India's engineering education needs R

Submitted by alvin on Fri, 2016-09-23 13:25 A few years ago, five M.Tech students of agricultural engineering from one of the top agricultural universities of Maharashtra came to our Institute for a four-month internship. One day, during their internship, we had some visitors to whom I was showing our electric trike. While running it, a knob came off its switchboard. To fix it, I asked one of the interns to get me a plier. He brought me a spanner instead! He did not know the difference between the two. These students during their B.Tech and M.Tech had never worked with their hands or had even seen farm machinery and did not know anything about simple workshop equipment. They had passed engineering examinations without learning anything of practical value.  According to the latest statistics, only 6-7 per cent of India's engineering graduates are employable in the core engineering sector and these interns clearly were part of the trend.  I feel that it is not the students' fault but that of a corrupt and broken teaching system, which fleeces them. There are few good teachers of engineering, but by and large most are mediocre (even in IITs) and the stress is more on passing examinations rather than a hands-on learning experience. In university after university and in various IITs, I have found that most of the students do not want to do any engineering but opt for MBAs, civil services and software-oriented programmes. The main reason is that they are not challenged to do any hardware-oriented engineering because of the lack of good teachers.  The teaching in most of the engineering colleges, including IITs, has been deteriorating for the last 20-30 years and is currently quite mediocre with most of the faculty not up-to-date in engineering research. In fact, IITs are consistently rated quite low in international university rankings.  Four years of engineering education is a sufficiently long time to inspire the students to take up a career in engineering. The fact that only a handful of students who pass out every year opt for an engineering or a research career shows that very little of good engineering is taught.  Most of the engineering colleges have ad hoc staff and fresh graduates become teachers. Even in IITs around 50 per cent of faculty positions are vacant. The government, in its wisdom, thinks that giving higher pay will help attract good faculty to these Institutes. This is a myth because great teachers are not attracted only by pay but by the scholarship environment of doing good research and teaching. Great engineering colleges the world over produce a good number of excellent researchers, some of whom also become great teachers.  Also, some of the problems with engineering education have been created by information technology (IT) companies themselves. In the past, these companies have heavily recruited from IITs and other good engineering college campuses. In fact, not long ago there used to be a saying "anything that moves in IIT gets a job in Infosys". This resulted in making most of the students complacent and bunking classes since they knew that they will be taken by IT companies irrespective of their grades. With this attitude, it becomes very difficult for students to learn anything.  So, what needs to be done? One of the ways forward is to create a great research and scholarship environment in IITs and engineering colleges. This can happen when faculty and students work on problems of India -- especially for rural areas. Providing basic necessities to 60 percent of our rural population is a huge technological challenge and R