Sunday, October 28, 2007

To B.E. or not to B.E.

Indian higher education is historically woven in Indian ethos.

For a while now, there have been a lot of talks, emanating from various sections, in terms of the skill deficit that India is facing across industries. The concern that started with the software industry has now spread to other industries like retail, banking/finance and real estate as well. Industry leaders, consulting agencies and various apex organisations, for long have been assertively voicing their dissent in terms of the quality of higher education in the country. Their biggest complaint – the Indian Universities have remained tradition bound and have failed to address the needs of the industry.

In fact it is an amazing reality that India produces a staggering 4,00,000 engineers every year. To get this figure in the correct perspective it is pertinent to realise that this is almost twice as much the United States produces in any given year. But what is more incredible is the fact that of the four lakh, majority of the engineers are coming from the four South Indian states, namely Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Bengaluru boasts of the highest number of engineering colleges in any city in the world and Tamil Nadu has 350 engineering colleges and produces highest number of engineering graduates i.e around 30,000 annually. In fact, 27,416 engineers graduated from 120 engineering colleges affiliated to Visvesraya University in Karnataka, in the year 2006 alone. Other than this, there are 274 engineering colleges in Andhra Pradesh alone and 84 colleges under six universities in the state of Kerala.

In fact the ‘clusterisation’ of engineering colleges down south, aptly vindicates the point that Indian Universities historically have always been bereft of the industrial orientation and instead have been catering to the psychographics of the Indian community, which has always been ‘regionalised’. In South, for example, to gain social acceptance, an engineering degree is a must. In fact, the aura of being an engineer is so powerful down south, that it becomes a critical variable for social engagements like marriages etc. Hence, the social stigma of not being an engineer, has been so overtly strong that a slew of engineering colleges have sprung up in the past two decades, catering to the demand, with a single mandate - and that is to produce engineers - resulting in a huge compromise in the quality of education with an invariable natural disconnect with the industry demands. In fact the same holds true for North, East and West of India too. Typically, North and West is entrepreneurial driven, never attached much value to education. For them, time spent on education is still a huge opportunity cost lost. For them it is rather prudent to utilise the same time in building business.

So, if the industry has to get a stable supply of talent, constant dialogue between the industry and academia becomes an imperative. This would not only help them to sensitise with the Indian psyche but would also enable them to bring in necessary interventions in the courseware and pedagogy. Since the organisation of Indian higher education is historically entangled within Indian divergent ethos, only a historical intervention from the industry can re-orient it!!


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