Transforming Engineering Education and Research in India: looking forward to REES 2024!

Rohit Kandakatla and Sohum Sohoni

India is home to more than 2500 engineering colleges producing approximately 1.5 million engineering graduates annually. However, only 5% of the engineers graduate from nationally reputed government led institutions such as the Indian Institute’s of Technology (IITs) and National Institute’s of Technology (NITs), which have been established in different geographic locations of the country. The rest of the engineers graduate from privately funded colleges, which have mostly been established in the last two decades, as a result of the change in government policies to privatize higher education in India.

As reported by the “National Employability Report for Engineers 2019”, 80% of these engineering graduates are not suitable for employment after graduation, as they lack the required skills and mindset to work in the industry. Most of these institutions belong to private category and the statistics from the National Employability Report reflects the quality of engineering education they offer. The poor quality of engineering education can be attributed to multiple factors such as bad infrastructure, antiquated curriculum, lack of good faculty, students’ motivation to pursue engineering, etc.

The liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991 led a large number of international companies to enter the Indian markets. This coupled with the internet and software revolution a few years later led to a large number of IT services companies established in the country. The government’s foresight to prepare India’s youth for these emerging opportunities led to change in policies to allow the privatisation of higher education. India witnessed an exponential growth in number of engineering colleges since early 2000’s, with most of them being affiliated to a local government funded university, which prescribes the academic regulations, curriculum structure, course syllabus, and assessment process.

The Indian government in the last decade have reoriented their focus from quantity to quality to engineering education in the country in India. They have formed multiple regulatory and accreditation bodies that prescribe quality benchmarks that need to be adhered to by engineering colleges. The government has also launched national level ranking for engineering institutions to create a healthy competition among institutions and encourage them to aspire for high quality standards. Apart from the government, the transformation of engineering education in India was also led by professional organizations such as the The Indo-Universal Collaboration for Engineering Education(IUCEE).

IUCEE was founded in 2007 with the mission of improving the engineering education ecosystem in India. IUCEE predominantly works with tier-2 and tier-3 engineering colleges in India, providing various programs that aim to improve outcomes for students, faculty and the leadership at these institutions. IUCEE has also supported the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning through its annual conference, the Journal of Engineering Education Transformations, and courses on research writing, research methods, and a year-long course in engineering education research. Transforming an ecosystem and collective mindsets requires extensive efforts, and IUCEE has experimented with several initiatives in outcomes-based education, project-based learning etc. engaging several dozens of institutions in India.

In 2020, India announced the National Education Policy (NEP) which aimed to reform and transform its entire education system. NEP 2020 was designed with a principle to nurture India’s next generation into good human beings who are capable of rational thought and action, who are compassionate and empathetic, who are courageous and resilient, and possess scientific temper, creative imagination, and sound ethical values. It aims to produce engaged and productive citizens who would contribute to the development of an equitable, inclusive, and plural society as envisaged by our constitution.

Engineering education in India, now, needs to transform itself in alignment with the vision of NEP2020 and it needs to be led through systematic reflection, research, and practice. However, the aspirations of NEP are difficult to quantify and measure, and high quality research in engineering education especially qualitative methods in human-subjects research can serve as the necessary foundation for assessing progress on what NEP aims to achieve. The hosting of REES 2024i n India is therefore timely as it allows engineering educators in India to engage in thoughtful discussions with global engineering education researchers and develop a collective understanding on the potential directions engineering education research in India.

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