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Higher Education in AP Up for Change

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The Government of Andhra Pradesh is partnering with the premium business schools for creating entrepreneurship courses and  encouraging engineering students to pursue a career with the startups which may be the need of the hour
Amarnath Reddy Atmakuri, CEO of AP Society for Knowledge Networks

The educational landscape in Andhra Pradesh has dramatically changed over the last decade or so. There is a huge proliferation of  engineering colleges in the state. About 20 years ago, the state had hardly 10 engineering colleges producing less than 4,000  engineers annually. Today, the state is house to over 720 engineering colleges producing over 300,000 engineers every year.
And if we look at the employment generated in the state over the last decade, on average, the state was able to employ 35,000 fresh  graduates. The IT services sector has been the major recruiter  accounting for over 90 percent of the jobs. The core sector had its 10   percent or less of a share. In the current scenario, there is a huge gap between the number of engineering graduates produced annually  and the employment opportunities presented each year in the state.
The pace at which the course and the curriculum have been adjusted in the universities and the engineering colleges has also been  uite  slow compared to the industry speed. There is very little or no flexibility in the courses that a student can choose. The gap between the  industry and the academic institutions has been widening every year. There are several reasons for this. Prominently, due to the  mushrooming of the engineering colleges, finding faculty members who are well abreast with the latest technologies is an extremely difficult task. Introducing courses around the latest trends in the industry hence becomes an impossible task.
To combat this problem, the government started the concept of Jawahar Knowledge Centers (JKCs) about seven years ago. The JKCs  accomplish several things. Firstly, they bring equity in employment. Whereas only city and prominent colleges were able to get campus placements prior to the JKCs, the rural and the remote colleges are seeing placement opportunities with the advent of the  JKCs. The JKCs are able to establish connects between the major product companies and all its constituent engineering and traditional degree colleges. Companies such as IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, and Autodesk are providing free software, technical support and  certifications to the students in the JKC network. The student does not have to graduate, move to a private center and spend huge  amounts of money to get certification. He can get trained, get hands on experience and get the certification while he is in the college  through this facility. The students are also given exposure to several Industry based competitions like the IBM’s TGMC – The Great  Mind Challenge, Infosys – Aspirations, Microsoft – Imagine Cup amongst others.
However, if we look at the Western educational system, every university has strong industry linkages. We are way behind in that  aspect. If you look at for example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, it incubates about 200 companies every  year. The total number of companies that MIT has incubated and in running are over 20,000 and the revenues of all these companies  put together far exceeds the Indian GDP. To put it in context, we need to develop strong research foundations in our higher education institutions. The government is trying through the JKCs to create some entrepreneurial courses in the engineering curriculum and  encourage students to join startups.

We need to develop strong research foundations in our higher education institutions

Several industry electives are also planned by the government this year. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has constituted a high  level committee under the chairmanship of the Chairman of the AP State Council for Higher Education to bring radical changes into  the curriculum. Several discussions are in place with the board of studies and the vice chancellors of the universities as to how to bring  the industry orientation to the engineering education.
Alternate learning methodologies need to be taking prominent position in the today’s education system. Academic institutions cannot  rely completely on instructor-led training. Technological interventions need to be in place to bring alternate learning methodologies  such as e-Learning, satellite-based learning, webinar mode of instruction, etc. Any system that is purely dependent on the instructor is open for failure and difficult to replicate. The Government of Andhra Pradesh through its JKC network is working with Infosys to create  an elective called Business Communication Skills where the course will be taught by an instructor of Infosys in the Global Education Campus in Mysore. The course that is being taught there is webcasted. Any JKC Engineering College can receive the course over the  web. The colleges can either project it on to a screen or have each student plug into a PC connected to a broadband Internet. An instructor would guide the class before and after and the role of the instructor would be limited to ensuring attendance, home works  and the other administrative tasks.
The Government of Andhra Pradesh and the Information Technology and Communications  Department has also started the concept of incubation centres in engineering colleges. This is to ensure that the colleges work closely with the industry. Incubation space would be set aside by the engineering colleges for the Industry to setup its remote center or an extension center in the college. The space would be equipped by state-of-theart machines and high speed broadband Internet. The industry would attain that space at free of cost and can fork its research and non-mission critical works there. The college can get an advantage by having its students work in a live industry environment. The government will provide an incentive to the colleges that are setting up the incubation centers. The whole platform is facilitated by the Government of Andhra Pradesh, Information Technology and Communications Department through the JKCs.
When India is in the forefront when it comes to the IT services industry, steps must be taken to ensure that our lead is protected. Programming is a skill that is considered inherent amongst the Indian engineers. To preserve it, we need to promote programming contests on the lines of the ACM programming contests. Several efforts are underway to promote such coding contests in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Also, technologically, several advancements are seen in the areas of cloud computing, Big Data, mobile computing, etc. Engineering students should have hands on experience on all the advanced technologies when they exit the college environment.
To summarise, the greatest resource that India is equipped with is the human resources. We have a very large young population and we produce sizeable number of engineers. Efforts are underway by the Government of Andhra Pradesh and the Government of India to reduce the gap between the academic institutions and the industry. More emphasis must be laid on creating good research environments in the Engineering colleges. The Government of Andhra Pradesh is also partnering with the premium business schools  for creating entrepreneurship courses and encouraging the engineering students to pursue a career with the startups which may be the  need of the hour.

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