Date:11/09/2007 URL:
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To engineer faculty improvement

Over the years there has been a decline in the quality of faculty in our engineering colleges. A high-power committee was appointed by the All-India Council for Technical Education to study the reasons behind this phenomenon. The findings of the committee were startling, as ABDUL LATHEEF NAHA found out.

Quality issue: The number of engineering students has been increasing rapidly but finding enough quality teachers to teach them is becoming a growing challenge.

The recent spurt in engineering education in the country has been widely welcomed. But the scenario does not look all that bright. Shortage of competent teaching staff, both in terms of quality and quantity, has begun to vex our engineering education.

A high-power committee for faculty development in technical institutions, appointed by the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), has come out with startling revelations about the faculty in the country’s 1,500-odd engineering institutions. The panel, headed by P. Rama Rao, ISRO Dr. Brahm Prakash Distinguished Professor at International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials, Hyderabad, says that technical competence of the faculty throughout the country has been abysmal.

Prof. Rao says shortage of competent teachers is “the gravest problem bedevilling our country’s system of technical education.” This problem looks grimmer especially with the intake of engineering students posed to grow threefold in five years. By 2012, our annual engineering intake is projected to grow to 1.5 million from the present 500,000.

Present shortage

The present shortage of 40,000 teaching staff is feared to increase manifold with the teacher-student ratio remaining at 1:15 and Professor: Reader: Lecturer ratio at 1:2:6. The report noted that there was a shortage of 4,531 Professors, 9,063 Readers and 27,187 Lecturers. The shortage of Ph.Ds exceeds 30,000 while the Master’s shortfall is over 24,000. The problem will aggravate if some drastic measures are not adopted.

The committee finds a direct link between the shortage of faculty and the alarming failure rate in many engineering institutions. For example, in about 150 of the 229 engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu, the failure rate has been as large as 65 per cent. “Pass rate in Kerala, too, is not that good,” says R. Ramachandran Nair, former Academic Dean of NIT-Calicut and Dean of Engineering at Calicut University, in response to the committee findings. Dr. Nair says failure rate of students in Kerala engineering colleges too has increased in recent years. “With the increase in intake, our failure rate too has gone up,” he says.

The pass percentage of first year students in many engineering colleges under Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi and Calicut Universities has been around 30 per cent this year. However, the overall failure rate in Kerala is below 45 per cent.

According to P.O.J. Lebba, Dean of Engineering Faculty at Cochin University of Science and Technology, our universities are partly responsible for increasing the failure rate.

“By allowing students to continue their studies even without clearing their previous year’s examinations, the universities do more harm than good to the results,” Prof. Lebba says. However, he says the failure rate in Kerala is not as alarming as in Tamil Nadu.

Serious lacuna

Although the committee examined the quality of technical education vis-À-vis the competence of our teaching staff, it identified lack of doctoral or postgraduate qualification as a serious lacuna. Lack of a research culture in most institutions, asymmetry in the number of students in different branches of engineering & technology, and regional disparity in the spread of engineering institutions have also been cited as lacunae.

Prof. Rao and his team, in their report submitted to the AICTE, have made many a recommendation for faculty development. If implemented in letter and spirit, they look certain to bring about a sea-change in our technical education.

The recommendations of the committee include increasing of the national doctoral fellowship; ensuring PG scholarship scheme for GATE qualified M.Tech. students; widening the quality improvement programme (QIP); encouraging visiting and emeritus professorships; and career award for young teachers.

Novel initiatives

The committee also suggests several novel institutional initiatives, including identification of 100 mentor institutions for faculty development and establishment of an international centre on the model of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy with the objective of eliciting the services of distinguished faculty from within the country and abroad for conducting short duration courses on selected topics and for undertaking research projects. It also suggests setting up of a Virtual Technical University.

The novel schemes recommended by Prof. Rao and team include curriculum based faculty training; technology enhanced distance education programme (TEDEP); sequential summer programme; increase in visiting and adjunct faculty from industry, national laboratories and other advanced academic institutions.

Another key recommendation by the committee is enhancement of the age of retirement to 65 years, and re-employment of retired faculty till 70 years of age, and offering attractive pay packages and incentives to outstanding performers. It also suggests setting up of a separate board exclusively aimed at improving technical faculty in the country.

Additional incentives

Prof. Rao recommends that those who opt to pursue a teaching career should be given additional courses in pedagogy besides the core disciplines. He also recommends special incentives to them. He recommends ten times increase in the number of Ph.D. fellowships offered by the AICTE. Currently, only 50 scholars get Ph.D. fellowships.

Prof. Rao suggests doubling of the number of beneficiaries of the Quality Improvement Programme (QIP), which facilitates upgradation of the qualification of in-service teachers so as to acquire Masters’ and doctoral degrees. He says there is scope for including several institutions in the QIP, apart from the IITs.

Prof. Lebba says the incentives offered currently by the engineering colleges are not enough to prompt their teachers to opt higher studies. “We encourage them to do higher studies by offering 50 per cent salary,” he says. Yet, majority of teachers in our engineering institutions lack a Master’s. “No point in blaming them. Only few will go for teaching as well as doctoral studies when they have more attractive alternatives,” says Prof. Lebba.

The committee recommends that the remuneration offered to the serving teachers who benefit from the QIP should be the same as national doctoral fellowships (NDF) when they pursue Ph.Ds. When they go for Master’s, it should be the same as available to GATE qualified candidates.

Retired teachers

“Retiring and retired teachers are the most valuable resource that we have in our technical educations system,” says Prof. Rao, recommending that their expertise be used to train and develop the faculty. Each AICTE Emeritus Fellow should at least train two batches of teachers in their area of specialisation.

The committee recommends that AICTE’s induction training programme (ITP) for new teachers offered through the four National Institutes of Technical Teachers Training and Research (NITTTRs) be supported by video and web-based learning resources. It says the AICTE schemes such as seminar grant, staff development programme, travel grant, career award for young teachers and financial assistance to professional societies and bodies should be strengthened.

Attrition rate

The attrition rate of teachers, particularly in disciplines such as computer science; electronics, electrical engineering and information technology, has been over 30 per cent. The shortage of teachers is felt acute in these areas.

The committee recommends making good use of the video and web-based learning material prepared by IIT and IISc professors under the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL). Prof. Rao has recommended appointing similar committees for disciplines such as MBA, MCA, hotel management and catering technology, architecture, pharmacy and applied areas that come under the purview of the AICTE.

The other members of the committee were M. Anandakrishnan, former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University; S.G. Dhande, Director of IIT Kanpur; M.S. Ananth, Director of IIT Madras; Ashoke Dutta, Director of Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Kolkata; and S.P. Parashar, Director of IIM Indore.

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