Over two decades ago, getting an engineering seat in Tamil Nadu was like playing musical chairs. If you had the marks, you could run, but you had to be closest to the seat when the music stopped. The situation has changed over the last few years with the colleges now doing all the running around and there being more chairs than students.
In recent years, thousands of undergraduate engineering seats have been vacant after counselling, even in the more attractive branches such as Computer Science, Information Technology, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Electronics, and Civil Engineering.
This year, major branches accounted for 1,47,744 government quota seats offered through single-window counselling. But, of these, only 46% (68,735) seats were filled in the just concluded Tamil Nadu Engineering Admissions (TNEA 2017) counselling conducted by Anna University. On top of it, when the MBBS/BDS counselling begins, a few hundred applicants, who have been allotted seats in engineering colleges, could drop out.
This year, there were also reports that many colleges could interest fewer than 10 students during counselling. “We have to collect the data on admissions made through the single-window counselling, as well as admissions made by self-financing managements. Only then will it be appropriate to identify single-digit admissions,” said an official at the Directorate of Technical Education.
A revival in Information Technology as a subject seems to be a good news of sorts. In the last two years, more students have taken IT than they did between 2012 and 2015. Colleges began adding more IT seats in 2012 and the trend continued in 2013. But finding fewer takers, colleges began to keep away from the branch in the subsequent years.
Interest in Civil Engineering, whose graduates could be in demand in the construction industry, has also been falling steadily in the last five years. In 2012, there were 19,097 seats, of which 14,707 were taken. This year though, against the 25,257 seats available, only 8,199 students have chosen the branch.
A similar situation prevails in Mechanical Engineering — known to be a recession-proof, all-weather choice. It is one of the branches of engineering which, traditionally, students have felt would remain in favour in the industry. Students have maintained that no industry can do without machines and hence, they would never be without jobs. Yet, even in this branch, seats have gone abegging. With placements taking a downturn, most experts feel it may be time to shut down non-performing engineering colleges so students’ future could be secured. The better performing ones may be served by a revamp of not just the syllabus, which has been instituted, but also of the quality of teaching, as well as the overall academic environment, they say.
S. Kuppuswami, principal of Kongu Engineering College, says: “You should look at the counselling process holistically. When there are many colleges, the clincher is the quality of teachers.” Recalling his stint at the All India Council for Technical Education, the MHRD and the University Grants Commission, Mr. Kuppuswami says the advice offered 10 years ago to the State government to not allow private players to start too many engineering colleges went unheeded with the result that the State is now burdened with too many colleges of uneven standards.
He maintains that the number of students genuinely interested in the subject has remained more or less constant. This is borne out by how the top 100 colleges manage to fill seats without difficulty, Mr. Kuppuswamy says. “We have filled all the seats in Civil Engineering but there are still students who want to join our college,” he says, adding, “It is the availability of a good environment for students that brings them to good colleges.” Teachers in colleges that continue to be in demand say they have managed to fill seats in the core branches through the years. It is not buildings or infrastructure but faculty that make the difference, they add. The huge vacancies are generally only in self-financing colleges which do not have sufficient faculty or poorly qualified ones, they point out. There is a checklist for affiliation and colleges are expected to abide by them, say officials who go for inspection. Despite these measures, there could be faculty movement, especially when colleges do not pay their staff, says a professor, who has been in the university’s inspection teams in western districts. There is no way to check this exodus as it happens even during the academic year.