Technical Education and a Middle Class Fallacy

4 06 2008

The following views of mine are in response to the preceding post.  


During the late 80’s and early 90’s, when India was yet to witness the mushrooming of private engineering colleges; engineering education was primarily handled by premier institutions like the IITs, the IISc, the IT BHU, Roorkee and the RECs. Engineering education, in India was considered to be a benchmark for quality by the universities and companies in the USA and other developed countries.


This was the time when the Indian IT companies like TCS and Infosys discovered the potential of body-shopping engineering graduates from India. These engineering graduates whichever stream they came from could morph themselves according to the requirements of their foreign clients.


The US dollar value changed from Rs. 8 to Rs. 11 over 16 years (1972 to 1988). However, over a three year period from 1988 to 1991 it again changed from Rs. 11 to Rs. 31. This sharp devaluation of Indian rupee worked as an incredible boon for the Indian software industry.


In 1988-89, when Rs. 3600 per month was considered to be a high salary in the IITs, the software industry began to lure  away graduates by using the strength of US dollars. The highest salary that was offered to a graduate from IIM Calcutta in 1988 was Rs 6500 per month (Rupees six thousand five hundred only! No, I have not missed out a zero!!).


The times of big money hadn’t yet arrived. Although, apparently,  all the stakeholders were happy. 



The companies in the US began to get engineering graduates with a very high potential, to work on their projects, at less than half the cost.


The engineering graduates from India increased their earning  potential substantially both in rupees and in dollars/pounds.


The Indian software companies converted rupee devaluation into huge profits.



As the demand for software professionals was on the rise, the relevance of engineering education was reduced to developing basic analytical abilities in students, as these were the only qualities required by the software industry. Core engineering streams viz., mechanical, electrical, metallurgy, chemical or civil ceased have much relevance.


And thus engineering in India, lost its  true identity. This  particular phase in India could be compared to a financially challenged but highly talented person being bought out by a rich man to do work that does not require  much talent.


As the demand for IT services increased, the market forces changed the game.As a result, the levers of engineering education moved from the hands of  educationists to the hands of the businessmen and politicians who viewed engineering education as the conduit for supplying manpower to the software and IT services companies. Their focus was solely on the placement of the students, rather than on imparting quality education.The pursuit of money supplanted all that is intrinsically motivating about learning.


However,  there is something more to  this drop in quality of education. A lot of it can be attributed to an age old belief among the  Indian middle class.


According to the middle class Indian mindset, there is a very strong correlation between education  and wealth, even though in the real world the empirical evidences supporting the correlation is not that strong. Look around and see for yourself  who are the people controlling much of India’s wealth!


 As long as this fallacy is passed on by one generation to the next, technical education in India will continue to be plagued by quality problems arising out of  misaligned motives.


– Venkat Subramaniam.




4 responses

4 06 2008
C sarkar

The article provides its readers the right perspective of the state of affairs of Indian software industry and its participants. I have been thinking of this for years now; I uploaded a document in Nassocm way back in 2004. If interetsed, you all can download the document from .

I do not know how to put all of my thoughts in my comment here which I had been expanding for years. My association with Indian software services organization had started a long ago in 1993. Yes, this Industry has given me a good home where I live comfotably; yes this Industry has given me an opportunity to interact with other cpontinents of this globe. My child is bestowed with a healthy mindset as a result of affluence, courtesy: Indian software industry. She can now dream of a future outside the software industry unlike her father. Should I thus keep quiet now and stop blaming this industry for what I am today? Maslow’s theory of hierarchical needs has explained all my mental agony in a layer known as ‘self-esteem’ which denounces a lot of things which I liked a few years ago. Now I am haunted with a single question, did I do justice to my creative brain? I get an answer, I have satisfied my physilogocal needs, safety needs, social needs as I mentoned earlier and bartered them with my self esteem.

Way back in 1992, before joining software world, I nutured a soul which always liked to decipher the mysteries of the universe. Software industry had seen to it that I forgot all thoses things and concentrate only on the needs of the organisation. I gradually became a money making machine. But my daughter has picked up from where I left 15 years ago. She no longer dreams of a home for which her father sacrificed his college dreams. I feel pained when I see all the new entrants of the software world are planning to make millions. They would chase money for years together. They will never stop, they would keep on enhacing their upper limits of aspirations. Greed will kill them. A college girl who would have thought of starting her own advertising company would talk of her visits to England, Australia, Europe. Her mother would proudly announce that in the social gathering. Her father would plan a good home for her in an upcoming localities. A family which thought of purchasing a flat in Behala would start getting aggressive marketing calls from DLF, South City promoters, courtsey: Indian software industry.

What would happen to this young girl after 15 years; would she be tired like me and plan a second innings in life devoid of aspirations, achievements. Would she like to come out of her cage and spread her wings to be a free bird to experience the beauty of the open sky? Would it be too late by then? Would her aspirations allow her to take up a life like that? All these would reamain as a list of unanswered questions in her life.

I do not know why would we allow our mind to play a trick like this. Our life is a single journey from the point of birth to the point of death. Why can’t persue something which our soul wants. Why can’t our parent teach us, do not chase money, do whatever you are passionate about and then see how money chases you? I have been watching these all my life. I want my freedom now. I do not think it is too late. After all, our past is dead now, there is a single reality in life, ‘now’. Touch your ‘now’ and see that the memories of the past give way to your journey into the future.

4 06 2008
C sarkar

The page did not accept the web address for the document. The document mentioned in the comment can be downloaded from nasscom dot org slash download slash axell.pdf

7 06 2008

Venkat: I agree that the Indian middle-class, strongly believes that Saraswati (Goddess of learning) and Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) are connected. But, this is a fallacy among middle-class all over the world.

You will agree that middle-class bears the cross of carrying the traditions, morals, values of the society. They have a large number of constraints, many of them self-imposed.

The middle-class parents also have aspirations for their children. They would like their next generation climb the social ladder and enjoy a better lifestyle. Education seems to be the most attractive solution which meet all their constraints.

I agree that the richest Indians are not the most qualified. But, do you have examples of highly qualified among the poorest. Higher education gives some level of financial security. Middle-class Indians’ aversion to risk is also manifested in this choice.

7 06 2008

I always wonder why academically smart people likes us ( from all IIx’s and NIx’s )takes 10-15-20 years to understand that we got trapped or this is a sophisticated way to console ourselves with a good reason by camouflaging the actual one ?

The real problem could be in our traditional education system which preys on the emotion of fear ….. the fear of making mistakes, which eventually leads to the fear of failing. In school , we are punished for making mistakes. Most of the time emotion of fear is the motivation such as “if you don’t get good grades you will not get a high paying job…etc” . We learned how to fear making mistakes. People afraid of making mistakes don’t learn much as they don’t do much. Learning is a physical process as mush as it is a mental one. Reading & writing is a physical process , just as learning how to play cricket.

When we get conditioned to know all the right answers always and not to make mistake , the chances are our education is getting hampered. Conventional education encourages us to learn the fact and simultaneously teaches us to avoid mistakes which hold us back physically. Nobody will ever learn to ride to bicycle if they are punished for falling off and given a failing grade.

Conventional education, most of the time, creates a locked-in thinking which restrains us to try something new , to make mistake and learn from that. May be because of that fear ( or fear of being stamped as failure ), though we understand within a short time that something is wrong somewhere still we never dare to venture out of the comfort zone and wait for the perfect time which never comes.

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