In a country faced with an acute shortage of trained engineers, there are still no takers for at least three out of every 10 of the 10.73 lakh seats in engineering colleges. A National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) study says engineering services are a $40 billion opportunity for India by 2020, but only one in four of the 4,00,000 graduates passing out of the 3,200 engineering colleges every year is employable. Worse, only three out of 10 of the teaching faculty is competent and qualified.
Avaricious politicians intent on either making a quick buck or laundering their kickbacks have worked assiduously to open engineering colleges, giving standards the go-by. It has never been easier to set up one which may cost anywhere between Rs 3 crore and Rs 10 crore. A politician ropes in relatives or friends to set up a trust and, if resources permit, puts up an impressive building. Then, with the help of a retired academic appointed as director or principal woos part-time faculty and admits students collecting hefty sums as donation to build the college campus. This is besides the tuition fee of Rs 60,000 and more a year. The more enterprising run a B-school, pharmacy college and even a teachers' training college on the same campus.
While most governments are quick to blame private universities and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) rules for the way questionable colleges have mushroomed, the AICTE's response is that it doesn't interfere too much in education as it is on the Concurrent List. It is this ambiguity that keeps institutions such as R.K. Institute of Management and Computer Sciences in Bangalore-started in 1999 and which admitted all of two students last year-and Nivedita Institute of Management and Technology-started in 2008 at Murshidabad, West Bengal, and which has less than four students on its rolls-in existence.
In Bangalore, once India's private college capital, 8,000 seats could not be filled in its 186 colleges for the 2010-2011 season. In Rajasthan last year, the state government not only sanctioned 25 new colleges, but also added evening shifts in 23 of them, increasing the seat count to 50,000 this year. The result: 14,000 seats went vacant this year and half a dozen colleges in the state have applied for closure.
In West Bengal, where even five years ago there was a clamour for a technical degree, 2,000 seats have gone vacant this session. There were 306 engineering colleges in Maharashtra and 31 more were approved last year. Many of the colleges are owned by prominent politicians.
S.S. Mantha, AICTE chairman, while conceding that there are problems in technical education said that with 5 million students and 10,500 institutions offering technical education, the task of monitoring them is difficult, mainly due to a manpower shortage. The AICTE is taking steps to alleviate some of the malpractices that have become rampant in technical education, he said and pointed out that between November 2010 and January this year, the council has served more than 1000 show-cause notices and cancelled four approvals to engineering colleges.
Andhra Pradesh is one state where the crisis is more stark than anywhere else in India. From 282 colleges with a sanctioned intake of 98,793 seats in 2006- 07, it has now 707 colleges with 2,62,221 seats in 2010- 11. While students were admitted to 88.45 per cent of the seats in 2006- 07, admissions rose over the next two years to 89.62 per cent of available seats. Thereafter, it is showing an alarming decline-75.24 per cent of the seats in 2009- 10 and 72.28 per cent, or a staggering 76,432 vacant seats, during the current year.
Over-supply is not the only reason for vacancies. Mandatory norms are also a deterrent. The AICTE is insisting on a minimum score of 50 per cent in mathematics, physics and chemistry in the intermediate examination. The technical education revolution has soured. "Some colleges exist only on paper," concedes Bangalore University vice-chancellor N. Prabhu Dev. "We have started an inquiry against 127 colleges which did not submit their admission lists. Even among the colleges which have single-digit admissions, some just exist and continue their affiliation to get government grants, while some are minority institutes," he says. The quality of education offered at some of the colleges is also a cause for concern. "Most of these places go for a huge publicity drive during admissions with glossy brochures and advertisements but students are advised to find out the actual credentials of these universities," says Vibha Puri Das, Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development.
While the AICTE's lax enforcement of rules has encouraged many to enter the education business, it is now time that the states join the AICTE in stepping up vigil to improve standards, so that fewer seats remain vacant.
With inputs from Padmaparna Ghosh and Rohit Parihar