In the academic year 2010-11, Maharashtra had 30,000 vacant engineering seats and 20,000 vacant management seats. Subsequently, the state government had written a letter to the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) requesting it not to approve new colleges.
In a U-turn of sorts, the next academic year (2012-13), there will be 30,000 more engineering seats and 3,000 more management seats with the AICTE giving the green light for 17 new institutes in Maharashtra, including 11 engineering and four management institutes. In addition to the new institutes, the council has also approved an increase in the intake capacity for existing institutes.
This big jump in the number of seats has raised many eyebrows, igniting the age-old debate on the need to set up new institutes in the state.
But AICTE chairman SS Mantha feels the need exists. “This country needs more than what we have. Considering the low gross enrolment ratio of India (18%-20%), there is a need to make available more higher education opportunities for this huge chunk of students who remain outside the system.”
He explains: “In 2009-10, 1.56 crore students had appeared for the Higher Secondary Certificate examination, of which 79 lakh passed. Of those who cleared the exam, 5 lakh students took up commerce, 4.5 lakh science, 8.5 lakh engineering, 10 lakh arts, 13 lakh distance education system and 10 lakh pursued vocational education. This categorisation revealed that around 50 lakh of the 79 lakh students who cleared the exam had joined college. Hypothetically, the remaining 30 lakh students and those who had failed did not pursue higher education. These students need opportunities and support to encourage them to pursue higher education.”
According to the AICTE, the current seat vacancy in India is 15%-20%, which is common in international institutes too.
“Compared to the need of this country in higher education, the said vacancy is not huge. We need to understand the interests of students who are not enrolled for higher education to provide required opportunities accordingly,” says Mantha. “In the US, barring the six to seven top institutes, other institutes have 50% vacancies. The reasons for the vacancies are varied.”
Anil Thosar, acting principal of KJ Somaiya College of Engineering, says: “There will be vacant seats even in good institutes. The location of an institute is hardly a reason for this problem. An institute which does not provide quality education will not work even if it is an accessible locality. Even if all factors fall into places, if a particular institute is not popular among students, it will see vacant seats.”
Engineering student Tejas Pande, who wants to pursue management, says: “If I get into a good institute I do not mind travelling to any place. Not all IIMs are in the happening cities, but all of them are in demand for the quality of education that they provide.”
Another reason for unfilled seats is students’ general notion about a particular course not being lucrative.
Using the information technology (IT) course as an example, Mantha explains: “Five years ago, the IT industry had shown promise with better job prospects. So, every technical institute wanted to open an IT section in engineering. But now, students are more inclined towards electronics, mechanical and civil. Institutes are asking us to approve closure of IT branches, but we cannot do so as it could lead to a skewed growth.”
MC Deo, director of Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI), concurs. “There could be varied reasons for vacant seats in a particular course starting from lack of good faculty to the institute’s inability to provide satisfactory placements. Institutes which have vacant seats need to identify their weaknesses and fix them.”
Deo adds: “While the state government does not want new institutes in Maharashtra, there should be rules on permitting increase in the intake capacity of existing institutes. In a space-starved city like Mumbai, can institutes provide the required infrastructure for the additional students? Both, quality and quantity has to be maintained.”
Neha Sawant, a Class 12 student who plans to pursue engineering, reasons: “I do not understand why they want to stop approving more institutes. If there is competition, not only will we get quality education, but even the cost will be slashed.”
Academicians: Need new institutes
Even after considering this dire need of creating more opportunities in higher education, institutes see vacant seats.
But academicians feel there is no need to stop approval of new institutes. With the general notion of “survival of the fittest”, academicians and experts envisage increased competition with new institutes being inaugurated.
“It is an open market. Just how a new mall enters the market, a new institute should also emerge. Whether it survives or not, depends on how it functions. The government may take the stand of not allowing any more new institutes, but does the law allow it?” asks Thosar.
Suresh Ghai, director of Somaiya Management Institute, concurs. “Let the market forces determine which institute will prevail. Students look for jobs or placements, and not just a degree. Students from almost all institutes get a degree from the University of Mumbai, but when it comes to institutes offering professional courses, they prefer a few institutes over others. This is because students are looking for a brand, which will give them appropriate returns for their investments.”
But Uday Salunkhe, group director of We School, points out that the economic environment is not very good at the macro level. So, an institute will take time to be recognised as a brand to enjoy leverage in the corporate network. “An institute needs to have strong academic leadership. It cannot always be true that an institute has vacant seats because it is located in a remote area. If the institute is good, students will be willing to go there. If an organisation has adequate infrastructure and other requirements and is confident enough to start a new institute, why should it be stopped?” he asks.
As a possible solution, Salunkhe suggests an innovative concept of mentoring. “If the state government says no to new institutes, the existing ones should first be groomed and nurtured to understand the real need of the state. Reputed and good institutes can mentor the new ones, which are facing vacancies due to any issue. Identifying these issues can be done through mentoring — each one teaches one. Even IIMs follow this mentoring pattern.”
Ghai adds: “Mentoring needs to be made mandatory in a positive manner; where A-list institutes should be given some incentive to encourage them to mentor upcoming institutes. If a college is not doing well, why shouldn’t it tie up with a reputed institute to share profit as well as excellence?”
Chinmay Shetty, who is pursuing engineering from a Navi Mumbai college, points out that there has to be strict regulation on fee structure. “If an institute’s fate has to be decided by its quality, even the fee structure should match the service that it provides.”
A national-level perspective plan
The AICTE has decided to create a national-level perspective plan, based on similar plans provided by various states, to understand the higher education scenario and identify specific needs of different regions.
A perspective plan is a research activity of reviewing the set-up of higher education in a state and subsequently in the country, which is designed identifying institutes and courses in different localities and comparing them with the industry needs of the specific locality.
“The council is expected to prepare the plan, which will help understand the demographic and population relations of different areas, within the next two years,” says Mantha. “So, if a region has 50,000 candidates seeking higher education and there are 1.5lakh seats in different institutes in the region, there is bound to be vacant seats. Such situation can be diagnosed with this perspective plan.”
“We cannot suddenly stop approving new institutes. An organisation takes two years to work on the plan before applying for approval. The institutes, which are getting approved now, had started work on their infrastructural plans long back,” he explains.