Manifesto for better technical education

Sunday, 12 January 2014 - 1:23pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA

There have been very loud statements that majority of engineering and other technical graduates are not employable. It is quite possible that if a metallurgical engineer is asked to grow crops, then he would be found unemployable.

My contention is that there is a lot of strength in what we are doing and we should not sacrifice that. At the same time, there is an urgent need for a significant reform. We should not forget that whatever growth we got in our manufacturing sectors was made possible by the workers, diploma holders and graduates of so-called B and C grade colleges.  

Neither the team for Chandrayan, the mission to moon nor TATA nano had an IITian. This is not to detract from the quality of teaching and research IITians do. They just don’t go to these organisations. Naturally, the people who ran these missions must have learnt something useful during their education. The tendency to run down indigenous institutions is a part of grand design. Demolish what we have and handover some of the fundamental tasks of nation building to either international organisations or other interests. 

The technical education needs to be closely aligned with three purposes: [a] pushing the knowledge frontier [b] solving social problems and [c] promoting entrepreneurship.  

There are very few technical educational programmes which provided exposure to students about intellectual property, open source, innovation, knowledge network and entrepreneurship. The unmet needs of society must be benchmarked, documented and converted into final year projects by every institution through at least three weeks of stay in rural areas and urban slums. 

The national Social Service Scheme must be re-invented and re-designed into National Inclusive Innovation service. It is well understood that not all students will do applied work. There must be a scope for projects on the technical edge and some on blue sky ideas. It is also possible that majority of the students projects will not become products in one cycle. The relay system or kho-kho model of distributed innovation developed at will have to be universalised so that students can take ideas from another place and take them to the next stage.  

This is possible only if it becomes mandatory for every student to upload the final year project at the state university website. But, that will not be sufficient for relay to happen. A copy of the abstract must also be uploaded at the national portal like which already has titles and abstracts of more 1,70,000 projects done by 4,00,000 students from 600 institutions. This will inevitably help in raising the originality quotient in the country. No student then would be able to what has already been done. 

There are a large number of subjects in which experts may not be available in every single college. While NPTL has contributed a great deal, we must extend the logic further. Outstanding teachers must be identified in every district and state colleges and should be encouraged to webcast their classes. Such faculty members should also be incentivised through additional technical assistance to process the queries of the students.

The engagement of industry with the academia has been extremely inadequate. The big industry should be obliged to set up at least 15–20 chairs in their chosen disciplines and institutions. This will ensure good quality research and also improvement in the motivational level. The incorporation of humanities has been tried to some extent but much more needs to be done.

Just as President of India has started a residency programme for artists, writers and grassroots innovators, every technical institution must have a residency programme of the same kind. If every Governor and CM can patronise this process, then the whole educational environment will get transformed. 

In most of the institutions, the workshops and labs are not available to students 24 hours. Some of the IITs have recently recognised this problem. One professor may not make his lab and instruments accessible to students of other professors and departments. There are examples where private colleges had made their workshop accessible to students of government colleges. There are equipments in many government colleges but no operators.  

There is no way that quality of education can be improved if freedom to work is not enhanced. The autonomy at all levels ranging from teachers to principals and Vice Chancellors must be enhanced drastically. There are cases where technical universities have funds of hundreds of crores rupees collected from students and yet the bureaucracy has not yet permitted vice chancellors to invest these resources for filing patents or investment in the projects of the students for developing products and/or enterprises.  

This requires urgent correction. There must be accountability in the bureaucracy also so far as creation of enabling environment for excellence is concerned. Every university can create such a fund by collecting just Rs100 extra fees marked for product and enterprise development fund. The AICITE and UGC need to be restructured completely if we are to leverage the education environment. The inspired teachers must become the hub of this transformation.

Anil gupta
The author is a professor at IIMA

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