Sub-par engineering education chips away at India’s technology leadership

NIRF rankings, education
Government-funded institutions continue to dominate NIRF rankings, highlighting the need to increase public expenditure on such institutions.

State of engineering education in Indian: More and more IT companies are reducing their workforce to bare minimum and the trend is expected to continue in April as well. Staffing firm TeamLease expects a 40% drop in net additions of engineers in the upcoming financial year, compared with the current year (2021-23). This projection is based on the current outlook of various companies that have been forced to cut corners in the aftermath of the economic crisis triggered by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

The geopolitical conflict has destabilised the global economy, leading to employment losses in several major economies. However, the outlook may change in the next six months if companies rework their growth strategies.

While the current macroeconomic circumstances are not favourable, the state of engineering education in India also remains a problem. Subpar education may also have contributed to the current crisis in the Indian tech industry. Nidhi Bhasin, CEO, Nasscom Foundation, said that there is a need to invest heavily in upskilling Indian engineers as nearly two-thirds of the engineering degree holders are not skilled enough to join the workforce. At an event on Digital India organised by Policy Circle, she emphasised on the need of fixing curriculum at both school and college levels to improve employability of Indian graduates.

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Job seekers in the tech sector must also brace for challenges related to automation and technology which are changing the nature of work, and the skills that are in demand. This can create uncertainty among workers as they try to adapt to changes and stay competitive in the job market.

What needs to be fixed in engineering education

According to the National Employability Report for Engineers 2019 by Aspiring Minds, a job assessment platform, over 80% of engineers in India are unfit to take up any job in the knowledge economy. India has a large number of engineering colleges, but the quality of education and training provided vary greatly. While some top-tier institutions provide world-class education and research opportunities, a significant number of institutions suffer from inadequate infrastructure, lack of quality faculty, outdated curricula, and low standards of teaching.

Further, there is often a significant gap between the skills and knowledge that engineering graduates possess and the demands of the industry. This is due to lack of collaboration between industry and academia, limited practical training, and a focus on theoretical learning rather than practical applications. While the government has made efforts to improve engineering education by setting up institutions of national importance, introducing accreditation systems, and implementing policies such as the National Education Policy 2020, there are still challenges in implementing these policies and ensuring effective utilisation of resources.

The country also needs to fix gender representation. Engineering education in India still suffers from gender imbalance, with female enrolment being significantly lower than male enrolment. This is due to various social and cultural factors, including lack of support from family and society.

Reasons behind tech industry’s troubles

While IT companies reported record hiring and attrition numbers in FY22 and in the first half of FY 23, the rising inflationary pressures and the war-led energy crisis in Europe have made companies cautious and the demand for talent has been dwindling since then. The layoff phenomenon is not just central to startups, but well established tech firms and some of the biggest names in industry including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo and Zoom have also announced massive job cuts.

That two major banks collapsed within a week in the United States and there are chances that more banks are left exposed is causing jitters to the tech industry. The ongoing slump in the IT and tech sector has not only translated into significant layoffs across companies but has also impacted campus placement drives at India’s engineering colleges. Meanwhile, last week IT giant Accenture announced that it would cut about 19,000 jobs, which amounts to nearly 2.5% of its workforce. The company announced that more than half of the layoffs would impact employees in its non-billable corporate functions.

In FY23, there has been a net headcount addition of about 280,000 (across the IT sector). However, the additions in last quarter of the current fiscal will likely remain flat, according to industry insiders. Going by the numbers, there will be about a 50% drop in new hirings. While this may have no bearing on replacement hirings, there will be a lull in expansion hirings.