Recalibrating Engineering Education: Making India Globally Competitive

Engineering Education

India has over ten thousand engineering institutions and over fifteen lakh students graduating from these institutions every year. Factually, a large number and a lion’s share of global engineering talent. Leading global companies seek to hire top talent from India. Indians in top management roles of tech giants and most IT Product Development teams have a good proportion of Indian Engineers, writes K Sridhar, Chief Business Officer, TalentSprint.

K Sridhar
K Sridhar, Chief Business Officer, TalentSprint

The largest recruiter from the engineering colleges is the IT Industry. Demand for talent from the core sector is muted. While focus on Make in India and Infrastructure Projects are expected to enhance the demand, currently it is well below the supply generated from the colleges. Hence, top talent from across the spectrum of engineering education prefer the IT Industry.

Engineering Education and IT Industry

These facts should typically mean great news for the Indian IT Industry.  We should be the home for new generation technologies and in fact lead the way towards the future.  However, the fact is different. Reports suggest that only 7-10% of the engineers are employable that too in the general technology areas. IT Companies are struggling to find the right talent.  Core reasons identified for the gap is lack of basic foundation in maths and science, logical thinking and communication skills.

The impact of these shortcomings is not just on employability at the individual level. These shortcomings have major impact on the business and India’s competitiveness itself. While the quantum of workforce available is helping India in IT services segment, our competitiveness in the product side is low. And the current technology products are automating coding and need for solutions. The result is quite evident with regard to new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning etc. India is well behind the curve and USA and China are leading the pack.

This is getting further complicated by the fact that of the 750 occupations currently in vogue and identified by the McKinsey Global Institute, 51% of job activities are highly susceptible to automation – and that’s through adapting currently demonstrated technology, leave alone new disruptions. It is going to necessitate the redefinition of most occupations and related skills and requires getting ready for the same.

Two Pronged approach to Re-calibrating Engineering Education

We need to look at two key areas when we seek to move towards the right direction. One is competence building and other is the curriculum relevance.

Competence Building

Competence level plays a wider impact including getting ready for the future and more so creating the future. This step will have an impact across industries. Hence, let us look at the Competence first.

There is a globally accepted framework for competence building, the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. The figure below clearly articulates the levels of competence and what is expected from each of them.

Engineering Education

As you will notice, the lowest competence level is remembering followed by understanding.  When we closely look at our current education system, other than the leading research based institutions (which contribute a very small percentage of the total graduating students), most of the focus goes on to these two levels. There is very little focus on Applying (which is why the industry does not find the students employable and job ready even for a generic technology role) leave alone Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating.

For India to be competitive in the global arena, there is a need for a graduate in general and engineering graduate in particular to move up the competence levels to the level of Evaluating and Creating. The entry tests into IITs and other premier institutions earlier used to push aspirants to move up to higher level of Analyzing. However, the exam prep business which helps one prepare for these exams have reverse engineered to enable aspirants clear such exams by cramming up and remembering.

This brings out the question on how should assessments be done. Clearly people work towards what they are being measured on. From institutional perspective, remembering is easy to assess and to automate assessment. Simple multiple choice questions will do the trick. This reflects that the assessment process favor competence level of remembering in most situations and hence that level of competence is achieved.

To evolve further, the current assessment process needs to evolve to higher levels.  Competitions like Hackathons help one to move up to apply and analyze levels. Case Studies, Discussions, Essay Writing, Thesis Writing and Presentations (which are not scalable and automatable for assessment) are necessary to help one go up the level of competence. Unless we move to such assessment methods in colleges, we will continue to generate competencies at lower levels only.

Curriculum relevance:

Another area of focus is curriculum.  There is not much focus on keeping the curriculum current.  Industry is moving at a far higher pace than what the academic institutions can cope with. Framework for making the industry and academia work together is not strong. Hence, the industry – academia gap continue to exist.

There have been a lot of discussions on the currency of the curriculum in line with global new trends and the break neck speed at which innovation and disruptions happen in the market.  There is a lot of merit in bringing in curriculum to include new age courses on machine learning, Blockchain and other emerging technologies.

Having said that, generally there is a very little difference between the curriculum of top globally leading engineering school and a tier 3 institution in India. But, the real difference is how is the curriculum delivered and what level of competency is built.  This requires a very strong focus on the building blocks: Mathematics, Science, Analytical Skills and Communication Skills.

Hence, while curriculum needs to improve keeping pace with the change, without fixing the problem of competence building curriculum relevance can only bear very little fruit.

The primary focus has to be to ensure that the Engineering Education churns out high competence graduates on a wider scale as against the current status of very few institutions who enable that. This can happen only when the evaluation system pushes more towards higher level of competence. Even at the cost of quantity (which is currently in far higher supply than need) if this can be achieved, the engineering education system will churn out far more globally competitive, high-end engineers and make a mark for India in the global hi-tech marketplace.

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