Published: 16th June 2019
Low pay, alternate cheaper training models could be reason behind engineering losing prominence
A spokesperson of a private engineering college, on the outskirts of Chennai, told Express that the pay package in placements has come down from Rs 3.6 – 4.5 lakh per annum to as low as Rs 1.5 -2 lakh
As the lust for engineering degree programmes has been diminishing over the last few years, alternative education models that decentralise education, particularly in technical fields, are far more sustainable and have tremendous potential to scale up, say, field players. Students have always sought education models that increase their employability and enhance their skill sets. Express explores why some models of technical education that do not subscribe to the degree-based system recommended by the government, have been gaining prominence while four-year engineering degree programmes have lesser and lesser enthusiasts.
With less than a month to go for Tamil Nadu Engineering Admissions (TNEA) 2019 online counselling, the process will begin with an existing vacancy of 40,000 seats. Even though there are 1.72 lakh college seats that engineering aspirants can avail through the government’s counselling, only 1.33 lakh candidates have applied this year.
A spokesperson of a private engineering college, on the outskirts of Chennai, told Express that the pay package in placements has come down from Rs 3.6 – 4.5 lakh per annum to as low as Rs 1.5 -2 lakh, over the last five years. “Students pay a fee of about Rs 3 lakh a year, for four years, and have to struggle to get even low pay packages,” the spokesperson said, adding that students lose interest to sign up for undergraduate programmes, when it does not pay them well in return.
While the college faces severe shortage in applicants this year, the spokesperson recalled that the institution was in high demand a few years ago. However, the drop in engineering aspirants, may not mean a dip in higher education enrollment.
“Even as the total number of applicants has gone down for TNEA 2019, it does not mean lesser enrollment in higher education,” said State Higher Education Minister KP Anbalagan speaking to journalists recently. He pointed that more students are opting for bachelors in arts or science. Given that students from different branches of engineering continue to work at software, information technology or even data entry positions at large companies, the value of the specialisation from mediocre colleges has tapered. The four-year engineering degree certificate has become a status quo ineligibility, rather than an asset.
Aravind Lakshman, a data entry executive, working at a small company in Guindy, graduated with a B.E. Automobile from a private college near Kelambakkam. He gets paid Rs 18,000 a month after working for two years. “On an average day, I copy-paste phone numbers against people’s names and collate a common database from different sources,” he said, adding that it was fun for the first few days and then got really monotonous.
This is why students choose a less expensive three-year bachelors degree in arts or science, to get paid the same amount, opines a faculty member, who teaches at HCL’s Tech Bee programme that trains bright class 12 graduates in software and recruits them at the end of the programme. “Most jobs in the market need students with just the basic skills of proficient reading, writing and analytical abilities, which many reach by the time they finish schooling,” he says adding that it is easier to train students and make them skilled and employable.
Students who are part of the programme, will have to work for a year after the training, and can opt to pursue a part-time undergraduate programme or can continue working, he said. HCL is not the only organisation that uses this model of recruitment. Zoho University visits schools in tier two or tier three cities and picks bright students, who would otherwise not have the financial ability to afford higher education and trains them in fields they are interested in. The students, after undergoing training for two years, are encouraged to work with Zoho Corp, their sister firm that specialises in technology solutions.
The idea behind this new model is the breakneck speed at which the technological world is changing, it is obsolete to assume that what they learn in the first year of college, will be relevant when they graduate. Rajendran Dandapani, the dean of the institution, in an interview with Express said, “Instead, we help students to learn by themselves and provide them exposure to the market they may have to develop solutions for, we allow them to interact with our staff and train them to be prepared for the real world,” he said.
The students are also paid a stipend of Rs 8,000 a month for the two-year training period. He further explained the student selection process. “If I were to recruit a journalist for my organisation, is it more meaningful to recruit a person with a degree in journalism or a 12th standard child who has great language proficiency and a habit of blogging about current affairs for the last four years? We look for historical demonstration of talent and pick candidates who show constructive interest towards technology,” he said.
About the scalability of such models, he said that from ancient times, humans have progressed by going through apprenticeship. Apprenticeship learning, for example, is a son watching his caveman father hunting, before he hunts by himself or a motorbike mechanic teaching a little boy to fix a motorbike by letting him disassemble and assemble a vehicle by himself.
“When any model of education is decentralised, it is infinitely scalable. The industrial revolution idea of uniformity and centralisation will not produce innovation. Innovation is found only when you abhor uniformity,” he asserted.
Speaking to Express, D Anandakrishnan, former vice-chancellor of Anna University and a renown educationalist, said that such models of education are a practical way to look at skill development. “The purpose of higher education is to create knowledgeable individuals who have holistic and philosophical expertise on subjects they specialise in. But the purpose of engineering higher education is to create employment and we have been failing miserably in that. So programmes like these should be welcomed with open arms,” he said.