Easy Admission to Engineering Courses Hazardous to Students

Even at the risk of angering students and parents, let me explore one of my worries. In US, doctors ensure their importance by controlling the number of people who enter the profession. Chances are that the same is true for lawyers. Unionised professions, like plumbers, do the same. Even in India, I am told that Chartered Accountants are very careful about the number of people who qualify as CA's. While I do not believe that we should control the number of people who become computer or IT engineers, we need to ensure that the quality does not suffer. Unfortunately, the latter imposes contraints on the admissions.

In this and a few other articles, we will discuss why the stakeholders, students, employers, parents and teachers, need to have a fresh look at what should our education system do.

I will discuss two items which relate to students interests today – salary on entry and quality of education.

Salary on Entry

When I was in industry, I found that inspite of very good comparative increments, our salary for software engineers was way below the market. We tried to revise it – there was expected resistance because we could not have one division treated very nicely. The issue was sorted out by market forces. The salary was revised once it became obvious that the people were quitting. Market at work. Both who left and who stayed benefitted. I also realised that we could not possibly compete with the software export industry. Hence, we took a decision to recruit BSc Computer Science students even though their curriculum at that time was very bad. (It is very good now.) Our experience was very favorable. Even today, I would prefer to hire a first rate BSc than a second rate BE. We were able to offer the BSc graduates bettr jobs in content and salary than the market but the cost to the company was lower than that for BE's.

If I were in the same situation a few years from now, I may have a hard time finding first rate BSc students because admissions to BE have become so much easier. Hence, chances are that I may hire BE's but at a salary close to what I was paying BSc's. BE's are no longer special.

Quality of Education

A number of teachers from a number of institutions have mentioned that students are not as good as they used to be. Some of it is factual because as you have more seats, the capabilities of all students are not going to be the same. Some of it is perception – if it is easier to get into engineering, students must be worse. (There is the very interesting topic of study - how what people believe affects human behavior? Why does the stock market go up or down? Why does the currency of a country suddenly become worthless?)

We have experienced that at least some students do not seem to be interested. They have joined because they got the admission and their parents and advisors feel that there is good scope for engineers. Some of these students would have preferred to be studying something else. If this number becomes significant in a class, teachers have a problem teaching. They invariably wind up repeating some critical parts of a subject even though it may bore the good students. Over time there may even be pressure to ease the examination system because no one wants too many failures.

The impact will be lowering of the education standards, resulting in the reputation of the University suffering and future students being seriously affected in gaining good employment.

The key point I would like to get across is that what is pleasant for us is not necessarily good for us. Sometimes painful decisions need to be taken. Next time, we will explore what should we be doing instead.