Saturday, September 01, 2007

Status of self-financng engineering education in Kerala.

The status of self-financing engineeeing education in India, specially Kerala

Kerala for many years has been rated as the state with the highest literacy in India. It is the state where boys and girls are encouraged to study as much and as far as they can. Parents always go out of their way to encourage their wards to shine in the field of education, be it technical, medical, legal, pure sciences, commerce or the arts.

With the liberalisation, privatisation and globalization (LPG) phenomenon happening unabated in the world, it was natural to expect it to catch up in the country. It has indeed caught up in the country in all spheres of life with great enthusiasm, it is only logical to expect this enthusiasm to spread in the educational field, ie. technical, medical and management education field. The engineering field was the first to grab this growing field and we have seen the mushrooming of technical educational institutions in the country.

Having been associated with the engineering industry, research and teaching for the past twenty years, here are some musings regarding the status of self-financing engineering education in India and specially in Kerala.

Engineering education has mainly four aspects to it. They are infrastructure, quality of faculty, quality of students and the academic environment.

1. Infrastructure refers to the classrooms, laboratories, computational facilities, Internet, audio video facilities and recreational and extra curricular facilities.
2. Quality of faculty refers to the educational qualifications / expertise of the faculty, the years of experience and publications profile of the teaching and non-teaching staff of the institution.
3. Quality of students refers to the quality / intellectual capability of the incoming students. Usually this is reflected in the rank secured by the student in the entrance examination or the qualifying examination conducted by the board / university.
4. Academic environment refers to the environment in the institution to enable high quality academic, curricular and extra curricular interaction between the students and the faculty, the number of working days available in a semester, the hours of interaction per week, the functioning hours of the Library, computer centre, Internet Lab, departmental labs, office and so on. The availability of the faculty members for the students to clear their doubts / interact, especially during a long weekend is of vital importance.

Growth of Engineering education in the country - birth of Government Engineering Colleges and self financing engineering institutions.

Engineering colleges run by the Central government (IITs, IISc ), combinedly between the central and state government ( NITs) and exclusively by the state governments (COEs) and the aided ones (aided by the state government) were the engineering establishments which were functioning in the country till a few years back. It was practically impossible for the private sector to enter the engineering education field just after independence considering the exorbitant capital and running costs incurred in running such an institution. An exception is the Birla Institute of Technology at Pilani, Rajasthan and Mesra, Ranchi, Bihar. It has been recently that trusts and private individuals have been granted permission by the AICTE to start engineering colleges in the self financing sector. As such the earlier colleges started by the government had the benefit of getting the best teaching faculty and good infrastructure suited to the times thirty years back. They have also developed a strong alumni network who help the institute in cash and in kind and help raise the reputation. Thus these government engineering education has the best students and faculty, experienced and qualified but lacks infrastructure which suits the present times and more often than not, a good academic environment.

Private self financing engineering colleges on the other hand have good infrastructure, ( as it is developed lately) and a disciplined, high school style environment, though not a truly academic one. The poor quality of faculty and generally poor quality of students are characteristic of these institutions at the initial stages. But as the institution grows and the student and parent community are convinced of the commitment and dedication of the management to the cause of providing top class engineering education and the facilities provided to the faculty to teach at post graduate level and carry out research, high quality students and faculty are attracted..

The problem with faculty at the initial stages of growth of a self financing engineering institution is because they do not have a good financially remunerative system and an intellectually nourishing environment with benefits and pivileges for the teaching faculty as is being offered in government institutions. The faculty therefore tend to migrate to better institutions offering better remuneration and benefits. The constant migration of the faculty affects the teaching learning pocess and the students get a bit fed up with the new inexperienced and low quality faculty joining the institutins year after year and leaving soon after they gain the required experience. It is highly desirable that the top management understand this critical and crucial turn of events in the growth of an institution and try to retain well qualified, experienced and good teaching faculty to retain an good academic environment in the college.

Ease of correct, high quality decision making is an important area of concern in a dynamically changing and developing educational field. While government institutions have to wade their way through a myriad of controls, permissions, budgets and approvals, the case is not so in self-financing institutions. The decision making is comparatively fast and hence effective in the long run. The financial and administrative autonomy reflects in high quality infrastructure and motivates the faculty to perform.

Regarding students it is an interesting phenomenon as students behaviour varies in many ways. Not all students are much worried about the institution they join than the proximity of the institution to their place of residence. Their familiarity to the institution, its environs, presence of known friends as seniors in the institution are all major factors in selecting the engineering institution from the student focus. The parents on the other hand look at the financial implications. The best students in Kerala we find opt for the government engineering colleges becuase it offers quality education at low fees, though the number of academic days available is lmited due to the presence of politics and strikes in the college. Also the faculty are unaccountable for the poor performance of the students, if any, as the students are more free and intellectually much more capable of looking after themselves. But there are cases of brilliant students coming out og govt institutions with no knowledge of the subject as they have had least interaction with the teachers.

The library is an important facility in engineering colleges. It is generally found that govt institutions generally have good libraries while it is poor in many self financing institutions. Even if the self financing institutions have good facilities, the staff manning the library is poorly qualified leading to sub-optimal utilization. Outside the classroom it is the library which imparts maximum knowledge to the students. Nowadays we find there is less inclination from the students to enter the library and do extra subject reading from reference and other text books to complete their assignments and seminars, than what they get from the digital domain through the medium of the Internet. No doubt the Internet is growing and is an instant and very large warehouse of information, but unless one is very careful, he / she can get inaccurate and wrong information. The Internet as a medium of interaction and communication between faculty themselves, between faculty and students and among students themselves from across the world is a force which cannot be underplayed. Self financed engineering institutions have a strong Internet bandwidth while many government institutions are just coping with poor bandwidth and below par computing infrastructure.

The good thing about the Internet is that it is beneficial for all students from medical, engineering and management fields. The speed and the ease with which information can be gathered about different diseases in the medical field and about companies for management students besides concepts and technologies in the engineering sphere makes the Internet a veritable store house of information and the modern students constant companion. The advances in Information Technology and the hardware costs spiralling down with passing days has made the laptop computer a compulsory paraphernalia in many engineering and management institutions.

Initially there was scepticism regarding the entry of private managements, trusts and individuals in the engineering education field. Basically it is because some individuals without prior experience in the field tend to make some decisions which could adversely affect the student community. There is a limit to the extent which government can fund higher education and the onus now rests on the private managements, individuals and trusts to provide the missing link and chip in to help make the nation self sufficient in education.

In Kerala of late the state government has been trying to interfere in the running of these self-financing engineering institutions. This has led to protest from the managements and the student community for different reasons. It is only through transparency and open discussions on the problems and threats faced by all the stake holders in the process that an ever lasting solution can be found to this problem.

If MIT and Stanford can rise to world prominence in spite of being self financing institutions, the sky is the limit to these institutions to grow and excel. After all, when public funding does not exist, it is private finance required to run the institution, as much as faculty, infrastructure and student quality which finally decides whether an institution survives or dies out in this highly competitive world.

George Easaw

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