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Why have India’s engineers become second-class citizens?

On Engineers' Day, we take a hard look at the education system of the country which is resulting in the unemployability of our engineers

Today marks the 157th birth anniversary of Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, modern India’s first engineer. Sir MV travelled across the world to learn about the engineering marvels and implemented them in the country with his improvisation, thus making him earn the world’s respect.

He had already foretold the problem the engineers of India are facing today – unemployment – in his book Reconstructing India, published in 1920. In the last chapter titled “shaping the future”, Visvesvaraya said, “Action not sentiment, will be the deciding factor. Nations are made by their own efforts. India must develop a type of national life suited to her circumstances and aspirations.”

He had envisioned that the education system of the country should be developed as per current circumstances and aspirations. But, the education system of the country – that was constructed on the pillar of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation policy introduced in the 1980’s – is in the need of immediate review according to the current industry requirements.

I still remember the definition of an engineer told to me in the first semester by a professor. It says, “Engineer is a person who designs and builds things for the benefit of society. We use mathematics and science to design and build structures, equipment and processes.”

But the current education system is producing clones of individuals who pass through the conventional system of examination based on the standard system of question and answer pattern; instead, it should bring out the best from every individual in all disciplines.

Prevailing obsolete teaching pattern has turned “unemployment” into grimmer factor “unemployability”. It was in 2008 when former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam had said that unemployability of a majority of Indian youth, caused by skill deficit, was a bigger crisis than unemployment itself.

A tier II engineering college charges around Rs 5 lakhs for the four-year degree course and even after that around 60 per cent of the undergraduates fail to secure an engineering job, and end up changing streams, most of whom are eventually forced to opt for a government clerical job.

A study by employability assessment company Aspiring Minds in 2017 created a stir by claiming that 95 per cent of engineers in the country were not fit for software development jobs. According to a McKinsey report, only a quarter of 8 lakh engineers that India is producing annually are employable.

On April 22, 2018, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) announced that would reduce the number of engineering seats by 1.67 lakh countrywide. The intake this year will be 14.9 lakh – the sharpest fall in the last five years. Colleges that have been unable to fill 30 per cent of their seats for the last five years, will have to halve their capacity. This reduced capacity will be further halved if 30 per cent of seats goes vacant in the next academic session.

Currently, the country adds around 10 lakh persons to its workforce each month, according to data provided by the labour ministry. But, only 0.26 lakh new jobs are created each month. Annually, about 15 lakh engineers graduate, according to an AICTE official. You do the math.

Data from AICTE shows that only 50 per cent of the eight lakh BE/BTech graduates were selected through campus placements last year.

According to a report tabled before the Parliament on August 2018, 49.30 per cent engineering seats were vacant in the country,

As per National Employability Report 2015, over 80 per cent of the engineering graduates in India are ‘unemployable’. The country produces 8 lakh engineers every year, of which half remain unemployed.

Sir MV gave solutions for the issues that he had predicted in “shaping the future”. He says, “It has been said that the politician, the sociologist and the educator should put their heads together and determine the kind of world they wish to create, and then order the processes accordingly.”

For the students and engineers – the sheer discipline in his life of 101 years – is an example to live and achieve by. His sole mantra was “grinding discipline” and abiding by the facts.

(Author is an engineer and a media professional)

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Prabhatesh Tripathi

Principal Correspondent dbpost covering, political and policy affairs in Madhya Pradesh