Sunday, March 19, 2006

Do we need so many engineering colleges?? Part III

In the final post on this series I present the interactive round between audience, host and the speaker of this talk show that I participated in. For the full context you might want to read part I and part II of this series.

The audience and the host were surprisingly connected to the topic and they seemed to have heard everything that was said by us. The interaction went into hours of engaging stuff sometimes emotional, sometimes heated but never on a tangent. I am trying to present it in a Question Answer mode - for want of a better format.
{I refer myself as me, The editor as s2, The director of the engineering college as s3, and the industrialist as s4}

The Quality Angle
Host: Aks Sir (thats me), you supported more number of engineering colleges - what do you have to say about the quality then? Isn't it important that quality of education improves.
me: Sure, quality is important. However, in a competitive scenario quality takes care of itself. When there will be more engineering colleges they will compete for students and hence will have to work for better quality education. Moreover an institute takes at least a decade to build - its not an overnight job. You will see quality improving over the years. IITs would remain important because of their quality.

Host to S4 : Sir, you have been opposed to the idea of more engineering colleges? How would you respond to this?
S4 : While he provided very good statistics but where is the infrastructure to train all these engineers. There is an absolute lack of teachers. How will that be handled? Someone who is unable to secure jobs after engineering becomes teachers in the same colleges. People with even negative marks in the PET gets admission. Under such circumstaces how can one expect good quality of engineers. What happens when bridges built by these engineers fall? (lots of claps)

Me : May I answer this? I wish to humbly say that these are not strong arguments to keep the number of colleges less.
We do not have good teachers - thats correct. But this is not because of high number of colleges. Thats because, as a society we have not treated teachers well. The salaries that they get are pathetic. The profession carries a demaning position in the eyes of people. Eight years ago, when I decided to forgo my job from the IIM to start an educational institute people used to comment "what? you will become a master taking tutions?" This is going to change now because good teachers are in demand. The increasing demand will result in teachers being paid well and will be treated with far more respect then they currently get. Hence more people will start loking at this as a lucrative as well as fulfilling profession. The transition may have already started.

S4 : But where will these teachers come from? There are not many teachers available. Whatever good teachers are available are getting distributed among increasingly large number of colleges.

me : Let me suggest a way. The term is called poaching. Look at what is happening to aviation industry. Suddenly there are many airlines but not enough people to manage. So what is the industry doing? They are not just attracting professionals from each other but also from other industries. This has turned aviation related jobs into a lucrative careers. Thats the way to go for education also. This is just one of the ways - I am sure there are more solutions possible.

S3: As I pointed out earlier, the question of this discussion is incomplete. The quality of engineering colleges is poor because the management is poor. Now most of the new colleges are not government engineering colleges but are private ones. One of the additional 11 collges slated to come to Indore this year is that of reliance. The college in its brochure says "AICTE approval not required". However students queue up to take admission in this college becuase it is considered good quality. The quality is good becuase the management is good.

S4 : But why not first create good number of teachers and then open so many colleges?
me : This is not practical. This is like saying don't allow Indians to vote till the time they learn how to vote in a matured fashion. That way we will not have democracy. (claps for me this time)
S3: I wish to point out another thing. Which are the best engineering colleges in our state. They are either autonomus or private. Take examples of three colleges in Indore SGSITS is autonomus, IET functions autonomus to the university that it is affiliated to. SVITS is a college affiliated to a well known trust. On the other side lets take government colleges, with due regards, in Ujjain, Jabalpur, Raipur etc. They were never known for their quality.

Me : Great point. I think the message to take from what sir is saying is that we need to actually let these institutes work, independent of controls from monitoring or controlling bodies and from Government. That will improve quality.

S4 : So at least we agree that we need visioaries to create great colleges
me: Sure, In fact thats true of even private businesses. We can not create a Reliance, Infosys or a TATA motors without great vision. However the only difference of opinion is that visionaries cannot be created in a controlled, programmed systematic manner.

More Crossfire
Host to me: You have been noting down a lot of points when other speakers were presenting their points. Would you want to respond to what they said.

Me : Sure. Here I go.
First to the issues raised by s2,
I agree with him that our dream of being the source of human capital cannot be fulfilled if performance is not there. However, our performance can only improve by having more colleges, not less. Secondly lets not get emotional when some of our products are shown the pink slip because they were unable to perform. Thats good. That will bring increased sensitisation in our institutes to become worthy of their fee. In fact the people whom he referred to were top rankers in the best of colleges in our country. For God's sake the solution to this is not to resrict the entry of new colleges. (to be fair s2 was not present to answer this)

Secondly people becoming engineers to get fat dowry - I think the solution is again more engineering colleges. Make them irrelevant by making them available every where.

I have largely answered what I wanted to on issues raised by s4.

Core Engineering Branches in for growth
With S3 I cannot agree more. However I want to share some more data with him on one of the issues that he raised.

He said that core engineering branches are suffering at the hands of IT, Comp Science etc. So I wish to bring to everybody's notice that
In the year 2006 alone - spending on infrastructure is expected to be a whooping 100,000 crores, in automobile sector Rs. 25,000 crores remember FM suggested that India can become a small car hub for the world. The textile and the Garment sector after removal of quotas under WTO is exepected to be 5000 crores in this year alone.

Remember what infrastructure means - it means power, water, electricity, roads. This will require more mechanical, civil, electrical engineers. When I was doing engineering we used to consider computers as a poor branch to engineering from. Those who were compelled to take up Computer sciece in those days are today in the best growing careers.

I call upon young budding engineers here to look at the future and opt for mechanical, electrical, civil, textiles, biotech etc. If you do today - in 10 years time you will come back to me to touch my feet. (another round of claps for me)

At this point of time the host opens the show to audience as well to put in their comment and questions to the speakers - I wish to put a few remarkables in this post before closing

Audi-1 : This young guy directed the question to me. He said "You referred to the fact that an institute cannot be created in a year and so we are in a transition process. But till then why should we students suffer. You were talking about demand & supply as if we are commodities. "Kya Ham Bakre hai jo har bhi hame hi kata Jayega (Are we goats. Why are we sacrificed all the time.)" Sir, I do not mean that you personally said something wrong; but think of us who are doing engineering from these colleges and we have to hear that we might not be good quality.

I was a little taken aback by the way his body language transformed during the question. He started in a cool composed manner but by the time he finished his voice and eyes were angry with pain.

S3 (came to my rescue): See don't mind my saying this but tell me if you would not do engineering what else can you do? Please understand that you might not be going through the best education but it is better than what you otherwise will get. At least this education can get you a job where if you perform you can grow.

me (by now recovering from that shock): Because you pointed the question to me - let me answer it. (He was nodding). Agar tum Bakre manego to katoge to sahi. (If you become a goat you will be sacrificed). I did not refer to you as a commodity - in fact in this particular context you are the consumer. So you have to do your bit to protect yourself. Find out which college are you going to? Is it worth going to. Reject it if isn't.
The problem is, if you do not get a good rank in the PET you take admission to any college which offers you admission. Moreover, your parents will push you into it for either of the two reasons : first, they don't want to see you disappointed; second, they are also eyeing that fat dowry that s2 was refrring to.

Unless you become sensitive yourself as a consumer - someone will always make a fool of you.

Audi 2: Sir, isn't it necessary to first ensure that our institutes that we have are good quality and then we increase more institutes?
Me: When Mr. Manmohan singh as Finance Minister started the liberalisation process - at that time also people used to give the same logic. However, remember we have given 50 years to our instututes - if they failed to become world standard, how much more time can they be given. In fact when more engineering colleges come the competition will help our current colleges also to sit up and take notice and hence respond by improving their standards.

Audi 3: But what happens to students like us and who come from small towns and do not understand all this discussion on quality. We are trapped in these colleges and have no where to go.
Me: (Diplomatic quiet)
S4: And they come to know of the fraud only four years later.
Me (finally taking the bait): Please realise this is bitter truth but it is part of our maturing up. Even in a marriage we come to know only in a few years whether you have chosen the right partner.
S4: Thats different - you can seperate and look for another partner as far as marriage is concerned. But it is very difficult for a career.
Me: Its equally difficult in a marriage. (sinister silence for a few seconds, with smiles)

Audi 4: Sir, I have understood that there will be good colleges and bad colleges but there should be some one like the Governement to protect us from this mess.

me: (a little exasparated) I will tell you one thing, the government cannot protect you from frauds. No one, AICTE, UGC or Govt. can not help you. We have witnessed this for decades now. You have to be aware - thats the only solution. In fact government proection works the other way round.

Do you know why competition will bring better colleges. Because tomorrow if I start a new college and do not deliver quality I will be washed out. I will have to deliver quality or otherwise you (my customers) will desert me. This is not true of Government colleges. They cannot die. The solution lies in letting them die.

And Finally
At this point of time the host of the show deftly turned it to the last round - conclusions
S4: We do not need more engineering colleges, we need more quality engineering colleges. We need to look for visionaries to do so.
S3: I completely agree with S4.
S2: Left long ago
me: I also agree with S4 completely however my difference of opinion lies with the process. This cannot be achieved by controls or any controlling body. It can happen in a free, competitive environment. (S3 nods in agreement)