Bangalore: Even as the number of applicants surges, Karnataka’s engineering colleges are likely to see several thousand seats go vacant again this year.
Last year, more than 3,000 engineering seats out of the state’s total 55,000 stayed empty. When the first round of admissions ends on 14 July, observers say they wouldn’t be surprised if up to 15,000 seats find no takers. Most of these seats are in private colleges with poor quality of facilities and faculty, and in less popular streams of engineering.
The drop-off comes as India’s talent-starved information technology industry already bemoans a lack of engineers to keep up with the scorching pace of growth; last year’s software exports soared 25% to $41 billion (around Rs1.8 trillion).
Even among the available talent pool, employability is a big issue. Industry experts say only about a quarter of India’s 400,000 engineers who graduate every year are employable.
Prithvi K. Moorthy turned down a seat at the Impact College of Engineering in Bangalore citing poor infrastructure (Photo by: G.V. Mahesh / Mint)
In previous years, the picture in Karnataka was no better; 2006 saw close to 4,000 engineering seats go vacant and in 2005 the number was still higher at 6,000, said officials who conduct and administer the Common Entrance Test, or CET, a state-level entrance test held for admissions to professional courses in Karnataka. The officials did not wish to be named as they are not authorized to speak to the media.
Karnataka is not alone in its oversupply. During the 1990s and early 2000s, driven by intense demand, many states in the south saw a mushrooming of professional colleges, often with questionable standards.
Ironically, the number of those applying for engineering has gone up. In Karnataka, wh-ere the same test screens medical and engineering applicants, numbers rose from 102,000 last year to 111,000 this year. In Andhra Pradesh, 270,000 took the state’s engineering admissions test, compared with 200,000 the year before. This leads experts to point to quality as the factor holding students back.
Typically, once the first round of admissions is over, colleges with seats remaining open admissions wider, even offering fee discounts. The phenomenon occurs across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, said Jandhyala Tilak, a professor at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration in New Delhi, a Central government body that oversees education strategy.
On a recent day, Krishna Moorthy M.R. and his son, Prithvi K. Moorthy, toured the Impact College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, located off north Bangalore in Kottigehalli. Their experience shed light on how seats, even in the coveted computer science discipline, can go unclaimed.
The 18-year-old from Tumkur ranked 21,239 out of 55,000 in CET and qualified for a computer science seat at Impact. But the father proclaimed: “I will not send my son for computer science engineering in this college. We will try for mechanical engineering, but in a better college.”
“Just look at the infrastructure,” said the son. The campus, spread over the 5-acre minimum, as required for engineering schools by the All India Council for Technical Education, or AICTE, the government regulator of private business and engineering schools, wears a deserted look with some empty and several incomplete buildings.
Asked about this, Impact founder K.P. Mathulla said, “We have all the facilities and faculty as per AICTE norms. If students don’t want to study in this college, they are free to go anywhere else.”
Indeed, Moorthy turning down a computer science seat is more exception than rule. In Karnataka, it is branches of engineering such as biotech, chemical, instrumentation technology and silk technology that seem to find no takers. Says M.K. Panduranga Setty, a Bangalore-based education entrepreneur who runs the RV group of institutions, “About 15,000 engineering seats are likely to fall vacant this year.”
In Tamil Nadu, vacant seats are seen across branches of engineering, even in computer science and electronics. “Students feel it is not worthwhile to study in institutions with no proper laboratories and faculty,” says professor M. Anandakrishnan, who was asked by the Tamil Nadu government to study the professional college landscape ahead of the abolition of the state’s common entrance test.
He currently heads the Madras Institute of Development Studies, a body with both Central and state funding, which researches developmental problems of the state. According to him, in 2007, about 15,000 engineering seats went vacant in Tamil Nadu out of a total 115,000.
But how to match the south’s oversupply with the intense demand that remains nationwide for education, professional degrees, and ultimately, jobs?
Usha Devi, professor at the Centre for Human Resources Development at the Bangalore-based Institute for Social and Economic Change, the social sciences research body, feels it is up to AICTE. “AICTE lays down norms but it must take a re-look at these institutions time to time, especially in terms of infrastructure facilities and human resources. Giving permission to start an engineering college is more of a political decision,” Devi said.
AICTE officials did not return repeated calls for comment.
Some see the empty seats as an example of a market correction—and economic reality. “Popular branches like computer science and electronics and telecommunication will get filled up even in bad colleges, whereas it is often difficult to fill up less popular branches like chemical engineering even in good colleges,” said K. Ravi, general manager for Brilliant Tutorials, a test-prep centre for competitive exams. “This is reflective of the mass psyche of the middle class.”