In this interview to The Indian Express, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar blames “bad planning” for “oversupply of seats” and explains why a moratorium on fresh approvals is “not a correct approach”.
Why do you think a large number of engineering seats are falling vacant every year?
In the 1990s and 2000s, AICTE gave permission indiscriminately to everybody who was applying, without a perspective plan being prepared by the state governments. There was unplanned growth. It’s a case of oversupply.
India is poised to reap a huge demographic dividend. In this context, what does the large number of vacant seats mean for the country? Should we be worried?
See, for any stream (of education), if you create an oversupply, there will be vacant seats. The real challenge is that students who are admitted (into colleges) must get quality education. Many institutes are failing (on this front). Students these days are empowered because of technology. They see placement records and decide to not take admission in bad colleges. In the last four years, we have allowed closure of more than 100 engineering colleges because there are few admissions. So, students are closing bad quality (colleges) and that’s a good sign.
Where, according to you, has the government or AICTE gone wrong?
You won’t find an oversupply of seats in medical and in architecture. The oversupply was created because of lack of planning and indiscriminate approvals. People felt it (engineering) was a prospering business and they invested without commitment. So now there are halls, but no students. AICTE went wrong in not taking the states into confidence in the past, during the UPA regime. We are now saying that states must prepare a perspective plan for opening new colleges.
Many of the institutes we spoke to cited poor campus placements. Do you agree there are fewer jobs for engineers?
This time, all IITs are getting very good placements. This shows that there is an upturn in the Indian job market. There are more jobs on the table, but offers are for quality graduates. It is not lack of jobs but lack of quality education in some institutes which is driving their students jobless. See, many universities don’t change their syllabus and engineering is a profession where they must change it at least biennially. AICTE is now coming out with a model curriculum each year. But the institutes will have to train teachers and employ good faculty. Without quality, students are not going to seek admission. That’s the large message.
IITs may have had a good start this season, but even they reported fewer placements last year.
There are seasonal increases and decreases. At the same time, there are new sectors opening up and new job opportunities coming up. What they (recruiters) intend to do is to select the best boys and girls.
What do vacant engineering seats mean for projects such as Make in India, which depends largely on homegrown talent?
Make in India is a powerful concept and it is progressing very rapidly. For instance, Atal Innovation Centres. We are giving crore of rupees for creating incubation centres. And 2,000 schools will get Atal Tinkering Labs with Rs 10 lakh each. Even organising a hackathon is a positive effort of the government to inculcate an innovation atmosphere in the whole university system. Rural colleges which participated in the hackathon have benefited and their placements have improved. Moreover, Make in India will always offer jobs to students coming out of quality institutes.
See, if there are 10,000 technical institutes which are looked after by AICTE, you have at least 5,000 good institutes. But the remaining must be improved and we are ready to help them out. They must improve their industry interaction. Without (that), there will be no jobs. So if the industry is a partner, they will pick your best students.
Is a moratorium on fresh approvals (new institutes) a solution to this problem?
Selective approvals confirmed by state perspective plans is the way forward. We cannot say that now we will stop (new approvals). That would mean that we have permitted bad institutes in the past and now we will not allow even a single good, new institute. That is not a correct approach.
AICTE has amended its regulations to give itself powers to act against institutions with poor admissions. Do you think the government should intervene or leave this problem of vacant seats to the market forces to resolve?
This is another step to impress upon the institutes that they should improve. This new regulation will give them (institutes) two to three years to improve their performance. We are telling colleges that you have every right to survive but not unless you improve… We are not on a closing spree. We want to improve the situation because we believe that there are millions of jobs coming with new technologies emerging. It’s not the government which wants to close (institutes), but students are closing them. Students have every right to choose the institute.