Debating India


A fillip from industry

Friday 2 July 2004, by SUBRAMANIAN*T.S.

The entry of industrialists, who have started 47 self-financing engineering colleges and 174 arts and science colleges in the region, brings about a qualitative change in higher education.

THE best that has happened to education in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu in the past 20 years is that industrialists of the region have had the vision to found colleges. The private engineering colleges, fashionably called self-financing colleges as they generate their own resources, are run with the fees charged from students.

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At the Cell Biology laboratory of the P.S.R. Engineering College.

The nine southern districts of Madurai, Dindigul, Virudhunagar, Sivaganga, Theni, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari have 47 self-financing and two government-run engineering colleges. There are 174 arts and science colleges, affiliated to four universities, in the region. The two oldest engineering colleges in the region are the Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, an autonomous institution, and the Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering and Technology at Karaikudi. Both are affiliated to Anna University.

The trail-blazers among the self-financing engineering colleges are the MEPCO Schlenk Engineering College, the National Engineering College, Kovilpatti, and the Arulmigu Kalasalingam College of Engineering at Krishnankovil near Srivilliputhur, all founded in 1984. The Sri Kaliswari College, located near Sivakasi, is the latest arts and science college to be established in the region. It was started in 2000-01. Kodaikanal, known for its residential schools, had its first arts and science college when the Kodaikanal Christian College was set up in 1994.

Entrepreneurs who established these colleges obviously took the business of education seriously. These institutions have proper infrastructure: massive campuses, spacious buildings, well-equipped laboratories, huge playfields and so on. All of them are co-educational. They have a good record of placement for students. Their students involve themselves in rural uplift. They help villagers in desilting water tanks, cleaning up temple compounds and addressing civic problems. A striking feature of the engineering colleges is that girls account for 35-80 per cent of the students, depending on the discipline of study. Some of these colleges have placement cells and career improvement programmes.

According to people who run these colleges, there is a paradigm shift in the choice of students for courses. Undergraduate courses in Chemistry, Mathematics, English Literature, History, Politics, Sociology and Philosophy are not preferred. Only the government and aided colleges offer these courses now. There is big demand for job-oriented courses. But the interest in B.Sc. (Physics) has revived. Demand for seats in Information Technology has tapered off. Diploma courses in Event Management are fast catching up.

As one enters the MEPCO Schlenk Engineering College, what is striking is the vastness of the campus - all of 310 acres (124 hectares). (MEPCO stands for Metal Powder Company. M/s Carl Schlenk A.G. is a German organisation. MEPCO Schlenk Charities founded the college in October 1984.) It has 2,100 students and 144 teachers. The college offers seven undergraduate and eight postgraduate courses. It ranks second among the 243 engineering colleges affiliated to Anna University. "The demand for seats is mainly in Electronics and Communication Engineering, Industrial Biotechnology, Computer Science and Engineering, Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and IT. This is the order now. The demand for seats in EEE and Mechanical Engineering are almost on a par," said Professor S. Balakrishnan, Principal-in-Charge.

The college has signed memoranda of understanding (MoU) with academic, research and industrial organisations (such as the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam; Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, Tiruchi; the Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai; and the Defence Research and Development Organisation) for training students, conducting research and undertaking project work. Prof. Balakrishnan said: "We have received 27 projects from government agencies and industries. Some of them relate to the latest technology. We have already completed 50 per cent of the projects, valued at Rs.2.25 crores." The projects include labyrinth design and high voltage, high current testing units for the IGCAR and impact analysis for the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.

"Campus placement is at a high level. Almost all our students get jobs in major industries/companies," Prof. Balakrishnan said.

THE tall buildings of P.S.R. Engineering College rise out of nowhere in the rural wilderness. There is silence all round. The nearest town, Sivakasi, is 25 km away. But seats in all disciplines in the college are full. The college was established in 1999 by the P.S. Ramasamy Telugu Minority Educational and Charitable Trust, Sivakasi, for spreading higher education in the region. The campus covers 30 hectares. According to R. Solaisamy, correspondent, the trust has so far invested Rs.10 crores in infrastructure. The college has a central library with about 20,000 volumes in engineering and science; separate libraries in various departments; well-equipped laboratories; and horticulture and vegetable farms. Of the 1,287 students, 50 per cent are from rural areas. "They prefer our college because we don’t charge capitation fees/donations, and we charge low [tuition] fees," said a college official. The trust offers free education to poor students on merit. Every year, about five students receive scholarships from the trust. There are other scholarships too.

P.S.R. Engineering College offers five undergraduate courses and a postgraduate course (in Computer Applications). The degree programme includes B.Tech. in Industrial Biotechnology. It will offer B.E. in Mechanical Engineering from this academic year. There are plans to start a master’s degree programme in Business Administration. The college will soon start a three-month certificate course in IBM Mainframe and is drawing up plans to start M.E. in Computer Science and Electronics and Communication Engineering.

The Raja College of Engineering and Technology is situated at Veerapanjan, a suburb of Madurai. The Arun Ram Kumar Educational Trust, chaired by G. Nagarajan, founded the college in 1995. The college offers six courses at the undergraduate level, including B.E. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and Computer Science and Engineering. It also offers MCA, MBA and M.E. courses (Computer Science and Engineering). It has plans to start M.E. programmes in Power Electronics and Drives, and Embedded Systems. An important feature of the college is its Centre for Human Resource Development and Placement where students are trained in personality development and communication skills.

As one drives towards Nagercoil from Tirunelveli, what attracts one’s attention is the massive, aesthetically designed buildings at Vadakkangulam. This is home to the Rajaas Engineering College, formerly known as the Indian Engineering College. The latter was established in 1984 by the Selvam Educational and Charitable Trust. Dr. S.A. Raja is the founder-chairman of the Rajas Group of Institutions, which includes the Rajaas Engineering College, the Rajas Dental College, the S.A. Raja Pharmacy College, the Jayamatha Engineering College and so on. The Rajaas Engineering College offers seven courses in B.E., including Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering, and IT. It has M.E. courses in Structural Engineering and Applied Electronics, and MBA and MCA.

According to S.A. Joy Raja, chairman of the Rajaas Engineering College, seats are in demand this year for Mechanical Engineering. Information Technology was not a preferred subject now, he said. "The moment the demand for seats in Information Technology went down, the demand for Mechanical Engineering shot up." About 2,000 students are enrolled in the college. There are 100 seats in the Rajas Dental College.

The PET Engineering College is situated at Valliyur in Tirunelveli district. The Popular Education Trust founded the college, which offers undergraduate engineering courses in Computer Science and Engineering; Electronics and Communication Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; and IT. The college plans to start a course in Marine Engineering. It has a broadband Internet laboratory, latest licensed software such as Auto CAD and Mechanical Desktop. There is an English Laboratory for training students in spoken and written English.

The Sri Kaliswari College and the Kodaikanal Christian College are poised for expansion. Both offer compulsory value-added courses, and have longer working hours than other colleges.

The Sri Kaliswari Trust’s ambition is to contribute to the cause of education. The trust belongs to Sri Kaliswari Fire Works, a leading manufacturer of fireworks in the country. A.P. Selvarajan, correspondent and secretary of the college, said: "When we celebrated the founding of 75 years of Sri Kaliswari Fire Works, we wanted to do something memorable. So we established the college. The products of Sri Kaliswari Fire Works have an image. We want to provide the same quality to the education imparted in the college." The college has a 17-acre (6.8 ha) campus, with imposing buildings. To start with, the college offered three undergraduate courses. Today - in its fifth year - it offers 12 undergraduate programmes, one postgraduate course, and five certificate courses. It will start three postgraduate courses, in Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Computer Science, this academic year.

"We prefer to start more postgraduate courses because we want to concentrate on research and development," said Selvarajan. "We have to compete with aided colleges. So we have to introduce innovative courses. And quality education is our aim. We don’t want to earn profit from education." At the undergraduate level, the courses offered include the regular B.Com course, the vocational B.Com (C.A.) course with Computer Applications, the bachelor’s degree in Bank Management, Business Economics and Computer Applications, and B.Sc. courses in Biotechnology and Computer Science.

Students of the college should compulsorily study a certificate course in both second and third year of their undergraduate courses. They include courses in Industrial Safety; Matches and Fireworks; Communicative and Functional English; Advertising, Sales Promotion and Sales Management, and Computer Applications. Hindi is compulsory. The college has set up a laboratory for training students in spoken English.

The Kodaikanal Christian College was born out of an altruistic motive of a single individual - Sam Abraham - to serve the cause of education. He founded the college with five degree programmes. Within three years, the college had a postgraduate programme. "To my knowledge, this is the best private college in the hills. It has been a long struggle because parents living on the hills are happy to send their children to schools on the hills but when it comes to college education, they want their wards to study in the plains. I have arrested this trend," he said. He is the founder-chairman of the college and the founder-trustee of the House of Abrahams Charitable Trust.

The college offers five degree programmes: Bachelor of Computer Science, Bachelor of Computer Applications, B.Sc in Hotel Management and Catering Service, Bachelor of Business Administration, and B.Com. At the postgraduate level it offers M.A. in Media Communication Management and Christian Studies, Master of Foreign Trade, Master of Social Work, Master of Business and Technology, and Master of Information Technology and Computer Science. Students can opt for postgraduate diploma examinations in American Studies, Computer Applications and Journalism and Mass Communication.

What sets apart the KCC from other colleges in the region is the variety of enrichment courses and additional diploma courses that undergraduates should compulsorily study in addition to their regular subjects. The enrichment courses include Spoken English and Public Speaking, Functional Mathematics, History of Ideas, Value Education and Computer Applications. The additional diploma courses relate to the main course of study. For instance, a student of B.Com. should get a diploma in Tax Planning, Financial Analysis and Budgeting; a student of Hotel Management and Catering Science should study Travel and Tourism and Craft courses; and all students are expected to obtain a diploma in Total Quality Management.

"Of late, students are choosy... They get jobs because of the diplomas they choose. So we have what is called add-on courses," Sam Abraham said. They include Computer Hardware and Networking, Film Appreciation, Editing and Journalism, Desktop Publishing, Event Management and Web Designing. Besides, the students have to execute project work, take part in "Youth Parliament" and present papers at seminars. "We push them hard... But we see the blossoming of the students." The co-educational institution has 300 students and 43 teachers. Sam Abraham also runs the Kodaikanal Christian Matriculation and Higher Secondary School.

The Tandem Institute of Computer Education, Madurai, is in its fourth academic year. According to S. Sundara Pandian, its director, its divisions include Tandem Infotech, which is a software development company that provides project services; the Tandem Institute of Computer Technology, which is the authorised training centre for C-DOT; and the Tandem Institute of Network Technology, where internationally certified hardware, software and networking courses are taught. Students are trained here to write a variety of online examinations. It is, therefore, an authorised prometric training centre. Tandem has similar training centres in Coimbatore and Chennai.

Sundara Pandian, who is a CISCO Sales Expert, said there were international courses such as CCNA, A +, MCSC, Linux + and CCNP. The duration of the courses varied. On an average he had 100 students a day. J. Sridhar, a final-year B.E. student of Tandem, passed 17 examinations in international certificate courses and received 10 certifications. The courses in demand now are Java, .Net and CCNA. The Tandem Institute is headquartered in Thiruvananthapuram. It has opened an office in Dubai and will have another in South Africa.

T.S. Subramanian

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