With its massive talent-base, a unique ability to attract its best and brightest students to the engineering discipline, and the presence of some of the world’s leading companies, India has an enormous potential to modernize its economy through engineering education and technology.
However, I think the potential is not fully exploited. The majority of new engineers in India are superb at rote memorization useful to pass paper exams. Many students, however, are less skilled at solving real-life problems with creativity. Also they lack communication and team skills in order to succeed in a demanding international setting.
What can be done to improve engineering education? Sure, the much-discussed reform of the central regulatory bodies is needed. Is decentralization of power from central agencies to the universities the answer? Will that lead to better education quality? While this effort may provide better information regarding education quality, reforming the central regulatory agencies alone will not result in increased quality of technical education.
A lot can be achieved by the Institutional directors and faculty members. The Technical Education Quality Improvement Project, TEQIP in short, has demonstrated what can be achieved. TEQIP is a Government of India project with assistance from the World Bank that supported 127 Institutions and thousands of Faculty members, and invested 1,340 crores (~$275 million as of August 27, 2009) in quality improvements.
TEQIP supports institutions that really want to progress and educate resourceful, problem-solving engineers. Many state governments and faculty blame the system and the rigid rules. “Incentives are not in place, and we have no power,” they say. That is partly true. The curriculum and exams are cast in stone for hundreds of institutions. The faculty salary stays the same whether the teachers prepare new course material every year or not. But improvements are possible, by allowing more autonomy to the universities and colleges.
As part of TEQIP, the University Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai gained academic autonomy. It improved PhD production by 300 percent in 4 years. Further, the College of Engineering in the city of Pune achieved autonomous status which allowed it to revamp the curriculum focusing on teaching of design, hands-on, applicability and creative skills. TEQIP helped with extensive investment in labs and professional development of faculty. Nine colleges in the state of Karnataka have obtained academic autonomy and are now reforming their programs.
I commend the State governments, institutional leaders, and faculty that have taken the pains to break status quo. More of these efforts are needed to educate the ingenious engineers that the 21st century India needs.