New Education Policy 2020 — Reimagining Engineering Education in India

Engineer’s Day rolls around on 15th September each year and India, with our obsession with engineers, celebrates it very well! People nationwide offer tributes to the greatest engineers who literally shaped our nation to be what it is today, notably of all, Sir M. Vishweshvaraya.

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The Engineering Community across India celebrates Engineers Day on 15 September every year as a tribute to Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya. India has been home to great engineers — APJ Abdul Kalam, E Sridharan, Satish Dhawan, Sam Pitroda, Vinodh Dham, Thomas Kailath, and many more who have worked towards building a great impact to our nation in civil, mechanical, electrical, telecommunications, computer sciences. There has been a substantial rise in the number of engineering graduates from 20,000 to 25,00,000 in the last 5 decades.

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In the new national education policy 2020 , students will be problem-solvers, innovators with an inter-disciplinary approach.

What is the road ahead for science and engineering education, and how do we create and strengthen our educational institutions to better equip ourselves against perhaps even greater challenges such as climate change, cybersecurity, and urban mobility? Covid-19 is a wake-up call, highlighting the urgency to look at everything in a new way.

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This situation is also exacerbated by the fact that the state of engineering and technology education in India is far from encouraging. Various reports suggest that a large percentage of the 2.0 million engineers who graduate annually are unemployable. Engineering seats in a lot of colleges are going empty. On the other hand, one has been increasingly aware (even before the COVID crisis) that technology is the new language of the world, and is changing our lives daily. We also know that India has tripled its higher education capacity in the past 10–15 years. Engineering education in the last 30 years has fuelled India’s success in the IT industry.

Therefore, does the problem lie with engineering and technology as a discipline, or is it the way it is taught currently? Or is the problem with the students who are graduating from various engineering disciplines. Clearly, it is not the first reason. The world needs more technology education today than before. Competence in science and technology is like competence in the language. We can’t blame the students either. Students from India’s engineering colleges led India’s IT revolution and have shown they can adapt and conform to the curriculum. So, the answer obviously is that engineering education in its current form needs re-invention and re-imagination.

‘Problem Solving’ approach

What are the pillars of this re-imagination? First, engineering education has to incorporate within itself a strong element of ‘Problem-Solving. Engineers have to work to find solutions to “big problems” of the world, such as climate change, agriculture, health, education, and so on. This will not only bring in more innovation in engineering education but also create jobs for our graduates, as some of the best opportunities for innovation. If engineering education has to fundamentally re-invent itself, then students need to be trained early to take on big challenges. One innovation in engineering education will be to encourage modules around a specific big problem (such as agriculture, for example) with teams of students taking on projects to build solutions to specific problems in India.

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Such an education, by the very nature of the grand challenge, will also be inter-disciplinary. The ‘big problem-solving mindset’ also pays rich dividends in a country like India, where solutions to some of the biggest challenges lie in technology. Second, higher education in today’s day and age cannot operate in a disciplinary silo. A degree in any discipline, at least at the undergraduate level, has to be broadened irrespective of branches and streams. Engineering education will also need to be broader, with no absolute boundaries.

Inter-Disciplinary Approach

If engineering has to solve problems and provide solutions, then it is important to understand that such solutions require an interplay of different disciplines. As an example, drone technology combines elements of computer science, electronics, and mechanical engineering. Engineering disciplines have to collapse to reflect this current reality and new engineering degrees may have to do away with traditional branches of Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, or Civil Engineering the way we know them and be reimagined to reflect more contemporary applications.

Engineering, by its very definition, is the application of scientific principles to solve problems. Engineering education has to evolve to reflect contemporary problems. Computer science, in some way or other, is becoming fundamental to most disciplines. Engineering disciplines have to adapt to this new reality. It has not only to integrate more with pure sciences but integrates better with humanities and social sciences too.

The current approach is to separate engineering and science education and to offer some courses in social sciences to provide a “humanities” breadth to engineering graduates. The ideal scenario has to be much more than this. It will require the creation of new courses that fundamentally integrate an understanding of society with elements of science and technology.

Entrepreneurial mindset

The third element of this re-imagination is to inculcate a maker, innovator, entrepreneurial mindset amongst engineers. Engineering education has to become more experiential. Engineers need to be encouraged to ‘innovate’ and ‘build’ while studying. Students could also be encouraged to take a 6–9-month break in the middle of their course to go and work in the industry. Industry gives access to realtime understanding, fresh ideas, and students get early exposure and validation of their interest.

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A big part of this education (which, traditionally, higher education institutions have kept away from) is in inculcating a certain mindset. Often, institutions believe that their job is to impart knowledge but keep away from inculcating mindset traits. I believe that an entrepreneurial and growth mindset is a key skill required to excel in the 21st century. Such a mindset can not only create new, exciting ventures but will also be better able to identify problems, find solutions, build teams, and execute well at the workplace. Ask any CEO, and they are all trying to find the next “entrepreneur” in their organizations.

The post-COVID-19 world will require every organization to transform digitally. This was already happening but the pace will only increase exponentially. India and the world will need more graduates than less who understand science and engineering and can help navigate this new world. The demand for premium technology talent is going to be higher, not lower. Every engineer will be more employable than before.

However, these graduates will require fundamentally different competencies and need to be educated differently — a broad-based understanding and study of contemporary technologies and society, alongside the mindset to deal with uncertainty, the ability to innovate, to self-reflect, and collaborate. On this day, It’s time to write the new rulebook for engineering education.

Our team is an amalgamation of young and dynamic engineers who have understood the value of skill development and the essence of self-learning and the kick of problem-solving. We salute all the engineers across the globe who are working hard in contributing to our society.

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