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June, 2014:

For Your Understanding, Please!

The three news items that I woke up to in today’s paper were: ‘Students clueless as UGC-DU logjam over FYUP continues’. ‘Engineering admission counseling put on hold after SC directive’. ‘HC sets aside appointment of Madurai Kamaraj University VC’.

After reading the reports, my reaction, as a sensitive and empathy-filled individual, was one of extreme happiness.  Happiness at the fact that my student days had ended a couple of decades back itself.

You wouldn’t want to be a student in a situation which is worse than playing Russia roulette, where at least your chance of being taken out is only 1/6, while as a student you are up against three lethal loaded chambers of college/varsity, government and court. (Possible news in the days to come: HC declares all degrees from Madras University invalid as there is no Madras any more)

You know why the court has stayed the engineering admission counseling at the 11.30th hour? It was acceding to the request of the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) which wanted to complete the process of approvals to 521 engineering colleges. You may be wondering what is the joke in this. Well, the thing is many existing engineering colleges, all duly approved by AICTE, are already ‘returning’ the seats unable to find candidates to fill them with. And you know why it is so? Well, many of these colleges don’t have physical infrastructure or faculty to speak of.  All they have to show for is, well, the nominal AICTE approval and buses so many in number that soon the country will need a separate Union Minister for Surface Transport in Engineering Colleges.

Ideally, the court should have tersely told the AICTE: ‘dude, chill. First fill the existing seats or try to improve the facilities in the colleges which seem to exist only on paper.’ Instead we now have a situation wherein most students will have to make a choice between many existing substandard colleges and colleges that as on date don’t exist even on paper.

The muddled situation urgently needs clarity, which, of course, you don’t read us for. You read us for pointless fun. And that is the reason we have come up with this crisp primer in a Q and A format. Some of the answers will be downright silly and stupid. But we concede we are no match to the guys who happen to have a say in our education sector.

Q:  With regard to the happenings in Delhi University, I wonder what will they teach over four years in the undergraduates programme in, say, literature or history?

A: Before you do that you are better off wondering how they managed to teach over three long years what basically requires a couple of weeks. In general, if you want to study history or literature you don’t join a college or university, you join a half decent library. Also — you may want to write this down — any knowledge gained outside of any academic system is the one that is actually useful in real life situations.

Q: But why did they even think of 4-year BA course?

A: One of the important goals of the Indian education system is to cater to a large section of the student community wanting to enter the American education system. And American PG programs require a 4- year base. So essentially, the 4-year BA course that DU conceptualized comprised 3 years of college education and one year of practical training in running around for US visa. But seriously, academically speaking, the 4-year course will help Indian students to get into US universities. But practically speaking, it will aid DU academics to travel on state-funds to America to study first-hand as to what causes brain drain from India.

Q:  OK, what is the sense behind having a 4-year course for engineering?

A: The sense is simple: A 4-year course allows the college to… impart more knowledge? No, collect more money.  Engineering education in college essentially involves three years only. In the remaining one year, the college usually lets the student acquire professional knowledge through training at industrial plants elsewhere and in placement efforts as long as he or she has completed the academic requirement of paying all the fees in time.

Q: How did this mushroom growth of engineering colleges happen?

A: In the 80s, engineering education became a huge attraction for the middle-class.  But there were more aspirants and fewer seats in engineering colleges. Naturally, this lead to corruption in the form of capitation fees.  In the event, the government opened up technical education to the private sector and gave permission for more engineering colleges. It has had a telling effect.  We now not only have capitation fees but also a lot of confusion. If the government was realistic about rooting out capitation fess it should have done the most obvious thing: Abolish engineering colleges.

Q: What of the future?

A:  In the future, there will be an engineering college every fifteen minutes.  On the highway you take out of the city.