Indian Computer Science (CS) & Information Technology (IT) Academic Reform Activism Consolidated Blog Document

GATE and UGC NET CS & IT exams can be employability measures if they include practical knowledge assessment

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GATE and UGC NET CS & IT exams can be employability measures if they include practical knowledge assessment

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I made the following comment (slightly edited) to a recent post, How well does a college teach its students?,, by Srinivasan Ramani, :

Interesting views. More transparency in Indian academic system in general will do wonders in giving students and parents some reasonable picture of the teaching and research quality of Indian academic institutions. As of now, most Indian academic institution websites do not carry significant information on course material related to courses taught by its faculty, though many carry the academic's research publication list. I think if the course material for courses taught by academics is put up on their website, students, parents and even employers will be able to get some idea of what is really taught in those courses. In great contrast to Indian academia, many US academic websites have detailed course material - Indian academia should follow their lead in this regard, IMHO.

Regarding standard exams that assess how well a college teaches its students, for engineering in India, we have the GATE exam, which is quite widely accepted by academia (for further education like M.Tech.) as well as government employers as the key measurement criteria for knowledge level of engineering graduates. Perhaps it would be a great idea to have its results available in the public domain but there may be moral and legal issues related to protection of privacy rights of students who got poor scores. The wiki page states, "The score cards are issued to only the qualified candidates."

As somebody who is interested in improving the practice of software development in Indian CS & IT academia, one issue I have with examinations like GATE,, is that they, I believe, focus on the theory part of the knowledge of the candidate, as that may be easier to assess. Even the National Eligibility Test for Lecturers (Asst. Professors) for UGC/AICTE regulated colleges, for the CS & IT field does not seem to have a practical component for the test! What is badly needed by youth in colleges nowadays is employability, and employability needs the right blend of theory and practical knowledge. Once our national examinations including GATE and UGC NET improve their assessment techniques to properly assess practical knowledge then they may become an important measure of the employability of engineering college graduates.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Hindu's higher education student guidebook - thenxt.step 2013 - CS & IT picture

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A few days ago I saw an ad. in The Hindu newspaper about a sort-of student guidebook on higher education from The Hindu, thenxt.step, and decided to check with my town (Puttaparthi) Hindu vendor whether he had it. He did and gave it to me (for Rs. 250/-) but it turned out to be last year's issue! I decided to return it but later changed the decision as I felt I might learn something related to higher education in Computer Science and Information Technology (CS & IT) from the 2013 issue itself (which, I believe, happens to be the first issue of this sort-of student guidebook on higher education from The Hindu). My changed decision turned out to be the correct one.

I have learned a lot about Tamil Nadu higher education sector in the areas of Computer Science and Information Technology from thenxt.step 2013, [Tamil Nadu is a southern state of India with Chennai (Madras) as its capital,] I have tried to put down some points from that learning below:

Page 3 has a full page advertisement of Vellore Institute of Technology,, which, I understand, is one of the leading private deemed universities of South India with its Computer Science and Engineering programmes being accredited by ABET Inc., USA. This ad. lists the following programmes in CS & IT at its Vellore campus:

School of Computer Sciences and Engineering (SCSE)
B.Tech. Computer Science and Engineering
B.Sc. Computer Science

M.Tech. Computer Science and Engineering

M.Sc. Computer Science

School of Information Technology and Engineering (SITE)
B.Tech. Information Technology
B.C.A. (Bachelor of Computer Applications)
B.Sc. (Multimedia and Animation)

M.Tech. Information Technology - Networking

M.Tech. Software Technology
M.Tech. Software development and Management (for employees of Cognizant Technology Solutions)
M.C.A. (Master of Computer Applications)
M.S. Software Engineering (5 year Integrated Programme)
M.S. Information Technology (for employees of WIPRO Technologies)
---- end advertisement info ----

Well, that's quite an array of CS & IT undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The programmes meant for a particular software company are quite noteworthy even if there may be strong arguments against having such programmes in a regular academic institution (as against an industry dedicated training institute which, however, may not be empowered to award bachelor or master degrees - at least during my programming learning days in the mid-80s they were not allowed to do so; they could simply provide some diploma certificates which were probably not recognized by the government then).


In an article by Dr. Hanifa Ghosh, principal CTTE College for Women, Chennai on Page 10 she warns parents against forcing children, who are not interested and/or do not have the aptitude for engineering, to take up engineering in colleges with poor or uncertain reputation due to availability of seats there. She writes that they may end up doing poorly paying jobs unrelated to their engineering degree. Opportunities provided by Arts and Science colleges may be more appropriate for such students, she writes.


Jayaprakash Gandhi, a career consultant and analyst, writes in his article on Page 14 about it being better to choose a primary field (like mechanical engineering) instead of a secondary field (like automobile engineering) as the latter narrows down future career options at the intial stages itself. Further, he says, GATE exam (for entrance to IITs) are for primary fields and not secondary fields. Higher studies in India and abroad also may be easier to pursue for those who have studied primary fields.

[IITs are the elite technical education institutions of India with substantial, if not total, government funding, "The Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) is an all-India examination that primarily tests the comprehensive understanding of various undergraduate subjects in engineering and science.",]

Ravi: Perhaps the same primary field and secondary field argument applies to CS & IT fields. The Computer Science & Engineering field is a primary field with all the benefits of primary field mentioned above. In my browsing I have not come across definitive explanation of the Information Technology field in Indian academia and its difference from the Computer Science & Engineering field. Some years ago I had asked this question of a senior Indian academic who then was the head of the Information Technology department of an engineering college in South India. He told me that the subjects covered were almost the same (perhaps he actually said they were the same) as the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department of his college (they seemed to have that department too). The actual reason for having two programmes was related to some regulations which limited the no. of seats in one programme - having two separate programmes in CSE and IT was a workaround!

The B.C.A. and M.C.A. programmes being computer application programmes would probably be viewed as a secondary field with all the disadvantages mentioned above for secondary fields. However, the advantage of these programmes may be that they are less rigorous since they aim at imparting applications level skills rather than fundamental computer science skills, and so some students who cannot handle CSE programmes may be able to handle the computer applications programmes. And, very importantly, there may be industry demand for such computer applications skills which ensures jobs for BCA and MCA passed out students.


Pages 34, 36 & 37 carry a superb article titled, "Admissions demystified", by Prof. V. Rhymend Uthariaraj, secretary TNEA and professor and director of Ramanujan Computing Centre, Anna University, Chennai, which explains the single-window counselling (admission) process for the government seats of engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu. I strongly recommend that this article by read by anybody interested in understanding the engineering admission counselling process in India (other progressive Indian states would be following a somewhat similar procedure, I guess). A small extract to give a feel of the scale, "Tamil Nadu Engineering Admission (TNEA) is the process through which more than 1.5 lakh engineering aspirants get themselves enrolled into engineering colleges of Tamil Nadu." [One lakh is one hundred thousand.]

The concluding part of the article is interesting and idealistic sort-of advise in general but not necessarily perfect and verified-to-be-fully-truthful advise especially to youth desperately seeking higher education that will deliver them good paying jobs, IMHO, "Society and especially parents should not force preconceived career objectives that put pressure on their ward's natural interests. This societal obsession towards engineering and laying stress on their wards (Ravi: to pursue engineering) is a big hindrance to intrinsically-motivated learning. Society should advocate for excellence and not for (a) particular profession. Excellence is Lucrative."


Pages 38 & 40 carry an excellent article titled, "New age varsities", by Dr. G. Viswanathan, founder and chancellor of Vellore Institute of Technology (the same educational institution whose advertisement on Page 3 is mentioned earlier), While the entire article is a kind-of must read for those interested in improving technical education in India  (or knowing about it), I have given below three extracts from this article:

[Ravi: A deemed university in India is, as per my understanding, an autonomous educational institution recognized by the key national higher education regulators (UGC and/or AICTE) which may have a few campuses. Usually these deemed universities are privately owned and so have to manage their own finances with some limited project grant money from govt. agencies. This is in contrast to government universities which are, I believe, wholly funded by the government. I believe that some of the well recognized deemed universities like Vellore Institute of Technology whose founder is the author of this article, charge substantial amount of fees and other charges (e.g. air-conditioned student hostel rooms with premium charges) from its students. It must also be said that some deemed universities in India have earned a lot of disrepute due to very poor standards of education as well as alleged malpractices.]

"There are four options for the students seeking admission to engineering education. A small percentage get the chance to join the IITs. Others await the Anna University counselling [Ravi: TNEA counselling mentioned earlier conducted by Anna University, which seems to be the dominant and large technical university of Tamil Nadu,] where their options are plenty. The main campus admission is the prime target, where a candidate will get into main campus or not [Ravi: perhaps it should have been, where it will be known whether a candidate can get into main campus or not]. In the absence of that the candidate has to choose between the other colleges affiliated to Government University or choose to study in a Deemed University. It will not be an exaggeration if I say that more than 97 per cent of the students have to choose between the third and fourth option. In this context the facts given below will help a student to choose the right destination.

Syllabus in Sync
Unlike most of the colleges, the Deemed Universities have academic advantages. The first and foremost advantage is the freedom to modify the syllabi and curriculum to suit the industry requirements, that too at frequent intervals, which is a far fetched dream in a government controlled setup. In areas such as computing sciences and electronics the industry needs are changing at rapid speed. That requires change in syllabi every semester, which could be possible only in Deemed Universities."
Practical Knowledge
The industry expects the students to be employable graduates. This could be made possible only if the students are exposed to the practical aspects of their theoretical knowledge. This requires well-equipped embedded labs for all the theory subjects, wherein students could learn by doing experiments. Freedom to have embedded labs in all the theory (Ravi: subjects/classes) and making all the students spend quality time in the labs than in classrooms, prepares students to be industry-ready. In addition to this, the continuous assessment methodology can also be altered and learning be made more effective. It may be observed that new, innovative industry-oriented programmes are being offered mostly in deemed universities. Funding for developmental activities also takes a backseat at the Government run universities due to the prevailing red tapism which is not a constraint for a deemed university."
[Ravi: Concluding paragraph of article:] "Does this mean that a student can blindly join any Deemed University? Are all the Deemed Universities good and worthy of praise and adoration? The answer is, "No.". There are spoilt ones in this apple-cart too. One has to be careful in selection. Best advice will be as follows, "Deemed Universities have the right platform to provide quality education needed for this 21st century. A candidate has to visit the university, check for the details, talk to the outgoing / passed out students and ascertain the quality before joining."


Pages 41 & 42 have an interesting practical advise article, "Choose right", by Dr. Brijesh Nair, Professor and Programme Chair (Civil Engineering) at Vellore Institute of Technology, Vellore, He starts the article by mentioning that many engineering seats remain vacant in South India every year. So if a student wants to pursue engineering no matter what the reputation of the college, getting one of these vacant seats will be possible. But then he raises the job factor. He goes on to make a rather sweeping statement that if one is looking for just "any job" then any engineering programme in a college with 95 % (or more) campus placement track record should be fine. He also mentions that most students do not have a preference for any branch of engineering but simply want to get a job that pays them well. He writes that the trend observed in campus placements is that students from civil engineering or mechanical engineering (or other fields unrelated to software development) take up software company jobs.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

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