis. Yes the remuneration and supply and demand issues are critical. Actually this problem has become acute in the last two decades with increasing population and the infrastrucuture not keeping up. Also at one time people entered teaching for the love of it, but today you cannot expect people to do that. The society has changed, money is more important. It’s a materialistic society that we live in today, and no I am not being critical of it, just stating a fact.

    Bharath, the few great faculty is what always manages to get us through it all…makes us tolerate the other stuff!

    Anshul, even I think this is a positive step. At least it shows that our government is doing something!! Now it’s up to the individual colleges…I just hope they pull up their socks.

  17. October 23, 2007 12:18 pm

    Nita:

    Thanks.

    “Also at one time people entered teaching for the love of it, but today you cannot expect people to do that.”

    I believe that a significant proportion who become teachers today are also driven by their love for teaching. The others who cannot resist the lure of money are probably more realistic and less idealistic..🙂

    Love cannot pay bills or put food on the table, can it?

    In nearly every society now, we treat teachers awfully and then we expect them to make our shitty kids some kind of geniuses. How does that expectation-payoff mismatch work, I have never understood.

    I am told by my friends in the UK – those my age and older – that when they were kids, they dreaded getting a note from a teacher at school. Now teachers dread sending one for fear that a bunch of potty-mouthed, self-righteous parents will turn up to fight with the teacher!

    All I see is the outcome. These friends are more articulate, wise and knowledgeable than the average children today.

    The good thing about a downward spiral is that it will hit a bottom – I hope – sometime and then there is only one way – up…

  18. October 23, 2007 1:03 pm

    As someone who is presently studying in one of those colleges on the top 100 list- I wish I could say that the scene is improving at this point. Perhaps it is. I can’t see it though.

    I remember the AICTE accreditation process in my college last semester (they keep checking up every few years)- that was the one time our college was spruced up. Facilities seemed to have improved and everyone was happy. Days after the accreditation team left, everything went back to the way it was. Same old facilities (or the lack thereof)- same old lackluster attitudes.

    I’m not so sure how effective these accreditation processes are. Or how much the government is doing. We’re in the system right now. Wouldn’t we have perceived something?

    As far as the soft skills are concerned- I too have been fortunate to have been in some amazing institutes earlier. And I couldn’t stress more on the importance of these skills.

    And as far as the quality of teaching is concerned- I find myself getting extremely dispassionate about subjects that I would thoroughly enjoy earlier. Although wishtobeanon brings up a great point- ‘A good teacher can influence a student to study and think.’, I do not believe the upgrades he’s referring to are happening at the pace they need to be. Oh and our professors get evaluated by students at the end of every semester- there has been no positive outcome yet. We still have the same professors, teaching in the same way.

  19. October 24, 2007 7:30 am

    Sunny, thanks for your response. I am not at all surprised that the colleges spruce up colleges just before the checking! It is really sad though that you are not seeing any changes inspite of this grand stand of the government about accreditation to the Washington Accord. Perhaps you could ask the authorities about it?

  20. October 25, 2007 8:23 pm

    I wish it were that easy. There have been numerous instances where we’ve asked our ‘authorities’ to do something, or have brought situations to their notice. The utter lack of action does not give me enough faith to walk up to some professor and ask about the Washington Accord. Going by the amount of knowledge they’ve displayed while teaching us, I thoroughly doubt any one here will have heard of it- let alone be inspired to do something about it.

  21. October 25, 2007 8:27 pm

    The Sunny above is a nickname btw🙂

  22. October 25, 2007 8:55 pm

    That’s really sad Aditya. Surely at least there is one prof whom you feel comfortable with or whom you respect?

  23. October 26, 2007 6:16 pm

    Sure there is. There are quite a few actually. They are the ones because of whom we actually get through the system with our sanity intact. About the Washington Accord. I’ve looked it up. India is a signatory- hasn’t ratified it yet. When the government does not seem to be doing much, I don’t know how much one of my professors might know about it. You know what, I might actually ask one of them sometime.

  24. April 21, 2008 9:28 am

    midday article

    just cacheing this

  25. November 14, 2010 12:31 am

    Great news and nice post

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