Losing Engineers

17

IIT Delhi, India’s premier engineering institution and a legacy in itself has braved through the winds of time for 56 years and has been going as strong as ever. Established with a vision to produce engineers and scientists of the highest calibre through education and tightly integrated with research and extension, IIT Delhi has done great so far.

With changing times, various changes have been made to the curriculum of IIT Delhi to remove any short-comings in the teaching system which includes practical exposure, competitive curriculum, teaching methodology, funding etc. It is to this end that the Curriculum Review Committee (CRC) sits down every 10 years to make the required changes in the curriculum of IIT Delhi so that any courses do not lag behind with time.

In the past few years, a gradual but alarming shift has been observed in the ambitions of the students’ who prefer to pursue non-core jobs such as those in Finance, Consulting, UPSC etc., instead of those in core engineering, manufacturing and design aspects. The students tend to pick up careers which are not even remotely linked to their areas of specialisation within IIT. Frankly, it is not our right to dictate a student’s life and force him/her to place one career over another just because one pertains to core engineering while the other pertains more to, say, finance or consulting. At the end of the day, it is the broader application skills rather than those narrow course specifics which are employed by an undergraduate in any career path he undertakes later in his life. What is required an interactive and flexible curriculum which keeps the students’ interest alive in their subject as well as allow them to explore themselves and develop their own skill set.

It has been 2 years now since the CRC last sat down and penned down a new curriculum for the students of IIT Delhi. Addressing the issues as were identified by the CRC in the courses prescribed by IIT, it introduced some major changes in the curriculum. As far as those issues are concerned, they were along the same lines as those faced by their global counterparts in creating an overall engineer. Some major changes introduced in the curriculum include the restructuring of the nongraded courses to develop the soft skills of engineers through the NEN, NLN, NIN and NQN courses, scrapping of compulsory industrial internships after the 6th semester and introduction of compulsory design credit (5 credits). The Courses of Study lists down the various ways through which these credits can be completed.

These are:

  • Courses with design focus without any regular graded credits, which are designated to give design/ practical experience units.
  • Courses (core or elective) with optional design / practical experience component.
  • Summer / semester internships by students in R&D / Industry / Universities in India or abroad.
  • Summer / winter / semester projects under the guidance of institute faculty.
  • Participation in design / innovation projects by Innovation Centre / CAIC, etc.
  • One time activity such as design / practical experience workshop / course / event with 28-42 hours of student involvement during the semester or during semester / mid-semester breaks, etc 

The main objective behind the introduction of these design credits was to enable the students to learn and innovate in an informal setting; in an environment which is better than the normal laboratory/lecture setting. Design and Practical Experience (DPE) component can promote learning in two ways, which are: firstly, it allows students to immerse themselves in the environment in which work is to be done, so that they can understand the values and expectations of the target beneficiaries. Secondly it enables a fresh look at problems, not only at the ways of defining them, but also at the ways to solve those including skillsets that are required to address them, thus forcing them to innovate and outdo themselves at each and every step of the problem. The new DPE component is flexible in its composition as it allows the students to explore a wide range of choices with respect to the kind of projects/workshops/interns they would want to pursue and in the long run, helps them to understand and choose their career path eventually. Amongst a host of research projects, design workshops/courses or industrial internships, they can go for any of these to complete their design credits as well as pursue their interests.

However, the new DPE system has its own flaws as well. Like every other thing that has its own pros and cons, such is the case with the DPE component of the curriculum. In their endeavour to encourage practical thinking amongst the students and inspiring interest in them towards core engineering, they have increased the workload for them. Now, instead of one compulsory industrial intern after the 6th semester and other optional interns/projects during their study period, all the students are required to earn 5 design credits and an industrial training can grant at most 2 credits; which means that one needs to do atleast 2 compulsory industrial interns/ research projects along with other design courses or faculty research projects to earn that one odd credit. There is another option to earn the 5 credits in one fell swoop; a minimum 100 day long semester-long internship for which the student needs to appropriately plan for the completion of credit requirements for the degree. And surely, this doesn’t sound an easy task! And inspite of all this, the students are claimed to have been victims of the classical case of “Brain-Drain” i.e. the students are more inclined to pick up non-core career paths rather than their core counterparts.

Another reason as to why the students lose interest in core companies and instead, search for jobs in the IT sector, Banking, Finance, Consulting is because of the type and nature of companies which come on campus. A recent analysis of the data of the companies which came on campus for hiring interns and full time employees clearly shows how few are the core companies on campus. First of all, we need to understand that the students coming to IIT obviously expect a decent salary to kick-start their professional life and it is common knowledge about the disparity between the packages offered by core companies and non-core companies. And in such cases, logic tends to defy passion which can also be claimed as common sense.

According to the data collected, the percentage of core companies amongst all branches at IIT Delhi was below 50% in maximum case scenario(except Computer Science and MCA). The rest of companies all belonged to management, finance, consulting or coding sectors. The highest percentage of core companies was for Chemical Department which stood at 45%. This was followed by Mechanical at 38.8% and Electrical at 31.5%. For rest of the departments the percentage doesn’t even touch 20%. On the other hand, every department with the exception of Chemical has at least 30% of companies coming for internship which are hiring interns for non-core positions. Also the percentage of companies which hire interns related to coding oriented jobs is continuously rising. It is greater than 30% across all departments and is as high as 62% in case of Textile Technology. For CS and MCA departments, the percentage of core companies, which includes coding companies too, is around 70%.

This analysis raises two pertinent questions. The first question that needs to be answered is that whether the IIT authorities are at fault. Should the authorities press further to bring more core companies on campus. Or maybe the core companies don’t find IIT students competent enough to be hired and thus do not come on campus. Maybe the students don’t acquire enough engineering skills required to work in the industry. And if that is the case then what can be done to make the students learn the core engineering skills so that their skill set is ‘buyable’ to the industry

The ‘skill set’ that every engineer is required to possess today to be relevant, cannot be acquired within the current university scenario. What is required today is that IIT collaborates with leading industries to provide ‘the best engineers of the country’ hands-on exposure to live projects within the industry. What is required is holistic exposure to practical experience and that is where the college should try to do their part. It is quite understandable that IIT cannot provide the state-of-the-art infrastructure which an industrial environment can provide us with. In absence of quality hands-on experience, the interest with which students enter IIT slowly fades away, thus defeating the very purpose of setting up an IIT.

The new curriculum provides for design credits to be done during the summers or winters, but this fails to fulfil the purpose of holistic teaching. The effectiveness of such credits in helping students to learn is at doubt. What could have been done was to inculcate such design applications to improve theory courses as well. That would be something where learning could be a lot more efficient

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