At a top private engineering college, attendance is not mandatory. That’s right, you actually don’t have to attend classes. But students at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, or BITS, mostly do, attracted out of bed by innovative teaching and one of the largest and most diverse elective choices, from artificial intelligence to contemporary India to supply chain management.
The responsibility, decision-making and empowerment begin on Day 1. Students have to prepare their own timetable, and in all probability (also taught at BITS), no two students have the same timetable. They have to select their own professors. By the second year, they start selecting their own electives.
An important feature is the dual degree system at BITS, because of which a student leaves college with a master’s degree in a pure science or economics or another subject, along with an engineering degree. This system depends on merit alone.
“We don’t have classes.” This is how student Rishabh Kaul, 19, describes studies at BITS Pilani in Rajasthan. He will graduate with a double degree—economics and civil engineering — in 2010.
Freedom to set their own timetable, on-the-job exposure, training in soft skills and regular curriculum upgrade—that’s how top-tier engineering colleges train students today.
And that’s how they say they manage to stay on top. “We have had boundary-less careers training in BITS Pilani for years. There are some broad-based core courses that students have to pursue. There is also a compulsory course called principles of management,” said L.K. Maheshwari, director and vice-chancellor of BITS Pilani.
“This course teaches negotiating skills, communication skills, people skills.” Students at BITS Pilani, which now has campuses in Goa, Hyderabad and Dubai, also undergo a seven-and-a-half-month training with the industry. The training, or practice school as it is called, is split into two parts. “It is a very good opportunity to see how theory is practically applied,” said Pragya Garg, 22, who will graduate in civil engineering from BITS in June.
Garg is currently training with Lea Associates South Asia Pvt. Ltd, a consultancy on infrastructure. She is learning geometric design of roads, or simply put, how highways and flyovers get aligned. “Also, in a five-and-a-half-month training, if people at the company like you, there is a 95 per cent chance they will offer you a job,” said Garg.
Other private engineering colleges, such as Manipal Institute of Technology, are now emulating this practice school.
“This system is already there in BITS Pilani. We are now doing it. Students go to the industry in the last semester to do their project work,” said G.K. Prabhu, registrar of Manipal University, who also teaches in the engineering school.
In another top-ranked college, the focus is on constant change of curriculum in line with industry demands. Birla Institute of Technology at Mesra near Ranchi in Jharkhand, takes feedback from alumni for this.
“Our syllabus is revised every two years. Especially in computer courses, feedback has been important,” said PK Barhai, vice-chancellor of BIT Mesra. Abhinav Jain, a 2004 batch student of BIT Mesra, also emphasised an annual meeting where curriculum is discussed. “I know of alumni who have attended that,” said Jain, who now works as a consultant in Ernst and Young.
Several private colleges are not autonomous but are affiliated to a state-run university that decides the curriculum. The Bangalore Institute of Technology, for instance, is affiliated to Visvesvaraya Technical University, which revises curriculum once every four years for the several colleges that are affiliated to it.