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MUSINGS ON THE POOR QUALITY OF HIGHER TECHNICAL EDUCATION
In the 1970s when we were studying for our 5 year B. Tech. degree in Engineering the situation was as follows:
1. For most students, the aim of studying engineering was to get a job immediately after (or during) the B. Tech. degree.
So most students studied hard for a good grading which enabled them to get a job either during campus placement or immediately on getting their degree.
2. Those who did not get a job joined the 2 year M. Tech. course for further studies.
Those days you got a monthly stipend of Rs. 250 (later enhanced to Rs. 400 and now must be much more) which was adequate for your needs as a student and sustained you while you prepared for various competitive exams and also kept on trying to get a job while simultaneously “studying” for your M. Tech.
In fact, many got jobs in the industry, many got admission abroad for higher studies and left and many qualified UPSC competitive exams for Civil services (IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS etc) and Engineering Services (Railways, CPWD, Various Government Technical Services) during this period and left their M. Tech. studies to take up their appointments in the civil services and engineering services in the government.
Those who remained behind tried to get a job after completing their M. Tech.
3. Those few who could not get jobs even after their M. Tech. registered for their Ph.D.
Of course, Ph. D. which too had a monthly stipend (or research fellowship or scholarship – call it by any name) and this would sustain them for the next few years while they leisurely completed their Ph.D. after which they got a job as a lecturer (now called Assistant Professor).
These guys remained cocooned in the comfort and security of the academic world where progress was slow but there was assured career progression whether you performed or not and in due course these cool guys found themselves as Professors with excellent salaries, assured job security, relaxed stress-free working ambiance, sabbaticals and trips abroad, comfortable campus life where all needs of the family are well looked after, and you enjoy the best of perks.
And while their counterparts in the industry retire between the ages 55 to 60, these fortunate Professors can continue in their jobs till 65, maybe 70, maybe even forever as Professor Emeritus.
Like they say: Slow and Steady wins the Race
(Of course there were the bright boys who went abroad after their B. Tech., mostly to America for their MS, maybe an MBA later, and pursued successful careers in over there. A few did their Ph.D. over there too and are teaching at prestigious universities or doing great research work out there in America, but very few returned to take up a teaching job in India. After B. Tech. a few guys did join IIMs but I think studying Management was not such a big craze in the 1970s as it is today)
Recently I read some critical observations about the poor quality of higher education, especially in Engineering and Technology. This is no surprise since only those who are at the bottom of their class and are practically unemployable in the industry become Teachers and Professors.
I am sure you have read the famous quote by H. L. Mencken (some attribute this maxim to George Bernard Shaw):
Those who can – do.
Those who can’t – teach.
The career pattern of engineers described above certainly substantiates this axiom.
Of course there a few, like me, who turned to teaching after many years of rich and varied professional experience. I have observed that such multifaceted persons make the best Teachers in Engineering and Technology and I strongly feel that industrial experience must be made mandatory before one becomes a Lecturer or Professor. But then, will the bookish “academic mafia” allow that - since it is their vested interest to keep practicing professionals out of academia.
A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.