(continued from Part II - Engineer Equals Philistine)
Now I have done a lot of research about engineering education at the under-graduate level in India and its products, and without going into too much detail let me just say that 1979 is the year that segregates the 2 eras.
Before that point in time, there were just about 100-odd colleges offering engineering degrees to students just out of school. Some of these were relics from the British era, a select few were set up and financed completely by some wealthy individuals and all others were either set up or granted financial aid by the government. Some were instituted from scratch; others were upgraded from their previous polytechnic status. But whatever be the specifics, the reason behind the establishment of each and every one of them was that the administrators at that point of time believed that the development of their territories was in the hands of engineers, and they had to make sure that these hands belonged to the smartest, most talented individuals of the land. About 20% of those 100+ institutions offered only specialized branches related to fields such as metallurgy, agriculture, textiles and chemicals, while the balance offered the standard 3 branches - civil, mechanical and electrical.
Things started changing abruptly from 1979 onwards. Karnataka was the first state to be hit by the storm, and before you knew it, private colleges mushroomed all over the country. On top of that, the late-80s saw another mini-revolution of sorts - one no longer required a bachelor's degree to study law. And just like that, professional course after school no longer meant just engineering or medical. So yeah, now there's more of everything - colleges, branches, seats and career alternatives. What was about 100 colleges and 10,000 seats (Fermi estimates, the latter more so) has now swelled to over 3000 colleges and nearly 9,00,000 seats. Needless to say, it isn't exclusive anymore.
Exclusivity is not the only benchmark, of course. It is possible for something to be not exclusive and yet be of a certain calibre, in this case intellectual. But that's a long shot and sadly doesn't hold true when we consider technical education in today's India. Almost anyone can get a seat, so it is really a question of choice - and, in many cases, money.
Thus, interacting with engineering students gives the impression that all they care about is maintaining their position in the lead pack of the rat marathon which is some sort of a brainwashing radio station that their minds have been tuned to since childhood - study through school, score high in exams, coach for entrances, take them, get into engineering college, toil, get a job, work for a year or two, coach for MBA entrance, take a bunch of those, get into B-school, toil some more, get a high paying corporate job, start ruthlessly working up the corporate ladder, etc.
And first impressions, as they say, are long and ever lasting.
(NEXT: Part IV - Bitter Pill)