Illustration for The Hindu: Kannan Sundar
The ongoing counselling for engineering courses in Tamil Nadu is throwing up interesting trends. Not only are students showing a marked preference for computer science and related programmes, but they are also opting for colleges based on their performance.
The State introduced online counselling for engineering in 2018 amid apprehensions about students’ abilities to make the right choice of college and discipline. Four years since, the trends in the choice of disciplines have changed drastically.
An analysis of the first-round single-window counselling of the Tamil Nadu Engineering Admissions shows that students have mastered the process and understood the market forces as well. Since 2019, more aspirants have shown preference for computer science and related courses. In the first round of counselling that year, 35% had chosen computer science; it rose to 39% in 2020 and 48.5% in 2021.
This year, it jumped to 57%. Also, as much as 67.5% of the top 1,000 students have chosen computer science and allied courses.
The trend is accompanied by introduction of new courses such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Internet of Things, Cyber Security and Data Science. After a volley of complaints in 2021, the All India Council for Technical Education relaxed its rules and more colleges began offering these niche courses. But is the trend here to stay? Yes, say educators.
If in 2019 there were just nine computer science-related programmes, the number has increased to 18 in 2022, with many new programmes in the emerging fields. Nearly 10% of the roughly 9,200 students from the academic stream who participated in the first round have opted for the new courses, compared with 7% and 5% respectively for disciplines such as Electrical and Electronics Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.
Preference for Electronics and Communication Engineering, once considered an ‘evergreen’ branch, fell from 21.3% in 2019 to 17% this year. Similar is the trend for such traditional courses as Mechanical, Civil and Electrical Engineering.
Engineering educators say the trend will continue to hold sway for years. P. Sriram, chairman of the Chennai Institute of Technology, says there is more awareness of the quality of digital jobs emerging. Over 70%-80% of the jobs are in the information technology space. From coding now, students are required to be able to handle analytics. Every institution is equipping to fill the gap in knowledge, he says.
With industries proactively coming forward to help develop curriculum and the skills of faculty in emerging technologies, students in core engineering disciplines are also benefiting, he adds.
“Companies are looking for diversified yet niche skills. Whether it is financial, pharmaceutical, or even the core engineering sector, there will be IT intervention,” opined an official of Anna University, adding that diversification was attractive, not to mention better jobs with a higher compensation.
“Until five years ago, the pattern in automobile companies was more of mechanical and automobile engineering. Now, when four students of Mechanical Engineering are hired, two each from computer science and electronics are hired simultaneously. There is a lot of automation, and embedded systems play a role, not to mention navigation, infotainment, sensor and even robotics. Earlier computer science students got jobs only in the financial and banking sectors, but now they have more opportunities,” he explains.
In another change, information technology companies have improved their portfolios and compensation package. Some years ago, companies had just one compensation package. Now, they come out with three pay-bands, and students have a choice.
Some industries have borne the brunt of the change, however. M. Ponnuswami, chairman of Pon Pure Chemicals Group, says that for a few years, he has had to scout further afield to find suitable candidates for his company. “I don’t get chemical engineers since colleges have been closing the department. For the last two-three years, I have been forced to recruit candidates from other States,” he says.
Only data from Round 1, which includes the top ranked students, have been taken for analysis as it is a better indicator of preferences. Source: TNEA
Though smaller colleges have started shutting down less ‘lucrative’ departments, established institutions continue to find takers for all disciplines, senior faculty members point out. Such colleges have increased more batches in computer science and information technology-related courses, but have retained the core programmes.
It is to keep pace with the changes that VIT Vellore has diversified by introducing new courses, says Samuel Rajkumar, Director, Career Development Centre, VIT. “Only those with programming knowledge are preferred. That is why deemed universities like us have trained even non-computer science students in programming languages. We make them do their applications using the programming language platform. It is the trend across the country. Only if they are not getting the core computer science, they take allied courses [during admission],” he says.
Sadagopan Rajkumar, head of Biomedical Engineering Department, Rajalakshmi Engineering College, says, “Aligning to a particular domain is not a healthy trend. Considering the industry requirement, universities and autonomous institutions should reframe the core engineering computer science by including the latest trends and technology in the respective domain.”
An educator who has helped to develop curriculum at several colleges and universities says the trend towards computing and software is in every branch of engineering. “Given that computing has become all pervasive, every discipline of study is adding more and more computing programmes. What is important is the adjacencies,” he says, citing the example of how 3D printing had changed the construction industry.
“If you look at electrical or thermal engineering and power systems, and some of the newer areas in terms of environmental engineering…, sustainability, the road map to net zero, show that people are doing a lot more programmes on newer energy models,” he points out. As for chemical engineering, he adds, “Today, the sustainability chiefs of several large corporations are invariably people with a chemical engineering background. Be it lithium-ion batteries or next generation batteries that come into the market…”
“I would probably see some of these to be a natural evolution purely based on structural shifts in the marketplace. But what is important is to ensure that these are adjacencies rather than… something very disjointed. That is the broad philosophy.
“What is important is the relevant adjacencies are relevant so that the students get the foundational knowledge and also choose some of these newer programmes as electives because that is one of the reasons, we used to advise doing a Bachelors’ in CSE specialising in Internet of Things, specialising in Artificial Intelligence and Data Science. If these are natural extensions or disciplines that are adjacent to the core programmes, then I think it is a very welcome change. That is where the market is,” he explains.
(With inputs from Pon Vasanth B.A)
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Engineering the right choice for life – The Hindu
Illustration for The Hindu: Kannan Sundar