Will TN graduate with top honours in higher education?

Last Updated: Tue, Jan 07, 2014 09:06 hrs

Will Tamil Nadu turn the page this year on mission admission, and show that it has figured out the right formula for higher education this academic year?

As a state with a healthy 18 per cent Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER), which is a good five per cent above the national level of 13 per cent, is Tamil Nadu on course to achieve its target, as enunciated in the TN State Higher Education Policy Note 2012-2013?

The note declares: "Tamil Nadu will be known as the innovation hub and knowledge capital of India, on the strength of world class institutions in various fields and the best human talent".

Can parents push the envelope and ensure that the state fields the ‘best human talent’ from the 13 engineering, arts and science Universities under the Higher Education Department? Can our students be something more than mark processors?

The state has 62 government arts and science colleges, 7 government colleges of education, 148 government aided colleges, 14 government aided colleges of education, and 429 self financing arts and science colleges. There are over 5,00,000 students in government and government-aided colleges and nearly 4 lakh students in self-financing colleges.

Lakhs of students also aim to get into the 6 government engineering colleges, 3 government aided engineering colleges, 18  constituent colleges of the Anna University and 498 self financing colleges under the Department of Technical Education.

Yes, we are talking of huge numbers here. How many of them get into institutions that offer an environment of out-of-the-box learning experience?  Hardly any, say academics. 

"Our existing school and college systems do not encourage lateral thinking. The ability to creatively solve a problem is never developed, which is why a Plus II student who scored 200/200 in mathematics, flunks in maths in the first semester exams at University level,” says E Balagurusamy, member, state planning commission, and former Vice Chancellor, Anna University.

"Although two lakh engineers come out of TN colleges, only 25 % get good placements. We still have mountains to climb in the area of skill development," he points out.

Kalyani Mathivanan, VC, Madurai Kamaraj University says that students cannot think out-of-the-box easily.

"In the entire southern belt, parents seeking college admissions after careful study of placements is a ground reality. Some students are ready to go beyond the routine options of engineering or commerce, and a few parents are willing to give the push, but we are not an economically well-off country. We are not fully closed either, since we have begun to open the magic box of alternate careers,” she points out.

Jeeva Nedunchezhiyan is a tennis player, ranked 450 in the ATP circuit. But he prefers to be based out of Frankfurt. “Were he to live in Chennai, society would automatically assume he is a dud in studies,” says his family.

Harini K, who has just passed out of the National Institute of Fashion Technology, says it's a tough call on what to do for most students. 

Anandhita R (name changed on request) left the engineering course at the end of two years, and switched to mathematics in a city college. She has now been placed at Goldman Sachs, something that most engineer/management students only dream about.

“I was never happy in the professional college, and I am lucky I made the change,”  she adds. Priya Devan, a communications expert, suddenly  left her job in a hurry and has since enrolled in a post graduate course in  human resources . “I want a fall back career option since the job market is getting very competitive now, and I don’t want to be left behind, ten years from now ” says the 22 year old.

But these are city stories, where well employed parents are able to back their children and offer a cushion of comfort.  A majority of our higher education students cannot afford such a luxury, and must enter the job market as early as possible. And if it's not IT, it has to be the second best pay option for them.  

It’s that classic Catch-22 situation all over again. "It's a kind of trap that parents and students fall into, but every society needs its butchers, bakers and candle makers," says Ranjani Varadhan, former associate professor, Ethiraj College. The only way out of the trap is to create more awareness, she feels.

The key to getting the optimum benefit out of higher education lies in teaching students to teach themselves, says V Balaji, a visiting faculty since the 1990s at the School of Planning, Anna University, MEASI Academy and SRM University. "Students of architecture are encouraged to think creatively, from day one of their academic life, but often, they fail to integrate the knowledge they have or can access in their projects,” he points out.

Balagurusamy too concurs on teaching the students to maximise their learning during the early years.

"The state planning commission is in the process of developing modules for skill development, and integrate the same in school and college curriculum. We are talking to entities such as CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) as well before we finalise the modules. We want TN’s GER to touch 25 %. We need a huge amount of human and financial resources, but we are determined to lay a solid foundation for the overall employability of  students coming out of college, so that we break the cycle of marks driven admissions," he adds.

Qualitative change has to be spear headed by higher authorities in Universities, the UGC (University Grants Commission) or the state government, feels Kalyani Mathivanan, who is planning to make online examinations mandatory for the first semester students of B-Ed and MBA.

“Education is about providing for all stages of a student’s career graph,” says the Madurai Kamaraj University VC, who is introducing two new five year integrated courses this academic year, one in the field of films and film industry and the other in the hospitality sector. We all need our daily bread. We also need food for the soul.

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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist