The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Brains opt for basic sciences
- Engineering courses shunned in trend reversal

Rupak Sen (name changed) has scored over 94 per cent in the ISC examination and his rank is around 1,800 on the JEE (engineering) merit list. But a four-year engineering programme is not on his agenda. He wants to pursue mathematics honours in Presidency College.

“I am keen on research and graduating in mathematics will help me pursue my dream,” he said.

The 18-year-old is one among the many bright students who are putting basic sciences ahead of engineering courses. The shift in preference is a major trend reversal, as engineering colleges have always attracted the best brains.

“There is an overwhelming demand for seats in our science stream this time. We’ve received several applications from students who have cracked the JEE,” said the principal of Presidency College, Mamata Ray.

According to her, a host of JEE rank-holders are competing for berths in honours courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biological sciences, statistics and economics.

But till a few years ago, Presidency and some other reputed colleges faced a crisis, with high-performers leaving graduation mid-way after managing a JEE berth in their second or third attempt. “This is a welcome trend, as it will boost research and development in basic sciences,” added Ray.

Academicians have always rued that engineering gets the best brains because of ready job opportunities after passing out. It is also true that in a tight job market, most of the bright boys and girls signed in for engineering courses.

But now jobs have started raining on undergraduate college campuses.

According to the principal of Asutosh College, Debabrata Chaudhury, the number of appointments from the campus this year is 136 and the count is rising. “We have been able to convince companies like IBM, CTS, TCS and Wipro that colleges are a better place to scout for talent. It seems our argument that a physics or computer science (honours) student can be valuable to the company has takers,” said Chaudhuri.

“For three-four years, we have been steadily recruiting from pure science streams. We regularly go to the colleges to recruit fresh graduates,” confirmed Siddharth Mukherjee, the vice-president and head of Calcutta operations, Cognizant Technology Solutions.

Not just IT firms, banks, chemical, pharmaceutical, oil and automobile companies are visiting colleges to recruit physics, chemistry, microbiology or economics graduates.

Though the trend is restricted to a few top-notch city colleges, where availability of soft skills is high, university officials are happy with the return of some of the best brains to basic sciences or subjects like economics and statistics.

“Some firms are recruiting fresh science graduates and training them up. It is very encouraging,” said Dhrubojyoti Chattopadhyay, Calcutta University’s dean of science.

The former chairman of West Bengal College Service Commission and a senior professor of chemical technology in Calcutta University, Ajit Kumar Banik, was happy that the trend reversal would also mean better students joining the teaching profession.

“The salary of a college lecturer will be about Rs 30,000 per month after the next pay revision. So, it will not be a bad deal for people pursuing higher studies in the general stream,” he summed up.

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