Has the Software Industry Killed Indian Technical Education?

3 06 2008

The Indian software industry attributes its success to the high quality technical education system in the country. The pioneers of the software industry identified the wage arbitrage opportunities for engineers and computer scientists between the US and India. Staff augementation, on-site services, or plain body shopping, call it by whatever name, the foundation of the Indian software industry was built on hiring highly competent engineers from the IITs, the RECs ( now NITs) and sending them on assignments at client sites in the US and other developed countries. The client was billed in dollars and the employees were paid dollar allowances as well as a rupee salary in India. The difference was huge and 50% net profit margin was normal. The value addition provided by the software company was finding a dollar paying client in the US for a skill available in India.

 

The skill itself was not created by the software industry. The skill was a product of the higher education system. This higher education was largely government run and highly subsidised. If the software industry had to create their own skills, the margins would have been much lower.Hence, it will not be inappropriate to say that the initial wealth of the Indian software industry was created largely out of government subsidies.

 

Now, in 2008,  the software industry has matured a great deal. The IT/ITES industry employs over 1.5 million people. The IT services companies are among the biggest employers in India. TCS and Infosys have crossed 100,000 employees each. They are the biggest recruiters in the engineering campuses. The Big six software companies, SWITCH (Satyam, Wipro, Infosys, TCS, Cognizant, HCL) alone have recruited over 100,000 people in 2007-08, mostly freshers from the engineering colleges across India.

 

Such large number of engineering graduates are not available in the top-tier engineering colleges. So, these companies have progressively increased the number of colleges and the recruitments from each college. After exhausting the Tier-II government colleges, the industry now recruits engineers from Tier-III and Tier-IV private colleges.

 

The private colleges that have sprung up across the country in last 5 years were a market response to the growing requirements of the industry, software industry in particular. The industry body NASSCOM has been shouting from every available forum about the impending shortage of engineers. Sensing this need, entrepreneurs,politicians big and small and charitable trusts, set up engineering colleges. Affiliation to the state’s technological university and recognition from AICTE were obtained through a mix of influence ,money and lots of untruths about faculty and facilities.They were able to get the students because of the craze for engineering education in India and also showing the promise of a job, a software job. 

 

The Indian software industry in its eagerness to meet their own growth targets continued recruiting in ever larger numbers, thus playing ball with the promoters of these colleges. The campus recruitments were held almost one year before the passing out of the students.

 

Now, when the software industry is growing through its own problems, it is  also making noises about the poor quality of engineers from these colleges. NASSCOM has made a statement that only a small fraction of the 230,000 engineers graduating every year are employable.

 

If the software industry problems continue longer, we are going to see quite a few ramifications of the quality problems. Firstly, the thousands of engineers who are studying in their 2nd and 3rd years in these colleges will find it difficult to get jobs. Secondly, a number of engineers who are already working in these companies may lose their jobs, citing poor performance as the reason.

 

The question we face is : Is the software industry, a saviour or a destroyer of engineering education in the country ?

 

By providing employment to so many young professionals, the software industry is doing a great service. The software industry solved the placement problems for the engineering colleges. It has increased the average salary levels for fresh engineers. It has given global opportunities to thousands of Indian engineers.

 

Whereas, by creating an illusion of ever increasing need for engineers, the software industry has created a supply of engineers far higher than what the country needs. By diluting the standards for recruitment year after year, the software industry has allowed degeneration of the engineering education. In their own desire to recruit large numbers, these companies recruited the engineers well before they were ready. By promising them a high-paying job , one year before their engineering completion, they spoilt the students.Most students simply stopped studying.

  

What is the software industry doing and what it can do to rectify these anomalies will be a subject of another post.

 

Meanwhile, please let us have your views on the effects the software industry has had on the Indian technical education.

– G. Mohan. 

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5 responses

4 06 2008
Tamal

The fundamental question is if at all there is a need for engineering graduates in the Indian IT sector or the IT companies are recruiting them because of easy availability and also to abide by the visa guidelines of US govt. ?

The type of jobs that most of the Indian IT companies are executing are of high volume –low tech category where manpower is directly proportionate with the revenue which can be done by a person of 12th standard with some professional training.

At present most of these IT firms are issuing offers to the 3rd year students who have not yet got an introduction to their major subjects to be taught in the final year . Hence the offers are being made on the basis of their soft skills like communication , aptitude etc. and not on technical knowledge simply because that is not required for the job.

We can also observe a change in the recruitment process with the increase in off-shoring business . Now the IT companies are staffing with BSc, Bcom grads as they are not required to be sent onsite and can work from India .

An engineering grad joining Indian IT industry will found himself in a very miserable situation ( though to the outer world it is camouflaged with big cars , lavish flats etc ) as he will neither be an engineer after 10years nor will be a software wizard . He will only become some project manager who is a master of internal process of delivery and out of insecurity will devote his time to strengthen internal networks for survival .

Indian IT industry has definitely helped millions of people directly and indirectly by offering employment & lifestyle and there cannot be any debate on that . However as there is always an other side of the coin , the Indian IT industry has cannibalised the soul of the technical education that could have made brilliant engineers but the entire purpose of the education is lost into the ocean of codes.

4 06 2008
Animesh Basak

I don’t think it is fair to blame the software industry for the sorry plight of technical education in India.

The software industry has merely created a huge demand of certain kind of skills. It is not them but the technical institutes who should be held answerable for the quality or quantity issues of their supply to the job market.

The real bottleneck in the education pipeline line lies at the primary level. Unless we teach how to learn effectively, how to think creatively, how to work collaboratively and how to analyze objectively to a much greater number of kids at schools, our problems with both quality and quantity of why alone software professionals but all kinds of professionals will remain.

A problem of such a magnitude can’t be rectified in the midstream. Policy measures both in the upstream ( read quality of teaching in the schools) and downstream ( read recruitment and training practices of empoyers) need to be reviewed.

In my view, getting a large number of bright minds to embrace an academic career will be the key challenge.

I would very much like to know about the collateral damage of the software companies’ gobbling up of engineering graduates from disciplines other than IT. According to me it has created a long term damge to Indian’s competitive advantage as a nation.

So much so Reliance has to hire civil engineers from China to complete its projects. Our power plants are poorly maintained because of the shortage of quality mechanical and electrical engineers.

We can’t solve our unemployment problem without having a robust manfacturing sector. Where are the mechanical engineers to run them?

Do we have enough design and field engineers to man the expanding oil and gas sector?

4 06 2008
Nirmalya

Good post.
However a few questions remain unanswered.
1. What happens now? Stuck with specialized skills for which there are no takers now, where do these BTechs go from here? Perhaps they should start thinking of providing some ‘service’ to our IT service industry.
2. What was the AICTE doing all these years? Engg colleges fudged figures, lied about qualifications of faculty, about equipment etc and got away.
3. The role played by a handful of University Professors, who neglected their own students, did not take classes in their own universities only to cater to the needs of these private engg colleges also needs to be looked into. Some would go around taking 6-8 classes per day in 3- 4 different private colleges!!! This intellectual prostitution has obviously led to a slide in quality.
4. Lastly, the role of the IT HR people also needs scrutiny. One needs to analyze why Campus recruitment has suddenly become so lucrative for some of these HR people.

4 06 2008
G.Mohan

Tamal : I agree with you that the link between software industry and technical education was largely circumstantial. The recruitment policy of the software companies in the 80’s and 90’s was mostly guided by the visa policy of US. H1-B was given to engineers easily so IT companies recruited engineers. The job itself did not demand any technical education, which is evident by their shift in policy towards Science and Commerce graduates lately. Unfortunately, a large number of engineers got carried away , preferring economic well-being and lifestyle over achieving professional excellence in their sphere ( was it possible in India?) .

It is to the credit of the IT industry that their attractiveness as employers reigns supreme even today.

Animesh : In the degeneration of technical education, the policy makers and the academicians involved in technical education are also equally responsible. In the past when admissions to Top-tier engineering colleges were difficult, the quality of the output was largely regulated at the entry stage itself. Passing Engineering was a breeze , an assembly line, I must say.

Later, when the engineering colleges mushroomed, admission to engineering colleges became quite easy. The engineering course and exams remained like it was. In other words, if entry is also easy and exit is also easy, how do you control quality. The academicians administering engg when they saw, admissions were getting easier, they should have made passing engineering much tougher ( a CA or ICWA kind of model, where entry is easy but output is controlled).

On your point about neglect of mechanical and civil engg streams, i recall a speech made by L & T chairman Mr A.M.Naik ” Who will build India ?” on the skills shortage in those streams, lamenting about the loss of engineers to IT and Management.

2 02 2013
Facebook

Great article! We will be linking to this great post on our site.
Keep up the good writing.

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