While Prime Minister Narendra Modi promotes his Make in India mission and the country hopes to reap a demographic dividend through its predominantly young population, quality of engineering education plays a spoilsport.
India's problem of substandard engineering education is now widely known. Except IITs and other prestigious technology institutes, most engineering colleges are unable to provide education to engineering student that would get them suitable jobs.
At the root of the problem is mushrooming of low-quality engineering colleges over the years. As students from such colleges fail to get suitable jobs, they face decline in enrolment. Now a large number of these colleges are being shut down.
There will be around 80,000 less seats in engineering this year in the country. This will lead to around 3.1 lakh seats less in four years. According to the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), nearly 200 'substandard' engineering colleges have applied for closure.
Since 2016, the number of engineering seats has been on the decline. According to AICTE, it is around 75,000 annually. In 2016-17, total intake capacity at undergraduate level was 15,71,220, of which total enrolment was 7,87,127, which is just around 50.1 per cent. In 2015-16, total intake was 16,47,155, of which enrolment was 8,60,357, which was 52.2 per cent
AICTE wants to close down about 800 engineering colleges across India. There are no takers for their seats, and admissions are plunging in these colleges every year.
Nearly 150 colleges are closed down voluntarily every year due to stricter AICTE rules. According to a rule of the council, colleges that lack proper infrastructure and report less than 30% admissions for five consecutive years will have to be shut down. AICTE has approved the progressive closure of more than 410 colleges across India, from 2014-15 to 2017-18.
In 2003, the government formed a committee to find out how technical education was doing in the country. The UR Rao Committee flagged a future glut of graduates. It found technical education was expanding rapidly which could not be sustained in the long run as there wasn't as much demand for as supply of engineering graduates.
Fifteen years later, the committee stands vindicated.
Nearly eight lakh BE/BTech students graduated last year, but only less than half of them got jobs through campus placement, according to the AICTE data.
The Rao committee had suggested a five-year moratorium on approvals for undergraduate technical institutions in states where the student intake exceeded the then national average of 150 seats per million population, according to an Indian Express a report.
However, Rao’s suggestion was never followed. In 2008-09, 30 per cent more students joined engineering colleges over the previous year, the highest jump since 2001, according to the AICTE data. More than over 700 new colleges were approved that year. In 2016-17, half of the 15.5 lakh BE/BTech seats were vacant in 3,291 engineering colleges in the country.
India's crisis of engineering education is quite visible. Several studies have pointed out low employability of engineering graduates except those from prestigious institutes.
Recently, a study found that Russian and Chinese engineering students were better than those in India. Indian students make substantial gains in mathematics and critical thinking skills in the first two years of their education compared to their counterparts in China and Russia, but their overall higher-order thinking skills are substantially lower than the Chinese and Russians, according to an Indian Express report on the preliminary finding of learning outcome assessment of undergraduate engineering students conducted by Stanford University and the World Bank.
It is apparent from the study that Indian students are not unable to think high. It's the lack of quality education that stunts their academic growth.