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Need To Evolve Engineering Education, Before It’s Too Late

In an exclusive interview with BW Education, Pro Vice-Chancellor- Asheesh Gupta-JK Lakshmipat University- Jaipur spoke about the uniqueness of his institution

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Need to Evolve Engineering Education,Before it’s Too Late

This year, as many as 10.5 lakh students appeared for the IIT JEE entrance exam, the defacto standard for admissions to engineering courses. 10.5 lakh students are relying on an engineering degree to give their career the much needed leap – they or their families believe that this is the key to success. However, the state of engineering education in the country is far from that.

The lack of employable skills in engineers in India has been a rising concern in the country over the past decade. The mostrecent  National Employability Report  stated that as many as 95% of 36,000 engineers assessed in IT related branches were considered unemployable for software development jobs. Last year, the shutting down of over 150 engineering colleges by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) due to lack of basic technical knowledge among the students also raised a number of questions on the  state of engineering education in the country. 


Q. So, what happened to engineering education in India in recent years?

Automation changed the nature of work

The second era of engineering is coming to an end with the rapid technological advancements in areas like automation, robotics, data sciences, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Work and workplaces are undergoing a tectonic change, not seen before. There is a fundamental change in technology as well as economics - places of production, purchase and consumption have transformed. 

The fact that only 1.4% of the engineers could write functionally correct and efficient code, as revealed in a recent report, raises a number of questions around how prepared we are for the era of automation ahead of us. Automation is demanding engineers to be more skilled, not simply task oriented. Organisations are looking for engineers who can think beyond the machine and provide solutions to use technology better, not compete with it.

Uberisation of work changed the skills needed to succeed

Uberisation refers to the phenomenon in which underutilized resources is utilized by connecting users and providers through technology. This was pioneered by the cab hailing company Uber. The phenomenon has given rise to a number of businesses connecting providers to various needs of consumers. These small startups mostly employ young professionals, millennials and are a part of what is called the ‘gig’ economy with more and more short-term contractual and freelance employees. The flat and flexible work structures in these workplaces has redefined the skills required to survive in the industry – professionals who have robust technical skills, can respond to the needs of the consumers and most importantly, can stay updated on new technology solutions.

Universe of employers underwent transformation

The employers have changed their hiring strategy and that has been a big blow to the number of jobs for engineers out there. Earlier it was very common to find, say, a mechanical engineer taking up a job in hiring masters like TCS, Infosys, Wipro that were known for their bulk placements in colleges. However, the speed of the change in last 3-4 years in technology has probably surpassed most expectations and business models of many companies have been challenged, leading to a reduction in hiring. In 2017 alone, IT companies had laid off as many as 56,000 employees in India and this number is only expected to increase in 2018. With employers facing extensive competition, the nature of the jobs for which they need to hire has restricted their hiring. 

Educational institutions in India failed to respond, leave alone be proactive

One of the most important reasons for this has been the lack of integrity and interest on the part of the educational institutions in the country to impart quality education to its students. The era after the IT boom in India, in the early 2000s, saw an exponential increase in the demand for engineering education and colleges mushroomed all around. Most of these institutions were only interested in encashing on this demand and relied heavily on bulk placements by the upcoming IT firms. This led to a decade of engineering students who had the degree but no skills to be able to apply their learning.

The often less emphasized reason for this crisis is also the lack of genuine interest in the domain among many students enrolling in engineering programmes. A number of students every year decide to study engineering either under the pressure of family, larger society or because they believe that this will be an easy way towards bagging a job. This is the reason that not only is a large number of engineers unhappy in their jobs but they also fail to develop skills that are relevant to the times. 

Increased opportunities in other areas and greater risk appetite

As the country’s most coveted profession began to crumble, non-engineering disciplines began to step up their quality, game and offers to students and provided them with equally attractive opportunities on passing out. Disciplines like Design and Law have gained popularity in the past few years and students are now beginning to explore further. In addition to this, foreign education has come to the reach of many. US universities registered a 12% increase in Indian students in 2017 and according to the World Education News + Reviews research, India is the 2nd sender of students.

Q. What Should We Do?

It is important to understand that in spite of the situation, it is an exciting time to be an engineer. However, to stay in the game and compete with the world again, we will need to respond to the changes and upskill to be ready for the future world of work and business.

Leading  institutions in the world like MIT, Olin College, Cornell, Stanford, etc., have responded to the unprecedented changes by retooling, reskilling, reprogramming, creating new learning paths, offering unbundled learning and providing a multidisciplinary perspective to the discipline. In India, we have to buckle up and provide students practical, application based education, where they truly learn to experiment, problem solve and apply their education.

Technology will evolve faster than curriculum can catch up but what we can teach them is how to become lifelong learners and prepare for a career, a life and not simply a job. We need to teach them to unlearn and relearn, to break down any problem and think of creative technological solutions, beyond the machine. Experiential and hands-on learning, with a cutting-edge and evolving curriculum could be just the key to solve the problem of unemployability. Institutions also need train engineers on essential communication, critical thinking, decision making and collaboration skills – skills that are transferrable, no matter the jobs they switch. 

We need to begin the process of developing engineers that really see the world around them, respond to it and innovate. At JKLU, this is the philosophy that we are designing our curriculum with Olin College on and we hope that engineering colleges around the nation start caring about the creating future ready professionals, before they fail their students and themselves. 



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