India has developed quite a reputation for producing more than its fair share of engineers. In recent times up to 1.5 million engineering graduates have entered the jobs market every year while the number of engineering colleges in the country has grown exponentially – from 1,511 colleges in 2006-07 to an incredible 3,345 in 2014-15.
The situation on the sub-continent is in stark contrast to that in the UK where the government, professional institutions and schools and are having to come up with new initiatives to encourage young people to study the the so-called STEM topics, namely Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
It was interesting to read, then, that many young Indians may not be opting to study engineering because they want to, rather that they are taking the subject because of pressure from their parents. The Times of India recently reported the findings of a survey that found that approximately 65% of students enroll in engineering courses out of “parental compulsion” and that these young people “displayed a lack of interest in the field and did not have any long-term career goals”.
In India, like much of Asia, parents still hold sway over their offspring and a Bachelor of Technology (B-Tech) degree is considered to be the highest prize by many Indian parents, who believe it to be ticket to a well-paid job. In many cases respect for engineering may be based on the belief that it will provide secure income rather than any genuine reverence for the discipline. In the UK, the academic content within engineering ensures that it is considered to be far from an easy option so as a result the profession mostly attracts individuals who have genuine aptitude.
But demand for engineers is slowing as the Indian IT sector faces competition from other low cost destinations. And at the top end the struggle for places at the best engineering colleges is overwhelming. For example, there are around 50 applicants for every place at India’s most respected engineering establishment, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, compared to Harvard in the US where 17 students apply for every student admitted.
Some reports say this situation is leading to high levels of stress among Indian students while the obsession with engineering has led to a shortage of other professionals in India, such as lawyers and architects.
There are also concerns that because many in India see engineering as a safe haven that innovation in the sector is being hampered and impacting the country’s future competitive edge.
It would appear that whether, like India, you have a surplus of demand for engineering jobs or, like in the UK, whether the reverse is true, difficult challenges and issues are bound to arise.