The educational institutions in India are staring at a gloomy career outlook. With the job market getting disrupted by new-age technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, data science and analytics, blockchain, etc., many engineering colleges and institutions are succumbing to traditional courses.
India has about 3500 engineering colleges, 3400 polytechnics, and 200 schools of planning and architecture, and many times more industrial training institutes. In 2021, the country annually produced over one million engineering graduates.
The state of new-age technology courses
Currently, only 10 per cent of the total number of engineering colleges in India offer courses in new-age technologies. As per the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), since 2019-20, nearly 127 diploma institutes and 663 undergraduate colleges have opted for new-age technology courses. The officials believe that it is a positive step in the right direction.
It includes 222 institutes offering AI and machine learning courses, 186 institutes in AI and data science, and about 52 institutes providing computer science courses, along with 45 in design and 29 in data science courses.
In contrast, the latest report from AICTE showed that engineering seats at the undergraduate, postgraduate, and diploma levels have declined to 23.28 lakh — the lowest in the last ten years.
The decline in seats points at institute closure and decreased admission capacity. Despite the significant drop, engineering still accounts for 80 per cent of the total seats in the technological education space in the country.
Its high time institutions realigned their strategy to include new-age technology courses to cater to the demand in the market. Two years ago, AICTE had requested all affiliated engineering colleges to introduce new courses. Last year, it had also implemented a two-year blanket ban on new engineering institutions across the country and urged the colleges to apply for new-age technology courses.
However, due to a lack of support from the government, many engineering institutions have chosen not to apply for the new courses. Dhiren Patel, director at Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI), Matunga, said that they did not apply for any new courses because the state government has not approved faculty for the electronics and communication course that they had started in 2009. As a result, the college has been funding the course without any government support.
What’s the solution here?
Anirban Dasgupta, a researcher at IIT Gandhinagar, told Analytics India Magazine that there are two ways of measuring ‘AI in the curriculum’ — firstly, whether there is a degree programme in AI/related field, and secondly, whether there are adequate courses in them that are available to undergraduates in CSE, and in fact to all undergraduates.
“To me, the second is more important. We need to treat AI as a platform that every engineer should be familiar with. While there will certainly be a set of engineers developing the platform, there will be a much larger number who are using it. So, we need to integrate AI with domain expertise,” said Dasgupta.
“It is not the quantity, but the quality we should be concerned about,” said Sarabjot Singh Anand, director, Computer Science & Engineering, School of Engineering & Technology at BML Munjal University. He said the severe shortage of talent, whether in industry or academia in our country — when it comes to AI — makes it an impossible task for all engineering and management schools to offer good quality courses on the subject.
“Even if the courses were to be offered, what would the quality be?” questioned Singh, and said that for institutions to teach AI, they need a strong industry and experimental connect. For instance, at BMU, Singh claimed to have connections with organisations like Sabudh, Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Capgemini, Tatras and many others.
How long will this take?
While many colleges with resources are offering new-age technology courses, either as a separate undergraduate programme or integrating AI with other disciplines, the question is, how long before general availability of AI courses will be made available in all institutions?
“India does not yet have the infrastructure to produce enough trained instructors any time soon for AI courses to be offered by all institutions,” said Debashis Guha, director of Master of Artificial Intelligence in Business (MAIB), SP Jain School of Global Management.
“It will be several years before every institution in India has a faculty member specialising in and teaching AI. However, online efforts spearheaded by the IITs may make this capacity available in a remote online mode across the country by 2022 or 2023,” said Guha.
Some experts believe that this move could be short-lived, especially for courses like artificial intelligence, data science, and analytics, etc., due to the evolving technology in these fields.
SS Mantha, emeritus professor at VJTI and a former chairperson of AICTE, said that these sectors evolve, and new trends always emerge. These courses might offer many jobs to graduating students. Still, there is no guarantee the trend will stay for very long, said Mantha, citing the fall in applications for civil and mechanical engineering courses due to the lack of job opportunities in the country.
He still believes that an undergraduate degree in core engineering is important for the students. “The shelf value of new-age courses could be limited, whereas basic knowledge in core engineering sectors will take students a long way,” said Mantha.
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Amit Raja Naik is a senior writer at Analytics India Magazine, where he dives deep into the latest technology innovations. He is also a professional bass player.