"Reinventing Engineering CURRICULUM"
April 2015

“Reinventing Engineering CURRICULUM”

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experts

The experts feel the need to reinvent the traditional engineering curriculums as per the demands of the times, which require more and more people evolved into a holistic mould. Many engineering universities have introduced unique innovations in the curriculum to help the students pace up their feet besides forcing the faculties to think differently. The teachers from different walks of life also integrate their research and findings with their counterparts to come up with more socially relevant and accepted technologies. Nidhi Sharma of the Elets News Network critically evaluates the new curriculum and its relevance.

Winston Churchill once said that the empires of tomorrow will be the empires of mind. Higher education shapes the destiny of a country in such ways as few other sectors do, and today, in a country with the highest percentage of youths in the world, only 5 per cent of people are getting higher education. Japan has 4000 Universities for its 127 million people, the US has 3650 Universities for its 301 million people; and India only 675 Universities for its over 1.25 billion people.

Indian GER is about 19% against 83% for USA. Also, it is considered as the need of the hour for the Indian universities to be in the top 200 universities of the world. The urgency to seek such reforms as will pave way for promoting excellence in higher education and research is also pressing. Steady deterioration in the academic standards in the most Indian universities is indeed a matter of grave concern. Another stumbling block confronted by the India universities is the lack of world class faculty who can train the generation to be future ready for a robust economy.

In this scenario, it goes without saying that there is enough space for private players. In fact, the education sector in India has seen tremendous evolution with the rise of private universities in this space.

According to the experts,“When we look at the dynamics of education, we stand on certain premises – we have the 19th century curriculum, 20th century teachers and 21st century students.”In this backdrop, a piecemeal approach will only be a recipe for disaster and we need to look at education holistically. With a vision to incorporate a farsighted approach towards learning and imagination among the faculty and the students, and at the same time be fully conscious of the reality of the existing challenges, the private universities are making unique innovations to the curriculums of traditional courses like engineering.

“This will help provide the students a broad based education system while ensuring that they get their subject matter specialization to be experts in their field” says Dr Nikhil Sinha, Vice Chancellor, Shiv Nadar University.

In the field of engineering, the challenge of educating the unprecedented multitudes of aspiring young people around the globe has called for a drastic change in the curriculum. The universities across the world are now focusing more on an all-encompassing education which covers different facets of engineering and technology, natural sciences, liberal arts, humanities and social sciences. This broad based learning enables the students to choose and select the kinds of courses which they like and enable them to make a career in their preferred discipline. The students can now take informed decisions and make more calculated choices. They also have the right to choose and combine a minor field of their choices with the major they are pursuing.

For example, a student pursuing a Major in Electronics & Communications Engineering can do a Minor in Mechanical Engineering and vice-versa within the stipulated time of four years and make his/her profile more saleable in the market, thus satisfying the need of an Industry-ready professional in an ever growing era of interdisciplinary activities-based organisations. Apart from choosing technical courses/disciplines as Minor, the students can also do a Minor in an array of disciplines from management, social sciences and humanities, e.g., Economics, English, Business, Media & Communications etc, which gives them a deep insight of the world at large.

Pramath Sinha, Founder, Ashoka University, says, “If you study, innovation and a holistic approach to learning should be at the heart of engineering in India, be it IITs, BHU, BITS etc. However, around 15 years back, we saw that the curriculums became more stereotyped and innovation took a huge backseat. Either the students did not take them seriously, or the universities did not get the right students. However, with evolving times and India becoming a major international player in every sphere, there is again an increased awakening to enhance the standards. IIT Gandhinagar is a path breaking institute here.

“The world needs free thinkers, social innovators and
entrepreneurs. A holistic multi-disciplinary education has
an important role to play. We are trying to restructure the
way the education was imparted in a conventional way.”

Explaining it further, Pramath Sinha says, “I cannot say with certainty in terms of job market if the employers are being directly impacted by such graduates or courses, but self aware students are definitely the need of the hour and the companies do realize that the students with evolved all-round personalities are sure to make better professionals. The world needs such people with diverse areas of learning and knowledge, especially when it comes to getting into managerial cadre, and problem solving. Even though many students might find it a waste of time, looking at the future, I see that India already has a very strong public – private divide. With so many engineering colleges mushrooming, I think the masses of colleges will not take much trouble, while the class colleges will keep innovating.”

It may be mentioned that the Aam Aadmi Party has ambitious plans to build an Innovative Vocational University in the national capital in order to make all youths employable in the city. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia recently said that the government will ensure that the youths get job after completing their vocational courses in this university. The AAP government also wants to make Delhi an education hub and change the system.

“In order to provide innovative skills and vocational programmes to our youths, I am planning to build Innovative Vocational University in Delhi. We have now just Delhi Engineering College, but we cannot expand it further. For Arts subjects, we have only IP University, but the same situation also prevails here too. There is a need to set up such Innovative University,” he said.

Dr Madan Gopal, Director, School of Engineering at Shiv Nadar University, said that the innovations in curriculum are a very positive and indispensable development. Necessity of these new innovations comes from the industry requiring people with broader knowledge skills. The projects coming up in real world today are multidisciplinary in nature. So, it is necessary to train students for that. In addition, teaching should be redefined.

Another major requirement for the changes being brought about in the engineering curriculum is professional personality built-up. A holistic environment and training need to be provided to the student. After all, a total professional model needs to be created around engineering.

In India, the parents are the decision makers as far as the education preferences of their children are concerned. Today, in a drastically changed world, the parents don’t have much idea about what all choices can be made by the youth and are more driven by a traditional mindset. In this scenario, as the students get an opportunity to experiment with a wide ranging areas of interest and learning, they get an opportunity to discover themselves through the innovative platforms offered to them. In fact, these formative years of innovation and experimentation can go a long way and may define their careers and lives.

Nishant Mishra, a Senior Faculty in Mechanical Department at Shiv Nadar University says, “The world needs free thinkers, social innovators and entrepreneurs. A holistic multi-disciplinary education has an important role to play. We are trying to restructure the way the education was imparted in a conventional way. The students are exposed to various courses, other than the core foundation courses, from liberal arts and humanities which enable them to find solutions with the right perspective and broaden their understanding of different cultures, people and societies at large. This not only helps the students but also changes the way a faculty thinks. Faculties from different fields also integrate their research and findings with their counterparts from different areas to come up with a more socially relevant and accepted technology.” What is important is to understand what students feel about the experiments and innovations in the sphere of engineering, which is already a stream requiring tremendous hard work. Panshul Tyagi, a third year mechanical engineering student, says that the innovative curriculum at his engineering college gives him ample freedom to choose from a variety of courses apart from the majors. “I am a mechanical engineering student, but I have also done courses in management, sociology and English. And to add to it I am now doing a minor in civil engineering. This kind of interdisciplinary and holistic curriculum is very rare to find,” says Panshul.

Nipun Abbi, a final year engineering student says, “These innovative curriculum structures are designed to make a person stand out in the crowd. I am really fond of the liberal arts and non-technical courses being taught in a technical programme, as I believe it is the element of human interaction with technology-human interface with sustainable design and responsible innovations that has the capability to lift the quality of life. However, there is a limitation to which this concept can be integrated with a technical discourse and the fine line is where the curriculum needs to be limited to”.

However, there is another aspect to engineering curriculums as well. Many feel that while preparing/training the students with skills needed for the industry, we ought to remember that the essence of engineering should not be forgotten. Says Kapil Gaba, Head- Admissions, Shiv Nadar University, “Of course, we need to prepare students for the industry, impart the right skills and the industryacademia bridge should be divided, but there are other factors we need to look at seriously. It is not just about particular skill sets, but also about education and knowledge. Our primary focus should be to impart the holistic education and learning, impart the ability to reason and solve problem, not just train the students in a skill set which is sure to become obsolete in times where technology changes every few years. The companies are willing to and prepared to train the engineering graduates in skills according to the requirement of the company or the industry. So, the engineering colleges have to strengthen the foundation of the students, and not just ready them for particular kind of jobs. Otherwise, the engineers will find themselves unable to cope with the ever changing market and industry of the future.”

Furthermore, today, the leading universities and engineering colleges of the world and India have integrated research into their teaching at the undergraduate and postgraduate level. Most of the courses have a research component inbuilt within the course. This makes the education even more relevant as the students are constantly updated of the current trends. Through lectures, experiential and applied learning, comprising of lab work, internships and field work, the students gain knowledge and experience in a myriad of disciplines and specializations. To add to this, constantly changing scenario and revolution in higher education, the advent of new technologies to record, store and disseminate knowledge, has further enhanced the efficiency of imparting education.

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