Rediff special on the quality of India’s engineers

Update: Part 2 is here.

It’s time someone brought this up.

Rediff.com is running a special series (Part One is here) on the quality of India’s computer science graudates. The problem is clear – the abysmal state of India’s universities, across the board.

It is thrilling, at first glance, to read statistics like “From its 113 universities and 2,088 colleges — many of which teach various engineering disciplines — India produces nearly 350,000 engineering graduates every year. All of Europe produces 100,000 engineering graduates a year, and America produces only 70,000.” But, as the article goes on to say, the quality of these engineers is something best left unsaid.

Mumbai University is widely regarded as one of India’s best Universities, after the IITs and NITs. I myself am a graduate from an engineering college under MU. However, you only have to spend a day touring engineering colleges under MU to realise the absolutely pathetic infrastructure in place, the hopelessly outdated syllabus (we spent an entire semester learning the finer nuances of COBOL – as part of Business Processing Systems, cut our teeth on programming languages with PASCAL and didn’t touch C until half our engineering was done, learnt IBM’s ITS as a state-of-the-art database system – you get the point), the lacklustre faculty, arcane and archaic rules and regulations, an examination system that has all but collapsed, and, as the article mentions, heavy emphasis on rote learning and “theory”. And mine was one of the best colleges under MU.

I shudder to think how people who have become “Computer Engineers” through this sort of education are going to make India the world “Information superpower”.

Government Funding and Private Participation:
The article mentions a serious lack of funding, a lack of Government spending on Research and Development in Engineering. And elsewhere in the article, “… the gradual withdrawal of government support, with increased private participation in technical education, affected quality and led to commercialisation of education.” Well, I can tell you that private institutions that run educational institutions are some of the richest bodies in India today. From my observations, the bottom line for these “companies” is almost as high as their top lines, simply because so little is pooled back into the college. Simple, back-of-the-envelope calculations for income and expenditure (I will not go into figures here) for a typical enginering college in MU will reflect that. So the problem is definitely NOT lack of funds. Indeed, private participation in education must be encouraged – but then we need to have stringent laws, brutally enforced, with heavy penalties for those private institutions that do not pool back enough money to make their colleges meet the high standards that they are easily capable of.

Then there are other problems that the article has not yet mentioned – the most serious one is reservation. Then you have, among others, lack of a practical-oriented examination system, lack of continuously updated syllabi, lack of business education along with technical education, sever lack of exposure to, and participation with, the Industry. Writing about what ails our technical education has been on the cards for a long long time; perhaps this article will be the catalyst that gets me down to doing it.