Like last year, a large number of seats is lying vacant in professional courses of engineering, management, Diploma in Education and nursing. Concerned about the trend where there are fewer takers for job-oriented courses, the state government is making all efforts to fill the vacancies. But it has not yielded any result, say Pallavi Smart, Santosh Andhale and Rito Paul.
There was a time when engineering and management aspirants used to scramble to take admission lest they don’t get a seat.
Now, the professional colleges have to literally scout for students to fill up the vacant seats. Colleges for Diploma in Education (DEd.) and nursing have a similar problem.
The Directorate of Technical Education recorded more than 30,000 vacant seats in engineering and around 20,000 in management institutes. The number of vacancies is almost similar to that of last year.
The reason being new colleges are being approved every year, leading to a problem of plenty.
Last year, the state government lowered the pass percentage of students applying for admission to engineering, hoping to fill up seats. Candidates, who scored as low as 45% in class XII, are now eligible to apply. Even after relaxing the eligibility criterion, seats have not been filled.
A debate has erupted over the actual requirement of seats in these courses combined with the concerns whether the quality of education has degraded or students’ interests have shifted to lucrative options.
“Compared to the country’s need in higher education, the recorded vacancy is not a huge number. We need to understand the interests of those students who are not enrolled for higher education and to provide them the required opportunities,” said SS Mantha, chairman of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
According to the AICTE, the current vacancy of 15% to 20% is the normal trend at the international level too.
“In the US, barring six to seven top institutes which are100% full, other institutes have around 50% vacancies,” said Mantha. “The case is similar in India too. There are various reasons for vacancies -- the major being the popularity and location of the institutes, faculty, infrastructure and placements.”
On one hand, the AICTE is determined to provide more and more higher education opportunities to students. But on the other, the state government is not willing to grant approval to institutes offering these courses because of the vacancies, much to the chagrin of the academicians.
Applying the ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ adage here too, academicians and experts look forward to an increased competition with new institutions. “It is an open market. A new institute should emerge like a new mall coming into the market. Whether it survives or not, depends on how it functions,” says Anil Thosar, in-charge principal of KJ Somiaya College of engineering.
Suresh Ghai, director of Somaiya Management Institute, agrees.
“Let the market forces determine which institutes can pull crowds. Students are looking for returns to their investments,” he says.
Students echo the academic experts, saying that the huge vacancies are not an indication that they are no longer interested in engineering or management.
“But each is vying for the best deal. If I do not get admission in a good engineering college or a stream of my choice, I would rather study B.Sc.IT and then do a masters degree. This way, at least I will have an opportunity to join the college of my choice,” says Romit Singh, a BSc IT student from a suburban college who got admission in an engineering college in a two-tier city which he did not feel like joining.
DEd colleges have a similar story -- out of 90,000 seats across the state, 28,730 seats are lying vacant. Colleges offering DEd course are literally searching for students.
While vacancies in engineering and management courses are justified with the market force rule, the plight of DEd colleges lies in students’ perspective.
Not many candidates want to pursue the course because they feel there is no job guarantee.
There are 1,400 colleges in the state offering DEd syllabus. The number of DEd colleges has increased in the past few years. The state government had tried to put a ban on approval for new college offering this course. But education barons approached the Supreme Court and it was revoked.
To start a new college, permission from the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), a central government agency, is needed. Once the permission is acquired, the state education department can’t do much to stop opening of new colleges. “Every year, we need 15,000 teachers in the state. With the increasing number of new colleges, seats too are increasing. This year, NCTE approved seven to eight new colleges. But we did not allow the colleges to open,” says NK Jarag, Director, Maharashtra State Council for Educational Research and Training (MSCERT).
The problem had increased to such an extent that chief minister Prithiviraj Chavan had to intervene and urged Kapil Sibal, minister of human resource development, not to give permission for more colleges for these courses. “With vacancies difficult to fill, we allowed colleges to give spot admission to those who are really interested to join the course,” says Jarag. “Even then, institutes are not getting enough students. As per rule, candidates need to clear a common entrance test to take admission to this course. Although we relaxed this, the move failed to attract students.”
Other problems have cropped up with the increase in vacant seats.
“Apart from filling the seats, paying teachers is another issue. The government seriously needs to look into the matter and not give permission for new DEd colleges,” says Jaideep Mirashi, general secretary, Nagrik Shikshan Sanstha, Tardeo.
Nursing as a choice of profession has taken a backseat in the state over the last couple of years. Over 50% of the seats in nursing colleges are lying unfilled, say experts.
While this has not yet led to a corresponding shortage of nurses in hospitals, experts say that the sharp drop in students choosing nursing as a career will ultimately lead to a staff shortage in medical establishments across this state.
Dr Abraham Mathai, president of the All India Nurses Association, attributes this to poor treatment of nurses. “Nursing as a profession is not considered a high-flying job, which is why Maharashtra’s nursing colleges are facing a 50% shortage of students. Nurses are not accorded the same dignity as in the West, where nurses are considered to be just one stage below the doctors. In India, they’re considered to be just one step above ward boys.”
Dr Mathai adds that nurses in state hospitals are considered to be a part of the general labour union. This, he says, limits their ability to voice concerns and also affects their salary.
Dr Lalit Mehta, director of KJ Somaiya Hospital and Nursing College, says that last year they managed to fill only seven seats out of 40 in 2011.
The college had just started and might not have had sufficient publicity. This year, half its seats has been filled. “Students who are good in studies don’t want to take up nursing as a profession. It pays too little and nurses are not treated with respect. This not only reduces the quality of nurses that you get, it also dissuades students from taking up the profession.”