Waning interest

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By West Bengal's engineering colleges are struggling to fill their seats. Prithvijit Mitra finds out why
  • Published 31.08.05

This is the time when the dust settles on admissions across engineering colleges in West Bengal and classes get under way. But this session, things have been a little different. Perhaps for the first time, the supremacy of engineering as the most favoured discipline is being questioned. And surprise, surprise, even the two most famous engineering colleges in the state ? Jadavpur University and B.E. College ? were left with more than 100 vacant seats between them after the first round of seat allotments.

It’s a far cry from the time when students were ready to take up any discipline just to join these hallowed institutions. Now, if they do not get into top-of-the-line engineering courses like electronics or computers in these institutes, they would rather go to better-known private engineering colleges if they can get into their favoured disciplines there. Moreover, many students are not joining engineering even after getting through simply because they have other options open to them.

The result: lots of vacant seats in engineering colleges across the state. To solve the problem, an unprecedented recounselling session was held in all these engineering colleges. The recounselling, that concluded last week, was open to those who had qualified in the state joint entrance exam. It was a second chance to seek admission to your preferred college or engineering stream through the seats vacated by those who chose to opt out after the first counselling. It was also aimed at attracting those who might have decided against taking up engineering, but had a rethink later.

However, even though Jadavpur and B.E. College have now managed to fill their vacancies post the recounselling, several private engineering institutes are still left with 10-15 per cent empty seats. In all, more than 500 seats across 52 engineering colleges in the state are yet to be filled.

“It’s not that engineering has suddenly lost its popularity,” says Prof. Ajit Chattopadhyay, coordinator, central selection committee (engineering and technology), West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination Board. “But yes, students have a lot more choice these days and they are exploring the other options rather than settling for just any stream in a good college.”

But most academics agree that the leading engineering colleges in West Bengal are losing their lustre. The reason is simple: an engineering degree from Jadavpur or B.E. College no longer guarantees you a job. A computer, electrical or electronics degree from one of the better private engineering colleges does. “These streams are often difficult to get into at the best places. But students no longer seem to care about going to the so-called ‘best places’,” says Samir Bandopadhyay, registrar of the West Bengal University of Technology (WBUT).

Take, for instance a leading private college like the Institute of Engineering and Management (IEM), Calcutta, that has a 100 per cent placement record as opposed to B.E. College that has always struggled to provide jobs on campus. Even in Jadavpur, campus placements didn’t cross 85 per cent this year. And students are taking note. Prior to recounselling, Jadavpur had 66 vacant seats and B.E. College had 47.

Experts point out that students are disillusioned with engineering due to the poor job scenario. Says D. Bose, director of Quest Consultants, a well-known head-hunting agency, “Engineering is no longer what it used to be in terms of jobs. Civil engineers, for instance, have virtually become untouchables. But these things go in cycles and even though engineering has now hit a trough, the tide may turn in the future.”

No discipline

The other reason for the leading colleges failing to attract students is their culture of indiscipline. “Engineering students are very focused and they know what they want. At JU, for instance, classes are irregular and students are obviously not impressed with that. They get the better students but we produce better engineers on the strength of our discipline,” says Dr Satyajit Chakrabarty, director of IEM. He adds that several Jadavpur students switch over to IEM every year.

JU authorities deny that this has anything to do with their falling standards. They point out that even this time, their seats were filled up by students who ranked within 2,000 in the state joint entrance exam.

Students who attended the repeat counselling say that it was hurriedly conducted. “The majority of the students didn’t know about it,” says Debashish Sen, a student. Even the authorities admit that it was done in haste and at the behest of the “higher education ministry that wanted the seats to be filled up”. But that did not happen. “Attendance was poor, which indicates that students were not interested in what we had on offer,” says Bandopadhyay. Seats for the civil, mechanical and architecture streams had very few takers even the second time round.

The WBUT is now planning to review the system of counselling. “But some changes here and there may not help for we now have more engineering seats than the number of jobs and aspirants. Only the best will survive and even the so-called good colleges will have to pull up their socks,” says Dr Chakrabarty.