Home / Industry / Infotech /  JED-I awards reflect larger issues in quality of engineering education

Bangalore: The annual JED-I event, which showcases the best engineering projects by final-year students, received fewer applications this year, organizers said. The overall quality, too, did not match up to last year’s standards, they said.

“The number of quality projects was much lower than last year’s," said Swami Manohar, who co-founded LimberLink Technologies that organizes the JED-I event every year. “It’s reflective of a larger problem of the obsession with grades and jobs in engineering education."

JED-I, which stands for the joy of engineering design and innovation, was launched in 2010 by Indian Institute of Science professors Swami Manohar and V. Vinay.

“The quality of the projects that won awards this year was much better than last year’s. That’s a positive sign," Manohar said. “However, from computer science, the quality of projects was so low that we didn’t even create a separate category for them."

Students submitted 160 projects from 71 colleges in 15 states, down from 176 last year from 14 states.

In mechanical engineering, top honours went to a team from the National Institute of technology, Silchar, which developed an industrial composite with self-healing properties, which can last longer.

“We’ve taken a very common polymer, which is generally used in coatings and paints on an industrial scale," said Abhinav Mathur, who along with fellow students Mohd. Ikbal Choudhury, Writuparna Nath, Aniruddha Phukan and Akhil Anurag developed this project. “We inserted a small capsule in it, which has a healing agent. Therefore, the life of the polymer increases manifold."

Other winners included a student from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, who designed a body motion-controlled wheelchair for the differently-abled. For this project, Vivek Sarda received the top prize for innovation in electrical engineering.

Fresh engineers are facing a crisis in India, as top IT companies like Infosys Ltd and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd hire fewer graduates from colleges because of slower growth rates. Moreover, of the 1.5 million engineering students who graduate from India every year, less than a fifth have the requisite skills to work in a top IT company, according to a recent study by Aspiring Minds.

Part of the problem is that most firms hire from campuses at least two or three semesters before students graduate. Many, therefore, do not bother to finish final-year projects.

“One way to tackle this is for the larger companies to take a stand and say, ‘Look we’re not going to hire any student before the end of the course, and when we do hire, we want to look at what they’ve done as part of their final year projects.’ That is not the case as of now: none of the companies look at final-year projects before taking graduates on board," said Manohar, who founded PicoPeta Simputers Pvt. Ltd that built what was arguably India’s first tablet computer. “I think it’s an issue that needs to be solved by the industry rather than the colleges, as colleges can’t turn companies away when they come for recruiting."

With the Indian IT industry now trying to cope with the slower demand for services and the evolution of newer technology models, there is a growing realization that core engineering skills are crucial for companies to differentiate themselves and survive in the race to stay relevant to top Fortune 500 clients. This realization fits in with what the JED-I programme is trying to do: urging students to create innovative engineering designs and solutions, rather than become just another back-office programmer in India’s three million-strong IT workforce.

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