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Lack of demand and poor quality blamed for decline in enrolment in India’s engineering colleges

Indian technical education has vast capacity for new students but despite the once-cherished possibility of studying for an engineering qualification now being open to many, about 20 per cent of places remain unfilled.

The glut in the engineering colleges has had experts worried for a while now. According to the All India council for technical education (AICTE) data, India has 3,393 IT and software engineering colleges with an annual student intake capacity of more than a million students. In 1947, there were 38 general engineering institutions in the country with 2,500 seats.

But when admissions closed for the past academic session there were nearly 200,000 vacant seats in colleges. Across many campuses there is rising despair as placements have reduced and salaries offered to graduates are falling. The slowdown in the IT industry and also in manufacturing has resulted in an imbalance and “capacity that was created in anticipation of demand has remained unutilised”, the AICTE says.

For the past couple of years, colleges have been offering discounts to students, hoping to fill their classrooms. The AICTE has also relaxed entry standards for technology schools, hoping it will attract more students. But the number of vacancies has not decreased, particularly in institutes running in rural parts of various states. In addition there is a lack of high-quality teaching staff, with most new colleges relying on visiting lecturers.

As a result, colleges that opened with taglines promising “employable engineering” and “quality tech education” in the past couple of years are now closing down.

The problem was first highlighted a in a 2009 interim report by the committee to advise on renovation and rejuvenation of higher education, set up by the Indian government.

“Mushrooming engineering and management colleges, with some notable exceptions, have largely become mere business entitites dispensing very poor-quality education,” the report found.

“There has been no policy or guidelines to measure the competence of private investors in starting and managing a technical institution other than the requirement that it should be registered as a non-profit or charitable trust or society.

“The [previous shortage of engineering places] has been exploited by many investors, who have no understanding or experience of the responsibilities associated with institutions of higher education.”

When the trend was first noticed, a number of state governments wrote to the AICTE asking them to reject fresh proposals for starting engineering colleges. In response, the council has asked states to give them details of prospective plans of all their universities so the growth of colleges can be mapped and controlled.

“There is no other way out,” says an AICTE official, requesting anonymity.

“Unless governments take measures to check the unregulated growth of these colleges, distress sales will continue.”

business@thenational.ae

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