Why we need qualified faculty in engineering disciplines

Updated: Aug 25 2014, 07:34am hrs
The last few decades have witnessed a large growth in engineering and technical institutions in India. We have about 3,400 engineering colleges with an intake capacity of about 14.7 lakh. This excludes the existing IITs, NITs and IIITs. The government in its first Budget has proposed the setting up of five more IITs. This quantitative growth is welcome. However, there are areas of concern that need to be addressed if this growth has to complement quality engineering education in the country.

It is reported that many of the recently established private engineering institutions are closing down due to a wide gap between demand and supply. In Madhya Pradesh alone, in the academic session 2013-14, around 30,000 out of 96,000 seats available remained vacant. The same is the case in many other states. Does this mean that engineering education in India has reached a saturation level If that had been the case, more than 1.86 lakh students would not have competed for about 2,000 seats in BITS Pilani this year or about 13.6 lakh students would not have applied for JEE Mains, apart from the state-level examinations for admission to technical institutions. The problem lies elsewhere. It is the poor quality of education provided in many of these new institutions that is failing to attract students. Studies have indicated that the employability of engineering graduates in the country is quite low. Since most of the students come from middle and low income groups, getting an employment immediately after finishing the degree is important.

This quality depends on high-class educational infrastructure, qualified faculty, motivated students and research-driven teaching. Most newly established engineering colleges lack on these aspects. But even those institutions like IITs and NITs which are able to attract large number of aspiring students also lack at least on two counts sufficient numbers of qualified teachers and research-driven teaching. The matter was raised in Parliament some time ago regarding shortage of faculty in IITs. At a time when 'skill shortage' is frequently bemoaned by industry, nearly half of all teaching positions in IITs and over half in NITs are lying vacant. It is not only the newly-created IITs and NITs that face shortage, even the older IITs have over 40% of their teaching positions vacant and the situation in old NITs is even worse, with 57% of faculty jobs finding no takers. The Parliament question inquiring about this shortage was answered on March 13, 2013, and the ministry noted that the reason was lack of PhD candidates in engineering. It was also observed that a majority of students prefer corporate jobs over teaching. In total, about 8,200 vacancies are there, combining all IITs and NITs. If the requirements for the proposed IITs are taken into consideration, the number would be still higher, and if the vacancies in other 3,400 institutions are included, the number becomes astronomical.

The target at IITs has been to achieve a faculty:student ratio of 1:10. Since 2006, the number of students across IITs has doubled but the faculty strength has grown by just 10%. The ratio now ranges between 1:19 and 1:14 in the older IITs. Inadequate number of faculty members increases teaching load and, in turn, the faculty does not have time to carry out quality research, thereby affecting research.

Can we produce sufficient number of PhDs in engineering to bridge the wide gap existing today In fact, our aim should not only be to produce PhDs, but also good teachers. Thus, a programme needs to be developed so as to impart teaching qualities while one is working for PhD. We need high quality faculty members with a research-bent of mind. The ministry of HRD should take it up on an urgent basis, else the establishment of new institutions would not have any value as we would fail to produce quality employable engineers in the absence of adequate quality faculty in our institutions.

AK Sarkar & SK Choudhary

Sarkar is senior professor and Choudhary is associate professor, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. Views are personal