In the past 11 years since 2004, the criterion for admissions into the Engineering colleges of Maharashtra has been a field of constant change and experimentation by the decision makers in Maharashtra Government. Every State Education Minister and Government has been changing the rules of the game at whim often with vague or short notice thereby creating an air of nervous uncertainty leaving lacs of students, parents and also teachers in a state of perpetual confusion and chaos. This article delves deeply into the various elements of educational philosophy, academic content & objectives, economics and broad political ideologies which are at play due to which this matter remains unsettled so far. However, all these issues can be settled if the political leadership has will and strength to implement a comprehensive vision for delivering quality education along with access and equity.
Before getting into the nuances of the elements at play, let us first examine the changes in rules of admission to Engineering colleges in Maharashtra in the past 11 years since 2004. Please note that for every Unaided Engineering college of Maharashtra, admission is granted via 3 different quotas viz. 65% State quota, 15% All India JEE MAINS (or AIEEE) quota & 20% Management quota. There have been no changes in the latter 2 quotas since 2002. However, significant changes in admissions criteria via 65% quota have been witnessed as mentioned below :
NB: Most aided or autonomous Engineering colleges like GCOEP take their admission for all
their seats by the rules mentioned. They don’t have 15% All India quota or 20%
Management quota. Also, note that less than 15 out of 365+ Engg. colleges are aided.
There were hardly 12 Engineering colleges in Maharashtra in 1984 the same year when the Maharashtra Assembly passed the Private Engineering Colleges bill which allowed formation of Private Engineering colleges. As on 2015, the number of Engineering colleges in Maharashtra is 365+ and total number of seats in all these colleges stands at around 1.6 lacs. Since the past few years, almost 50-60000 seats remain vacant every year due to which many private Engineering colleges find it difficult to sustain themselves. Thus, hardly 1 lac students secure admission into some branch and into some Engineering college in Maharashtra every year.
It is shocking to note that till 2011, the number of first year Engineering (FE) students out of these 1 lac students who would pass all the 10 subjects of FE stood at under 20%. From 2012-13 academic year, all the Universities of Maharashtra resolved to make the first year Engineering exams drastically easy by introducing Online Objective exams thereby increasing the passing percentage to over 75%. It is unfortunate that technical educationists of Maharashtra have indulged in gross sub-standardisation of evaluation process to increase the passing percentage of students. Nobody seems to be bothered that Online Objective exams at Engineering level do not serve the purpose of building quality Engineers. None in the Education Ministry or the bureaucracy or the Engineering Education community is concerned about the fact that the employability of such students is reduced drastically. Who cares if students don’t gain confidence or jobs or skills ? As long as more and more students join and pass the Engineering colleges and fill the cash coffers of Engineering colleges, it is business as usual.
In the past 3 years, the job placements of Engineering graduates has hit an all-time low. Out of about 1 lac students who come out of Engineering colleges every year, less than one-third of them get job placements on campus. The rest remain unemployed. The HR executives of corporates of all hues have unanimously denounced the poor quality of skills, knowledge and confidence that candidates exhibit due to which they can’t hire despite having vacancies. There are only a handful of A-grade Engineering colleges in Maharashtra like GCOEP, VJTI, ICT, PICT etc. where this trend is not witnessed. It is interesting to discover that ground level feedback from students about faculty in these so-called A-grade colleges is not satisfactory either. But students somehow manage to study themselves and gain fundamentals. This is simply due to the fact that these A-grade colleges attract brighter students most of whom have been exposed to IIT-JEE studies in Std.11 & 12 in their JEE coaching classes due to which their basic concepts in PCM and thinking abilities have been sharpened. This phenomenon does not take place in students of B-grade & C-grade Engineering colleges as their basics are weak and they have not developed sound logical thinking skills in Std.11 & 12 as they were exposed to only Std. 12 level college studies or sub-standard MHT-CET studies.
A natural question arises then.
What is the key differentiator between an employable Engineering graduate and a non-employable Engineering graduate ? My analysis clearly states that the key differentiator is the strength of fundamentals of Science and Maths along with problem solving abilities of the student developed till Std.12. The aspect of quality of faculty in Engineering colleges is secondary and not the primary determinant of the quality of the Engineering graduate. The Government of the day, the bureaucrats in the Technical Education Departments and educationists in various colleges and Universities either fail to grasp or choose to ignore this key aspect which determines the quality of the Engineering graduate which in turn decides his employability as well as research, innovation & entrepreneurial scope.
The secret of Brand IIT is not the campus, the faculty, the labs and other resources which IITs provide. Those are secondary factors. The primary factor for the prestige and global appeal of Brand IIT is undoubtedly the Entrance Exam called IIT-JEE now renamed as JEE ADVANCED since 2013. The lofty level of difficulty IIT-JEE (arguably the toughest Entrance exam in the world) ensured that only the most brilliant and accomplished students got admission into the prestigious IITs since 1960. The quality of the incoming raw material was so rich that regardless of the quality of education imparted per se within the IIT campuses, the output was marvelous 90% of the times. Needless to mention, India’s finest entrepreneurs, researchers, innovators, corporate professionals, bureaucrats, social activists, media persons etc. are alumni of the IITs.
The same thesis holds true for other elite Engineering colleges in India like the BITS-PILANI, NITs, IIITs, DCE, VIT-Vellore etc. The quality (read difficulty level) of the Entrance Exam decides the quality of admitted students in an Engineering college. Dilution of the level of difficulty or syllabi or pattern of the Entrance Exam is sacrilegious from the point of view of quality education and brand equity of the college. Unfortunately, these time-tested principles have held no traction in the minds of the decision-makers of technical Education of Maharashtra till date who profess about quality education but address the cause of quantity education instead.
The normal narrative which the Education Ministers of Maharashtra read out is that by making the Entrance Exam easier, we are relieving the stress of students. The other narrative often doled out is that if Entrance Exams become tougher, then students depend more on commercial coaching classes who mint inordinate amounts of money. Hence, by making the Entrance Exam easier, we intend to reduce the dependence of students on coaching classes. Nothing is more ridiculous than both these arguments.
To rebut the latter argument, every student joins a coaching class even for Std.12 college studies since nothing worthwhile is being taught in junior colleges today. As far as Entrance Exams is concerned, every student joins some coaching class or the other irrespective of whether the Entrance Exam is easier or tougher. On the contrary, if the Entrance exam is easier, more coaching classes proliferate as there are more service providers. And competitive edge is the selling point for bagging admissions in both cases. So such decisions have little impact on the sway of coaching classes which have become the de facto standard in Indian education system.
And fees and sustenance of coaching classes is subject to market dynamics and it is said that the market is a great leveler. Then, why should the Government base its decisions on Education on what happens in the market space? The market is clever enough to take care of itself.
To rebut the former argument, it suffices to appreciate that Engineering studies is not a piece of cake which a casual student who spends more time watching cricket on TV or sharing Whatsapp jokes than studying can ever fathom. Engineering studies requires a student of above average intelligence quotient (IQ) and someone who can study for long hours. The subjects of Maths, Physics and Chemistry (PCM) which constitutes the base of all Engineering studies are profound yet fascinating subjects. Only an intelligent and hardworking student can grasp the deep fundamentals of PCM and it is clearly not the domain of the average student. Therefore, to state that the Entrance Exam must be made easier in order to ease the stress of Engineering aspirants is equivalent to saying that we will train our athletes to run only 4 km as running the complete stretch of 35 km would be very stressful for him. But we shall still train him to be a marathon runner. This is a confused and self-contradictory paradigm. An Engineering aspirant must be clear that becoming a quality Engineer needs lot of hard work and a minimum level of intellect. If both these aspects are present, the student can certainly go ahead. Else, he must choose some other career path. If either of these 2 aspects is not there and the student still foolishly pursues Engineering studies, then he will be tricked by the system and emerge as a degree holder low in confidence, devoid of skills and certainly unemployable. This type of graduate has been the output of all B-grade and C-grade Engineering colleges of Maharashtra for many many years. Almost all these colleges are owned by politicians of all political hues and hence the phenomenon is usually ignored by the incumbent Government.
The need for quality CAREER COUNSELLORS cannot be overemphasized. It is the burning need of the hour. Any Tom, Dick and Harry should not be encouraged to take up Engineering. It is a challenging field and only the capable ones must be encouraged. Today’s teenagers are gripped by electronic fever and are found spending long hours fiddling with their electronic gadgets. They invest little time for studies as they have no self-control and are usually pampered by cash-rich parents. The field of Engineering must be recommended to only such students who are intelligent, hard-working and have a strong mind which can temper the electronic fever.
Now, let us turn to the aspect of which Entrance Exam is ideal for choosing right Engineering students. The Entrance Exam must contain questions in PCM subjects which are thought- provoking and test fundamental concepts of the subjects. The JEE is certainly one such exam and is time-tested to select the deserving candidates for over 50 years. On the other hand, the MHT-CET started in 2004 is a sub-standard Entrance exam which contains easy formula-substitution questions and does not test the thinking or problems solving ability of the student at all. The JEE has 110 chapters, conceptual questions and negative marking. The MHT-CET on the other hand has typically 60 chapters, simple formula-substitution type questions and no negative marking. Thus, the choice between JEE and MHT-CET is abundantly clear for anyone who is an advocate of quality education. The JEE is the right choice ofcourse !
Now, let us examine how students have been preparing for Entrance Exams in Maharashtra in the past 10 years. About 2.5 lacs students appear for the Engineering Entrance Exam every year in Maharashtra. There are 3 major study patterns which have dominated different sections of the Engineering aspirants community.
The first study pattern constitutes nearly 75% of the Engineering aspirants community and involves joining a tuition or coaching class for college curriculum for 2-years in Std.11 & 12. Such students study from the college text books and additional notes given by coaching classes and prepare for the college Unit Tests, Terminals, Prelims and finally the Std.12 Boards exam. Such students prepare for the Entrance Exam like JEE MAINS or MHT-CET as the case maybe after Std.12 Boards exam by joining a Crash Course in a coaching class. This pattern of studies is dominant in all rural and semi-urban centers of Maharashtra and almost 50% of students in urban cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad etc. also follow this study pattern. This study pattern enables students to do well in college exams and Std.12 exams but they fare miserably in Entrance Exams. Such students learn the subjects of PCM by rote memory and they develop poor thinking or problem solving skills. They make poor candidates for Engineering.
The second type of study pattern involves studying for Std.11 college exams in Std.11 and then studying for the Entrance Exam and Std.12 Boards simultaneously in Std.12 which yields decent success to students in Std.12 Boards exams as well as the Entrance Exams. However, the pre-dominant method of learning remains basic understanding and simple applications-based questions. Such students do not score too well in JEE (< 60 marks out of 360) but do well in the easier MHT-CET. This type of study pattern is found in coaching classes in almost all semi-urban centers and to the extent of 35% in urban centers of Maharashtra. This type of study pattern is effective in providing a mediocre background for future Engineering studies though not an excellent or strong one.
The third type of study pattern involves studying for JEE only in Std.11 & most of Std.12. Only the last 3 months are dedicated by the student to study for Std.12 Boards which is sufficient as all Std.12 chapters are also there in JEE syllabi. The focus of this study pattern is on deep conceptual understanding and developing sharp problems solving abilities. This is the type of study pattern practised in good quality IIT-JEE coaching institutes which are present in only few urban centers of Maharashtra. About 15% of the students in urban centers follow this study pattern. Students following this study pattern perform excellently in JEE and all Entrance exams. They do well in Std.12 Boards as well though they do not figure amongst the toppers. The most important aspect is that students following this third study pattern perform excellently in Engineering thereafter. The seed of innovation, research and entrepreneurship is planted into the minds of students following this type of study pattern.
It is obvious that from a teaching point of view, the first study pattern is easiest to administer followed by the second and the third study pattern is toughest to administer. The ratio of number of coaching institutes advocating these different types of study patterns is also in the similar ratio as the number of students practicing the same. It must be the efforts of all educationists in the Government and the private sector to create a system wherein more and more students study by the 3rd study pattern as that is the most efficient pattern for becoming quality Technocrats.
Now, let us investigate which vested interests would want MHT-CET instead of JEE ?
Throughout the course of history, the devil has had usually more advocates than the divine cause. The same holds true in this case as well.
It is interesting to know that after the introduction of JEE as an Entrance Exam since 2013, the quality of students enrolling in the A-grade Engineering colleges of Maharashtra has registered a steady improvement as per testimonials of Professors and Directors of these colleges. The number of students from Maharashtra getting selected in the IITs has increased tremendously in the past 2 years since 2013. In 2002, Maharashtra was ranked 12th in India in terms of number of students selected in the IITs, was 10th ranked in 2007 and reached 4th Rank after Rajasthan, A.P. and Delhi in 2014. So, if JEE continues in Maharashtra, it would be a matter of few more years that Maharashtra shall reach the numero uno position in IIT Ranks. Thus, JEE stands for excellence in education and MHT-CET for mediocrity at best if not poverty of education !
After reading this article, I think it should be very clear to the reader that the choice between MHT-CET and JEE is equivalent to the choice between Mediocrity and Excellence. It can therefore be broadly concluded that a Government which chooses MHT-CET instead of JEE is clearly NOT CONCERNED about quality of Engineering Education. Such a Government is concerned merely in lowering the bar thereby incentivising the ill-counselled youth of the State to take up Engineering on a mass scale. The B-grade & C-grade Engineering colleges are likely to be hand in-glove with the Government in doing the same as they are the beneficiaries of this phenomenon unscrupulously so. A Government which serves the vested interest of such constituencies should be held guilty of indulging in a form of crony capitalism and no less.
The Government should start a separate 4-years degree course called Bachelor of Engineering Skills (B.E.S.) in these B-grade and C-grade Engineering colleges wherein students learn minimal theory and are taught high-end practical industry-relevant skills like operating a CNC machine to using various software packages and computing tools. The youth who are not capable of understanding the deep theoretical stuff of the Sciences but still have the passion to pursue Engineering due to social conditioning or do some technical stuff can be groomed through this special B.E.S. courses. Such students can be easily get jobs as they are industry-ready. This is in line with PM Modi’s vision of Skill India as well. In other words, these struggling B-grade colleges can become glorified ITIs. The prestigious B.Tech. degree and B.E. degrees must be granted only to quality students by A-grade Engineering colleges. Else, the degrees have also lost their prestige.
Thus, the choice between MHT-CET and JEE is the choice between :
The choice that this Government makes shall decide the fortunes of an entire generation of bright students and hence also of the State and the nation. Make no mistake – this decision has the power and weight to transform Maharashtra into upward mobility or otherwise. I pray that wisdom and good sense prevails on the decision makers of the State.
I hope this article educates, enlightens and alerts the right thinking individuals of the State and the nation about the ongoings of a critical sector which can help realise or stem the tremendous potential that Maharashtra and India has.
Durgesh C. Mangeshkar