Natasha, my 17-year old niece sounded worried when she called me some weeks ago. The reason, I guessed, had something to do with the AIEEE result (although she secured a not so dismal 87% in Class XII Boards). She was unlikely to make the grade in one of the good engineering schools.
Being one among nearly 10 million successful school passouts is no consolation for Natasha with lady luck deserting her on two occasions in just one month. I asked her to explore college education in a range of subjects instead of following her father’s education route of a degree in civil engineering.
But when confronted by tall claims of the colleges through advertising, websites and admission brochures, students get confused.
After talking to academics, marketing professionals, counsellors and employers, Natasha and I arrived at a set of parameters that would help pick an institute that will best take them closer to their career choices.
A 10-point guide
However, do choose a stream that is of interest to you. Also make sure that there is demand for the same. A degree in civil engineering may been a good option for Natasha’s dad in 1970s, but will it fit her needs today and are there enough jobs going? Having decided on the programme, the next big question is which institute to join.
1 Distinguish between a degree and a vocational course: For a degree course, make sure that your institution has been created by an act of parliament or a state legislature, or been granted the status of a deemed-to-be-university. If it is not, then it is not entitled to award a degree. Vocational programmes in computers, mass media, advertising, sales training, fashion technology, banking, customer care, call centre management, aviation and hospitality do not lead to grant of degrees, but only a diploma certificate. Find out exactly what will be offered to you. Government polytechnics also award diplomas. In addition, there are 138 colleges that have been functioning as autonomous colleges in eight states in the country.
2 Fake universities: Despite a series of statutory professional councils responsible for recognition of courses, promotion of professional institutions and providing grants to undergraduate programmes and various awards, such as the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), a large number of fake universities operate in the country.
Each year the University Grants Commission (UGC) prepares a list of fake universities. It is best to check it out on the UGC and Ministry of Human Resource Development-Higher Education Department website at www.education.nic.in/
higedu.asp or www.ugc.ac.in/inside/fakealerts.html
About two-thirds of the 20 fake universities identified by UGC operate in Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi. Learn to ask questions to distinguish between institutions that have applied for recognition or certification that may take several years. Don’t risk your career with institutions that claim recognition but don’t actually have it.
3 Tenuous foreign connections mean nothing: Feeding the national obsession for anything foreign, private universities and colleges flaunt tempting descriptors like “international faculty”, “international curricula” “tie-ups with foreign universities”, “international students”, foreign internships and ‘twinning programs’ in their advertisements. Ask the admissions officer to explain and show evidence of what these mean. Identify how a tie-up between an institution and the Coal Preparation Society of Ukraine will help in your biotech or a fashion technology programme. If the international students come from countries like Burkina Faso, or Tuvalu, ask the admissions officers to provide you names of countries that you can identify more easily.
4 Learn to identify superlatives in claims: As someone who is going to spend three-to-five years in a college it is your responsibility to find out if it is a relationship being built on superlatives like “reputation for excellence”, “exceptional faculty”, “sprawling 100 acres amid lush surroundings”. Ask for evidence on how 100 acres will add to its education delivery and your academic performance.
Ask about the educational qualifications of current faculty, and number of years of experience. Also find out how many students will it translate per faculty member. Remember, you are no longer in your primary classes where one teacher for 40 students will suffice.
Faculty plays a critical role in helping you understand tough concepts and keeping your motivation levels high. Check out if the college prospectus and website lists names of faculty members. It is not enough for to know that an institute’s faculty has won 152 patents — they could have been won by just one professor in welding technology while you wish to pursue electronics and communications at that institute.
Also learn to identify the finer differences between actual college campus photos from photos that are currently only an artist’s impression and whether the actual building will come up with the building fund that you will be asked to cough up.
5 Consider placement record of the college: Some States and Universities insist on getting their affiliated colleges and institutions to post their placement track record on their website. Ask for the highest, lowest and average placement salaries.
Else, meet the placement officer and let him or her explain to you what they mean by “100% placement”, “placement guarantee” and “up to 100% scholarships”.
Ask for names and contact numbers of some past students from your school or city.
6 Don’t fall for high decibel campaigns: Slick advertisements on TV and catchy promotions do not assure good academic standards. An institute that uses larger size advertisements, uses too many adjectives, charges high fees, but has an unimpressive placement track record may be a place you can ill afford. Unless you have the family business to fall back on. Talk to the alumni and some current students to get their candid feedback.
7 Don’t fall for fancy bells and whistles: Don’t get taken in by offers like a ‘free laptop’, ‘a Blackberry phone’, ‘a business suit’ or ‘a visit to a university in a foreign country’. When considering such institutes be mindful of the fact that the cost of all these fancy frills, ribbons and buntings is part of the fee that could be as high as R4 lakh a year for a BBA programme to R8 lakh per year for a two-year MBA program.
Ask what is included in the college fees and what facilities have to be paid as extras. Beware of college counselors who are willing to travel a few hundred miles to your city simply to guide you through the admission process. It is not uncommon for college representatives to get paid a fat cut for each admission that they secure.
8 Past cut-off marks, pass percentage: It is important for you to know the cut off marks or scores in the admission tests or qualifying exam for admissions in the last few years.
Try and understand the admission criterion, reservation of seats, especially the management quota. This will help you understand the mix of class in terms of academic background and how it could impact your own performance. If you have 45% in Class 12 and the majority have 90% or vice versa, it could impact your performance. Also consider pass percentage of graduating students and get a split of marks obtained in internal and external exams.
9 How far from your home town: If you were getting admission in IIT Madras or the best catering college in the country, then you may not mind the distance.
However, if you short-listed an institute in the deep interiors of the country and another that is closer home, you would do well to choose one that is closer.
10 Consider the lineage of the institute: Find out who are the founders of the academic institution. Who are the promoters? It is not right for you to dub all government institutions as good and all private institutions as money-making factories.
For instance, the first five IITs are good, no doubt, but the record of the fledgling IITs coming up is not known. Some of the new IITs may be operating from a temporary or even a half-built campus. If their admission test, admission criterion and process is rigorous it makes sense to join it. At the same time why would you join a 25-year old institution that has almost no placement record to boast of?
The author has been part of the Indian education industry and is a strategic communications professional