Technical Education: Prospects in Northeast
By Prof. SP Bhattacharyya
With the completion of this year’s Higher Secondary examitions, young boys and girls of our state aspiring for higher studies are now at the door-step of joining one or the other professiol course or ‘line’, be it engineering, medical or any other branch of technology. For those interested in a career in engineering, some awareness of the prospect of degree level technical education in the Northeast is desirable before taking a decision regarding admission to any technical institute either here or outside the NE.
The first degree level engineering college Assam Engineering College (AEC) in NE came up in 1955 at Guwahati which was followed by Jorhat Engineering College (JEC) at Jorhat in1960 and Regiol Engineering College (now NIT) at Silchar in 1967. However, at present we have a good number of engineering colleges (govt. & private combined) as well as some universities spread over the NE states, which has made it possible for young aspirants even in remote corners of the region to fulfil their dream of becoming engineers/technologists while remaining near home instead of having to go to far off places like Bengaluru, Cheni, Pune etc., which in many cases are beyond the fincial means of their guardians.
A common entrance examition (CEE) is held around the month of May every year for admission into the government engineering colleges of Assam. Over the years it has been seen that those who are placed in higher position in the merit list usually take admission in the state government colleges where the fees are much lower than those in private institutions. (Of course for reasons to be mentioned later, quite a few from amongst this category go to institutions outside NE also.) From the remaining category a good number of students take admission in the private institutions of the state while some also go to places outside the NE, more often influenced by peer pressure and glamour of big cities than for any consideration of better education facilities available there. For them, as the old saying goes, - ‘the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence’. Usually they come from economically well-to-do families. This migration of students from NE to more industrially developed northern and southern parts of the country will continue (and a vested interest group will try to perpetuate it) as long as this region remains backward in respect of trade, industry and commerce.
But here is a word of caution. In these days of aggressive salesmanship and all-pervasive marketing strategies, it is quite possible that a prospective customer (admission seeker) may be misled into making a wrong selection of institute, particularly if these are located in far off places outside the region. It is always advisable that students and their guardians should ascertain the following points before setting out in search of the so-called greener pastures elsewhere:-
i. Whether the institute is AICTE recognized and affiliated to a good University.
ii. What is the available infrastructure in respect of buildings, classrooms, teaching faculty, laboratories, libraries, hostels (boys & girls) etc.
iii. What is the teacher-student ratio which should be 1:10 or even better.
iv. Whether there is a Training and Placement department to ensure proper placement of students.
v. Campus security is also an important criterion.
vi. Whether there are provisions of scholarships and free-studentships for meritorious and poor students.
vii. Last but not the least, the expenses to be incurred in completing the course.
About 50-60 years ago, engineering courses generally meant a degree or diploma in Civil/Electrical/Mechanical Engineering. Then came Chemical/ Electronics/ Telecom Engineering and a few other branches of engineering. However, now there is a wide range of technical streams including Computer Science and Information Technology to choose from. Quite a few of these newer streams are also offered in some of the institutions of the Northeast where one can obtain an engineering degree (including post-graduate degree in some of the institutions) at almost half the expenses needed for studying outside. Therefore, the parents and guardians should welcome such opportunities and get relief from tension and anxiety associated with sending their young children to far off places. Moreover, getting higher education in one’s own social environment is not only rewarding for self but also immensely beneficial for the development of the society and the family one belongs to.
The above discussion will remain incomplete unless the most pertinent question in the mind of students and their guardians is answered; mely, are these institutions in the NE capable of producing employable engineers? Everybody will agree that mere parading of a degree or diploma without possessing the basic knowledge and skill in engineering is meaningless and will hardly do anything more than just increase the number of jobless degree/diploma holders in today’s competitive job-market. Also, there is no gainsaying the fact that the facilities available here are not always at par with some of the well known technical institutes outside NE. But in the same breath it must be said that there are institutions here which are even better than many outside institutions where students of this region make a bee-line for admission every year.
No doubt, the prospect of employment/underemployment is much more outside the Northeast which is, by far, the main reason for this student exodus from NE. This can be halted only if due importance is given to economic and industrial growth of the region by the powers that be. The problem has been further aggravated by the fact that the country is presently passing through a phase of jobless growth of the economy. Perhaps, it is urgently necessary to reassess the present and future needs of an emerging industrial society like ours and balance the demand and supply of technical manpower of different categories, viz. degree holders/ diploma holders/ skilled technicians etc. in right proportions from an all-India point of view to which the needs of the Northeast should be suitably tailored.
Lastly, any academic pursuit should be directed towards achieving a successful career. The success of a professiol institute depends upon good training and placement of the students. It is encouraging to note that quite a few well known firms have been showing interest in recruiting engineers through campus interviews and quite a few fil year students from these institutes get jobs through these interviews. With more and more emphasis being given to Look East/ Act East policies by the government, one can reasobly hope that there will be a marked improvement in the job opportunities of the locally bred engineers when they pass out in 4-5 years time from now and the brain-drain and cash-drain from the NE will come down to a trickle in course of time.
(Professor SP Bhattacharyya is Retd. Principal, AEC, Guwahati)