1. Changes in engineering education need to mirror changing industry needs: Sanjay Dhande

Changes in engineering education need to mirror changing industry needs: Sanjay Dhande

Mahindra Ecole Centrale is a private engineering institution founded in 2014 with the collaboration of Mahindra, Ecole Centrale Paris and Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University.

By: | Published: June 8, 2015 12:00 AM

Mahindra Ecole Centrale is a private engineering institution founded in 2014 with the collaboration of Mahindra, Ecole Centrale Paris and Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University. Currently offering programmes in computer science, electrical & electronics, mechanical and civil engineering, the bigger focus of MEC is on developing budding engineers’ creative thinking skills and applying them to complex engineering challenges, says Sanjay Dhande, the founder director of MEC. Dhande, who is the ex-director of IIT Kanpur, adds that the MEC curriculum is a blend of fundamental sciences, engineering and social sciences. In an interaction with Vikram Chaudhary of The Financial Express, he says that an engineer who has adequate understanding of Indian needs and is equipped with global best practices can make a positive difference to any organisation. Excerpts:

What was the idea behind setting up the Mahindra Ecole Centrale (MEC)? How did association with the Ecole Centrale Paris happen?

A recent study indicated that only 18% of engineers in India are employable—this means only 1 in 5 engineering graduates today will get a job. The reasons are (1) theoretical knowledge of archaic curriculum makes these graduates ill-equipped to handle the needs of the domain and the skill-sets required by industry, and (2) over-focus on analytical skills makes them suffer from poor cognitive and communication skills.

Against this backdrop, MEC was set up with the idea of creating the ‘new engineer’. The Mahindra Group has varied businesses driven by engineering and technology. As a concerned corporate citizen, the focus was on creating an engineering school which ensures the graduates are equipped with globally-available skill-sets. The search for an institution ended with Ecole Centrale (now Centrale Supelec)—the French leader in engineering education.

What is the role of Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad, in MEC?

JNTU Hyderabad will provide the BTech degree to MEC graduates.

How often do you have to consult with the Ecole Centrale?

MEC is a partnership so all major decisions regarding course curriculum and faculty are taken mutually. Since we are aware of Indian needs and Ecole Centrale is aware of global practices, care is taken by both sides so that courses remain globally-relevant and include sufficient representation of what the Indian industry needs. In keeping with this spirit, we have a mix of French and Indian faculty.

Does the Mahindra Group play any role in MEC?

Senior members of the company are available for mentoring and organisational support. For example, Vineet Nayyar, executive vice-chairman of Tech Mahindra, is also the chairman of MEC. However, MEC is an independent institution and has full autonomy insofar as content, pedagogy and faculty is concerned.

Will the Mahindra Group absorb students once they graduate? Alternatively, can the MEC evolve into an R&D hub for the Group?

An engineer who has adequate understanding of Indian needs and is equipped with global best practices can make a positive difference to any organisation. Since Mahindra has businesses that have huge engineering requirements, we are hopeful it will also be a major recruiter on our campus. Having said that, we would actively help our students find placements in all top corporates.

How large is the MEC campus? Why did you choose Hyderabad?

MEC is spread over an area of 126 acres. The campus is situated adjacent to the Tech Mahindra Centre for Research. We felt that constant interaction will ensure students learn the latest that is on offer. Budding engineers should also learn from industry and live projects; Hyderabad offers various such choices.

Is there going to be only one MEC or do you plan to open centres in other parts of the country?

There is a possibility that we open more technology schools.

How is the curriculum designed to suit engineering needs?

The MEC curriculum is a blend of fundamental sciences, engineering and social sciences. The focus is on developing creative and critical thinking skills and applying them to complex engineering challenges. We focus on case-based and problem-based learning through team projects, and on research and corporate work programmes. We also have mandatory international and inter-cultural exchange programmes and internships. Any change in engineering education needs to mirror the changing needs of the industry.

A particular section on the MEC website notes that the focus of the institute is on synthesis rather than analysis…

The future of engineering is not simply in analysis, it is in synthesis. A simple mathematics or physics input requires analysis, and now that the sector is moving away from pure mechanics, we require a more rounded engineer. At MEC, we call them ‘new engineers’—those who are equipped with not just analytical skills but those who also know how to look at a problem holistically.

You have been an IITian in various capacities. Can premier private technology institutions play a role in grooming the new IITs announced by the government?

Any collaborative effort that can result in increasing the quality of education is welcome, be it in mentoring newer IITs by the older ones or through faculty exchange with private institutions. While the idea of a premier private institution grooming a new IIT may not be palatable right now, a serious thought needs to be given on more collaboration between private and public colleges.

For example, there are good private B-schools such as ISB and MDI—considered to be at par if not better than even the older IIMs—but when it comes to newer IIMs, such private B-schools have not been approached for any collaborative effort. Similarly, in the engineering space, no such thing has happened. There has to be an effort from private engineering institutions to correct this perception. Once there is a perception change, the probability of a private technology institution grooming a new IIT will have the chance of wider acceptance.

What is the ideal route for raising the standard of technology education in the country?

The technology education sector is heavily regulated in India. Technology schools do not have much autonomy in making their curriculum globally-competitive. The focus should be on encouraging schools to deliver quality education and the regulator should ideally come in only for benchmarking the institutions against the best globally in terms of pedagogy, infrastructure and faculty, and not be the deciding authority on curriculum. Once the autonomy is provided, we have the wherewithal to not just do well but also excel in the segment globally.

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