The State of Engineering in India

Engineering-IndiaEven as the number of engineers in the US continues to shrink, India is churning out engineers by the hundreds of thousands. Much has already been said and written about the quality of engineering graduates in India. Much more qualified people than me have penned their frustration with the state of engineers in India. Nevertheless, as a Computer Science and Engineering student who is at the brink of graduating, I couldn’t help but jump into the discussion.

In 2008, India produced 3.5 lakh (350 thousand) engineers. However, raw numbers don’t tell the entire story. When it comes to number of engineers per million people, there are only 214 engineers in India, compared to 1435 in South Korea and 765 in Japan. Of course, this isn’t all that surprising, given that the percentage of secondary and higher secondary pass outs in India is also significantly lower than in other developed nations. The real worrying statistic is that even after one year of graduation, 30% of Engineers in India remain unemployed. According to the Wall Street Journal, 75% of technical graduates and more than 85% of general graduates are unemployable by India’s high-growth global industries. The situation is so dire that leading IT Services companies like Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro have been forced to extend their initial training program for freshers in order to impart basic skills required on the job. And these are not companies that are not known for doing a lot of real engineering work. You can imagine how hard it must be for fledgling startups and software companies to attract real talent.

While opining on the state of engineering in India, most pundits have ripped apart the Indian education system. Right from the grassroots level, India’s education system ignores all the key facets of engineering, viz. curiosity, learning by experimentation, and problem solving. The explosion in the number of colleges handing out B. Tech degrees have resulted in a dire shortage of qualified teachers. The bar for becoming a teacher at the under graduate level has been lowered so much that it has become a folklore that students who don’t get recruited are the ones who end up becoming teachers.

However, the poor quality of education is not the sole reason for the current situation in India. The other driving factor is the attitude of the society. While, in the US, students are comfortable taking up courses like Humanities and Social Studies, Communications, and Media Arts, in India, most students believe (or are forced to believe) that the only two real career options before them are to become a doctor or an engineer. As a result, students who don’t have the will or the aptitude to become an engineer enroll for an engineering degree. This increase in demand has lead to the increase in the number of colleges, which in turn has lead to the lowering of the bar. It’s the lure of an offer from TCS and Infosys, rather than the attraction of building something that motivates engineering students in India. Even the criteria for getting into these colleges is misplaced. If you can mug up a few organic chemistry formulae, and have practised enough to solve some mechanics problem in Physics, chances are that you can get into a fairly esteemed institute of engineering.

Here are three completely random observations that I have made during my interaction with other Computer Science and Engineering students from several colleges across India:

  1. A staggering portion of the graduates aren’t even capable of accomplishing basic tasks like installing Windows or Linux operating system. Yes, many of the CSE graduates being produced by the Indian colleges are technically challenged.
  2. Most of the students in colleges around India, can’t even write simple algorithms like Bubble Sort or Binary Search, even if their life depended on it.
  3. Worse still, many of the lab instructors, who have been entrusted with the responsibility of teaching programming can’t write real code.

I am not suggesting that all engineers in India are clueless, or that all of the academicians are incompetent. However, a disappointingly large fraction is. Installing an Operating System has very little to do with Engineering. However, it does exemplify a lack of willingness or aptitude for even very rudimentary problem solving.

Undoubtedly, there is a lot that is wrong about the education system in India. However, it will also be wrong to ignore the positive impact that education has already had on India. Yes, quantity currently supersedes quality in India. However, most people will probably prefer the current situation over the situation ten or fifteen years back. Sridhar Vembu, the founder of ZOHO, very effectively pointed out the positive impact that even these substandard educational institutes are having on the society. In his own words,

The education for the most part was of poor quality, but that does not matter, because of what I have called the Placebo effect of education. What it confers is confidence, while the real knowledge is gained on the job – which is why dropping out of college doesn’t do much damage to upper-middle-class kids, who presumably already have an ample supply of confidence.

Most good things in India happen in spite of the government, and not because of it. When the quality of Engineering graduates picks up, it will also be because of a combination of factors that will have very little to do with the ministry of education. It might be because some premier institute decided to lead the way by encouraging hacker culture, instead of learning by rote. It might be because of the opening up of new lucrative career paths as the Indian economy grows and flourishes, which will reduce the (false) compulsion that most students feel to get into an engineering college, which in turn will lead to new batches of engineering students who will study engineering not because it will improve their chances of getting a job, but because they truly want to understand how stuff works and they want to build things. Among those will be several brilliant minds that will be able to dream big enough to change the world.

Image via OpenClipArt

Published by

Pallab De

Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .

  • Debjyoti Bardhan

    Nice rant. Even though I’m no engg. student, I agree with most parts. I especially agree with the fact that students should be encouraged to take up other streams, especially Science and Humanities. And as a student of science, I have to say that science has to be promoted!

  • Snehanjan Shome

    Most people misunderstand the pinnacle of science to be Engineering. As an engineer myself, i now see that all the above written facts are true, and the whole pushing students to take up engineering is true. happened to me and to a lot of unwilling engineers too. at the end of the day it is like calling oneself an engineer while sitting in a train making small talk with a stranger, while ten other people call themselves engineer too sitting in the same compartment.
    thing that i can not understand is what is going put the right idea in the youngsters’ mind now.

    • Putting the right idea in youngsters’ mind is very difficult.

      They believe that doing engineering is the ONLY thing that’ll make them go to the top and this is rooted in their mind because they’ve seen lots of people doing the same with their lives — this means they are not inspired; but are simply following the herd. This attitude has to be changed and they must be encouraged to understand the idea that everyone is unique and what works for someone need not necessarily work for you and that isn’t gonna happen unless “hacker culture” stereotype catches on because they merely “follow the herd”.

    • Miss shome… Pure sciences graduates are also suffering the brunt of unemployment….unfortunately worse than engineering grads…So taking a science coure instead of engineering wont have helped the situation.I agree with u that engineering is overrated…but i think a person can catch up with abstract sciences knowledge even while doing a job or after engineering if he wishes to continue selfstudy…There are numersous instances of civil engineers writitng number theory book, BS chemical engineering graduate now wriitng higher maths book….

      • snehanjan Shome

        Sorry to correct you it is Mr. Shome not Miss. Never mind Miss Laura. (I hope it is Miss and not Mrs.)

  • schin

    I think it is true in some sense. I can understand that there is some real problem when a engineering student can’t even install Windows or Linux.
    I see that such people must be from rural areas from north India. Believe me, If you come down south starting from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, you will see a lot of talent in them.
    The main problem with North Indian rural students or more generally the people is communication. They don’t show interest in learning, but just earning money by doing anything possible. I am not generalizing it but it has been my experience in college.

  • krishnakant dixit

    article is totally correct ….actually it is occuring around us…..a no of eng colleges are opening but the standard of study is falling down every college is trying to make money………a student which hav no capabitlity to study th eng. but collg admiited them …….i think an ability test should be happen before admitting …… the basis of P.C.M which comes in entrance exams no one can judge the students IQ ………india need well IQ students not students who got good marks always because creativity comes from new thinking ……… INDIA needs CREATIVE students

  • It’s not just the education system. Blaming the system is easy. No doubt the course matter at present is grossly outdated but I believe the present situation is more because of the lackadaisical attitude on the sides of both the students and the teachers.
    I have done my graduation from an NIT and from what I have seen, I believe in an institute with such autonomy, if a teacher wants he can bring about a revolution. But sadly that never happens. We have teachers assessment system but that’s never put to good use. We have teachers drawing hefty salaries, but there is no accountability. They don’t even care to take the classes allocated to them. They don’t care to check the exam papers & allocate grades randomly or based on favouritism. Now when a student sees there is no system in place to distinguish between him and the herd, why shouldn’t he just go with the herd?Creativity comes from Curiosity. For that we need to encourage questioning. Now whoever opts for engineering has the motto: “Get good grades-Get a degree-Get a job”. So why worry about how stuff works if u can mug up the whole syllabus the night before the exam & still get ‘Ex’s?
    Not many talented students want to go for MS or research. And the few who go for MS, they do so because they want to get outta this country.
    Now to expect a change in the present system, we need this attitude to change. We need inspired teachers to inspire students to take to radical thinking for creating an environment for innovation to flourish.

  • The problem in India is that there are too many parameters and many of them are social bottlenecks. You cannot blame everything on the system. The system is pretty much in the same shitty condition many places. We are a part of this system as long as we are in it. The same people who come out of this shitty system will run it few years later. Here are some serious problems I spotted over time.

    1. IT is advocated as the face of engineering in India whereas most of the times I heard any union minister talk of innovation or engineering, IT was not in the picture. They have left it at the mercy of those few tech giants.
    2. The Indian society has zero tolerance for entrepreneurship. Anyone trying to venture out on his own has faced problems (not financial but social).
    3. There is too much of armchair criticism and nothing substantial is being done.
    4. We can revel in our IT engineering head-count but these same IT engineers fail to carry out simple procedural tasks, like you exemplified, installing any OS.
    5. Engineering as taught to us is not real engineering. The thought process of an engineer is completely missing. We are taught textbooks, the same way we were taught in school. Catch 10 fresh engineering graduates at random and ask them to write an algorithm for any linked list traversal, you might get at least 7 correct answers. Ask them to implement it, you will get at least 7 programs that do not work.
    6. What the Indian education system definitely creates is a bunch of hackers- Hackers who can hack on any Indian education/examination system. They sure know ways to beat the system and this gives them enough methods and confidence to climb up some corporate ladders without really having any technical knowledge.

    @Pallab, I know you personally and you are better than this system. But the same you, lack that entrepreneurial drive. That, is very disappointing. As I have always told you, if there is any killer project/product you want to start working on, I will be glad to join in. :)

  • Rohit

    Dear Pallab,

    I must say that you have a very bright future if this your thinking at your age. I wish more youngsters get the real picture as early as you did. Stick to these thoughts, and carve a real growth story for our country.
    Though this topic has been in debates for years now, the way you have re-articulated it as someone who is part of that system is commendable.

    • This guy is a fool…he doesn’t appreciate is own engineering curriculum..people like him end up becoming a supervisor or MBA like Dilbert mockery.

      • Krishna

        It does not matter if he is going to become a supervisor or any other mediocre job person. he sees what is wrong and expresses it. And he is not a fool. Let me tell you the difference. He is a fool if he did not know that he is being trained to be a unskillful engineer, but he knows it and is very well aware of it consciously, that make him intelligent and wise. And I feel a person like him would be in a better position in life, whatever field he is in…

  • Well, I agree with most of it, apart from the fact that a test based PCM is a bad way of picking students. You look at the problems of any good engineering entrance exam, they not only test the knowledge (which is indispensable, no matter what) as well as creativity and intution or even what we call “jugaad” in crude terms.

  • Temari

    The above article is perfectly true,the engineering colleges in India is used as business.Now a days in India there is a opening of new engineering college in every corner of streets.But whose fault is is this?Government?No,i cant agree with this.I am giving an example, just think if a candidate studied electronic in college and got offer in one core industry with the salary of 2 lakh/annum.But the if the same candidate got another offer from IT for 4 lakh/annum.What he will opt?Definitely its a human nature to run behind money so he will opt for IT.But if he have the passion for core then no one can stop him.How many of us have that passion?Passion can’t be provide by any people or government.Now the technology has developed a lot,people can attend MIT lecture from India but how many are doing?IT industries needs candidates and we need them too, to lead sophisticated life.IT don’t need engineers, everyone knows it ,but they offer perfect salary for them.Government is exactly doing what we need(giving degrees for perfect life).

  • Lura Mc Graw

    Measures to curb unemployment.
    Stop the following malpractices:
    1. Unethical hiring in private and public sector.
    2. Internal reference for hiring.
    3. Preference for local candidates .
    Stop campus recruitment. Encourage private companies to hire on the basis of GATE score or other standard written examination.This will help to do away with interviews which has become the greatest tool in the hands of a recruiter to exercise unethical hiring.Promote healthy hiring practices like background checks etc.
    Academia is very good option other than industry.
    Govt should not try to protect Indian companies from foreign competition in the name of “Swadeshi”.
    Allow the import of aviation turbine fuel and other goods.Decrease import duty. remove licensisi Raj.
    Competition will bring about the best in everyone and companies will have to recruit only the best to survive.
    Finally remember ” Everyone always has a choice, every choice has a consequence”.

  • Laura Mc Graw

    Stop the following malpractices:
    1. Unethical hiring in private and public sector.
    2. Internal reference for hiring.
    3. Preference for local candidates .
    Stop campus recruitment. Encourage private companies to hire on the basis of GATE score or other standard written examination.This will help to do away with interviews which has become the greatest tool in the hands of a recruiter to exercise unethical hiring.Promote healthy hiring practices like background checks etc.
    Academia is very good option other than industry.
    Govt should not try to protect Indian companies from foreign competition in the name of “Swadeshi”.
    Allow the import of aviation turbine fuel and other goods.Decrease import duty. remove licensisi Raj.
    Competition will bring about the best in everyone and companies will have to recruit only the best to survive.
    Finally remember ” Everyone always has a choice, every choice has a consequence”.

    • snehanjan Shome

      To abolish the above mentioned malpractices a few more steps have to be taken, and all of them boils down to just one point. Sadly in India, there are more then just the hiring policies which have gone wrong. The reservations for the underprivileged castes is one of them. Though it was conceived with a very noble idea in their minds of the forerunner Indian politicians, this system has become the ‘Ace of Clubs’ in political campaigning strategies.
      Well, we don’t want to get into politics any further, because the deeper we get the dirtier it becomes. So Amen.
      “A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes”

  • radhakrishna

    @sachin: no your wrong…this has nothing to do with rural or urban..i have seen educated urban people also struggling to install LINUX or WINDOWS on their machine…the only factor which drives education in our nation is a job, and salary at the month end..for that people are ready to even fill excel sheets..and they would say that as long as we are getting paid, everything is fine

  • Engineer

    No engineer can become an engineer if he is not heads and shoulders above the rest.he must have put years of hardwork and endured tremendous financial pain to become an engineer.govt should drop the 60 percent criteria for govt jobs for engineers…so that all engineers get a shot at the job.