I haven’t been around here for quite some time as I have been active writing on LinkedIn. However, this is something I have been wanting to write for well over an year now.
During 2005-2006, I wrote a paper titled ‘STATUS OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION IN TAMILNADU’ and submitted that to an ISTE Student Chapter Conference at a college near Hosur, India. I was surprised to see my paper selected for presentation. During my presentation, the students clapped, whistled and laughed while the teaching/management community got pissed off. My paper basically called every element of the engineering educational system (in Tamilnadu) wrong and how we were digging our own graves.
About 8 years later, that is right now, I am revisiting the trends that I had predicted will happen. At that time, everyone disagreed with me and said I overestimated the flaws. Based on my discussions with different stakeholders in the engineering education business, I would like to make it very clear that I had heavily under-estimated the impacts. They have all happened and have now gone above and beyond what seemed to me as a probable extent of failure.
For more than a year now, I have been discussing with engineering students, engineering graduates, lecturers/professors and family of current/past engineering students. Here are my observations and what they mean to me.
Money Over Everything Else
It was the time for lab-practical exams and everyone was there to take their exams. The examiner was there with an external-examiner (a trend followed around here for no freakin reason) to run the day’s proceedings as planned. All the students were told to leave their cellphones out of the lab. One of them had taken pictures of his book and sneaked his cellphone inside the lab and used it as cheat-sheet. The examiner caught him red-handed and confiscated his paper and cellphone. As he was proceeding to execute disciplinary action, the student confidently offered him a bribe saying he can ask his dad to pay any amount to let him be allowed to copy and pass the exam. The examiner got furious and demanded to speak with the student’s father. On the phone, as the examiner conveyed the inappropriate behaviour of the student to the parent, the father interjected and suggested he is ready to pay any amount so his son can copy and pass the exam. The examiner had no words to say and he took it up to the Head of the Department. The HOD (as we call them around here) was very considerate of the examiner’s situation and kindly advised him to not take much notice of this and let the boy do what he has to do. Apparently, the student had paid a huge sum of money for his engineering seat in that college and he was being considered a ‘Paying Customer’ who deserved his money’s worth. The examiner, handed the student, exam papers and the cellphone and left the rest of the disciplinary action take place under the HOD’s supervision. The disciplinary action included the student do the rest of his exam in the HOD’s office in a rather ‘conducive’ atmosphere.
My friend says this is not a rare case and so many instances like these occur in engineering colleges in Tamilnadu where, ‘Money’ is being used as reason to skip procedures, make leeways and potential engagement in will-full malpractices which allow the students to get through the educational system without having to make the necessary effort. As long as the student pays, the managements want them to go out with a degree, one way or the other.
Commissions for Cooperation
Engineering college managements are collecting exorbitant amounts as tuition and other fees. Some of those fees cover extra-curricular activities involving external organisations teaching the students, specific professional skills. The current trend is that the college managements are charging large amounts and are only spending a fraction of those for the purpose. Those who approach college managements with proposals for such programs, have to go through individuals who demand a ‘Per-Student-Rate’ as a commission for that business to be chosen for the specific program. In most cases, the fees paid to the external businesses are well below 25-50% of what the managements charge the students for the purpose. The ‘Commission-Collectors’ demand between 10%-20% of the fees quoted by the external business.
In another case, which is happening right now, the college management has made it ‘mandatory’ for all the students to take the software-training classes conducted by external organisations. Those students who will not agree to pay for the extra-curricular classes will not receive his/her hall-ticket (a nonsense we still practice in India) and eventually won’t be able to take the exams.
It is almost as if nobody really cares if the program will benefit the students. The businesses such as external training organisations get tossed around by the ‘Money-Laundering-Bureaucracy’ designed and practiced by the college managements. The governing bodies don’t seem to notice the obvious realities for some valid reason, possibly corroborated by mutually beneficial material exchanges, in every unlawful way possible.
Lecturers going for ‘Paper-Correction’ is a common affair around here. The universities have the affiliated colleges pool the exam papers together and have a centralised evaluation process.
When the lecturers fail a student for not writing the right answer or for not writing anything at all, their ‘evaluated papers’ are ‘revised’ by senior lecturers and most often the students who make a 30 (fail) out of 100, end up with up to 80 marks. The senior lecturers and professors school the junior lecturers that every time they take a bundle of exam papers to grade, they should make sure they don’t fail more than 4 or 5 papers. This way, the engineering college’s ‘Pass-Percentage’ does not get affected.
This is almost a cultural affair where colleges extent their friendly gesture of ‘Don’t Fail Too Many’ to each other, eventually rendering the centralised paper evaluation process nonsense.
In colleges which have gained the ‘university’ status, the trend is to fail the student, make it compulsory for the student to join the compartment/complimentary classes, pay an additional fees and retake the exam. The concept is that the students pay more and they mysteriously pass their complimentary exams after failing it miserably the first time. The catch however is not that. Those lecturers who refuse to divulge the exam questions to the students who take these complimentary/compartment courses are not given the opportunity to handle those courses, even if they were the ones who handled the course during the main semester.
In a specific case, the department’s ‘Re-Evaluation Team,’ incharge of grading the papers of those who have applied for revaluation, denied participation to a lecturer who refused to ‘pass’ all the failed papers that were handed to him the previous time. The very purpose of that exercise is to make sure the students pass the exam, no matter what, and maintain the ‘fake image’ of the college.
The college managements have made a ‘Return-Business Model’ out of failing students and don’t want to engage those members of the teaching community, who wish to practice their profession with integrity and passion.
Joining Engineering Colleges
The admission process is shared by the governing university and the affiliated colleges where the university will send a certain number of students and the colleges are free to recruit students on the town to fill the remaining seats. It’s big business.
I have had the opportunity to remain dumbfounded in front of a parent who proudly claimed he had ‘Booked’ engineering seats in 5 different colleges with suitable ‘Advance Payment’ and wanted my advice on how to choose the good one. People are booking college seats like flight tickets these days. The colleges have long been paying students, commissions for the students they bring in. The cut comes from the ‘capitation fees’ paid by the incoming student.
There have been cases where the college management set ‘targets’ for each lecturer in terms of the number of students they should recruit (who will pay for their seat) and the failure of which resulted in delayed salary disbursements. In some cases, the college managements demand the students who pay for their seat to attend the centralised admission process and bring a confirmed admission in any stream in exchange for a seat in the stream of their choice. This way, the management gets one more seat to sell.
The governing bodies are there and they do conduct elaborate procedures but all end in money. So none of the systems and procedures are capable of serving their purpose. The mindset behind such state of affairs is very similar to the view which approves a minor sexual assault as ok compared to a full-fledged rape.
We need to remember that most engineering colleges are run by wealthy individuals, most of them with a criminal background. They are in this business because they have the money to build a college and get its approvals from the university (by paying of course). They are not entirely fit for running an educational institution and so they depend on people who will promise them a standard revenue stream year after year. They are thriving because the gullible parents and students chase them for an engineering degree, hoping their life will change with one.
Studying in Engineering Colleges
Students often are forced with tough projects by their advisors. A deeper look reveals that the lecturers who are working towards their PhD’s split their project into multiple smaller projects and force their students to do it, most often against their will. Those who are full-time PhD students do housekeeping tasks at their advisor’s residence in exchange for their work to be approved by the advisor. The activities include, taking the professor’s kids to school, getting the professor’s wife’s clothes dry-cleaned and buying groceries for the professor’s family. The money for the expenditure is often not given and the student will have to bear it as a ‘Respect Fee’ for his PhD. Also the PhD student has to pay from his/her personal account, for the expenditure on the committee’s travel, lodging and meals. There have been cases where the visiting professor (who has to approve a publication) openly asked for ‘Gold-Gifts’ in return for a ‘No-Scrutiny-Approval’ of anything the student presents.
The current trend indicate that universities from far off states within India are offering value-added PhD’s where the students have multiple packages to choose from. The comprehensive option involves a payment of around Rs. 300000 for everything. The university will prepare the attendance records, exam papers and other documentary trails for the successful graduation of the student. All the student has to do is pay for it. The student may have to make a few visits from time to time but it is not mandatory.
Those who have paid heavily and went through humiliation of all kinds are proudly walking around with their Paid-For-PhD’s and some have openly claimed that they will charge their students to cover what they had to pay when they were a student. Now that’s consistency.
When encountered with a question of why, these fake-educated money sharks say it is ok since everybody does it and this is how it has been for a long time.
This get’s us to the question: Just because prostitution has been around for a long time and women are being sold in almost every country, is it ok to sell our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives for a good deal? Those who do things just because they believe everyone else does, will they sell women from their family just because prostitution is everywhere? After all, it is consistency we are trying to keep up to.
Current Impact on Engineering Industry
The companies in India are struggling to hire engineering graduates since they have developed a very bad habit of stereotyping engineering graduates. They have all come to believe that anyone from an engineering college in Tamilnadu (barring a few exceptions) will have a degree but absolutely no knowledge in that domain. Apparently, they have some real world cases to substantiate their claims.
The colleges are not being fair with their evaluation and this has led to unfit engineering graduates entering the job market. Students are going to training institutions to ‘Buy Certificates’ which they submit as proof for learning something and the recruiters eventually end up finding it out. Parents are ready to pay for their kids’ degrees simply because they have lined up a job for them at a friend’s place.
There are so many jobs out here that are not being filled only because the employers believe they are not finding their right fit. Simply put they need candidates who can at least learn the job. The sad state of affairs inside the engineering college have let the engineering industry stagnate. The recruiters are skeptical about almost everyone and the candidates are not sure of what they want to do. After all, most of them joined an engineering college mostly because their parent was affluent enough to grab a priority seat for them.
This has essentially ruined it for the rest of the engineering community who are in this line out of their love for engineering. No wonder the jobs are being taken to other asian countries from India. I only hope they don’t stagnate.
At this moment, those who are in engineering colleges in Tamilnadu, have no belief over the idea of them getting a job in their line of work. Irrespective of their stream, the engineering students’s only hope is the big bunch of IT companies who can practically take in any human and get them trained for their work. The bad part is even they are not preferring most of the engineering graduates these days.
A sample worst case scenario is the fact that in the recent past, about 58 colleges had all the students (1 batch) in all their streams fail all their exams. Those are colleges run out of randomly constructed 2-storeyed buildings in undocumented lands of wealthy loan sharks who have absolutely nothing to do with academics. Those colleges exist because someone got paid to let them run their business in such state.
The bad design of educational system here and the obnoxiously unethical implementation of it has been the reason, India’s talent being mostly used for back-end fill-out jobs that are heavily standardised and require nothing more than a pair of hands and basic computer literacy. It is absolutely insulting to see those jobs considering our candidates unfit for them.
I believe we need to ‘Wake, Break and Shake’ in India before we get to ‘Make In India’ because, soon they will be here to make and realise they don’t have much to make with.
Back in 2005-2006, my findings indicated that we were forced with content without clarification of why we had to learn them in the first place. The main concern was students not being provided the ‘application’ side of engineering. I was opposed to the idea of assignments being entirely associated with pages of text we were required to copy from the textbook photocopies we were supplied with. I was annoyed at the fact that a lecturer scolded me for asking questions in class (In all fairness, I do agree I have the incredible talent of inventing stupid questions out of nothing). I did scratch the eye of the ‘Re-Evaluation Fee’ which was collected from students who filed for revaluation of their papers. Apparently, here in India, it was and it is considered absolutely normal for a lecturer/professor to wrongly grade an exam and fail the student. All the student has to do is apply for revaluation. The bill is often not issued and when issued will carry a mention of ‘Re-Totalling.’ Overall, failing the students and getting their money for passing them is officially the underground ‘Return-Business’ for the universities and affiliated engineering colleges. For those who are still not able to understand the intensity of the situation, when I joined an engineering college there were 240 of them and now there are around 550 engineering colleges. The number just keeps growing as we speak.
What was bad 8 years ago, is worse now and is in no shape for improvement at the moment. People are losing interest in engineering just because the engineering graduates are not getting jobs after their engineering education. This however, has not even made a freakin dent on anyone’s cognitive make-up that we need to pursue our interest and not what everyone else does. It’s been over 6 decades of independence and we are still being ‘followers.’ If we are going to join engineering colleges based on job-prospects, we are agreeing to the consequences of market characteristics. Apparently, a few lakh engineering graduates every year fail to understand this fact. They can only go so far as their education has taught them to. If they are made to pay for their seat, passing exams and certificates, they obviously won’t know anything other than blindly following whatever pays them. This is taking the element of ‘innovation’ from our community and this is hurting us from all sides. We really need to get out of ‘This is India and this is how it is here’ mindset to look outside and let our thoughts evolve.
Overall, if you are a student who is studying or looking to study engineering in Tamilnadu, you are running a combination of risks that can hurt you in so many ways. Please exercise caution when someone says they can get you a seat for cheap. What was once considered a boom for the development of this economy is now eating this economy from within, thanks to those who are in the business of ‘Setting Up Engineering College’ for those who have loads of money and know nothing to do with it.