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Sandeep Sahu

The startling revelations tumbling out of the woodwork since ‘Placementgate’ took Odisha by storm are symptomatic of all that is wrong with our technical education system. That such skullduggery can take place at a university that has been recently ranked No 1 in the state is bound to send shivers down the spines of all those who have chosen to get their children admitted to engineering and medical colleges in the state - and even outside.

That not all is well with the technical education has been known since the mushrooming of engineering colleges began in the state in the 1990s. [Incidentally, Manoj Nayak, the founder of Siksha O Anusandhan (SOA) university, who is currently on the firing line over the fake placement row in the Institute of Technical Education & Research (ITER), one of the affiliate colleges of the university, had gone into hiding for quite some time in the mid nineties after being charged with what was known as ‘seat blocking’.] Under fire, ITER & SOA have now claimed that they were not the co-conspirators, but the victims of the fraud perpetrated on ITER students by a fake placement agency - a claim that has to be taken with a bagful of salt, not the least because the institution has refused to reveal the name of the placement agency even after so much hullabaloo. Nor is the attempt to make a scapegoat of arrested Dean of Placement RK Hota and wash its hands off credible. If not collusion, SOA is certainly guilty of gross neglect and indifference in a matter that involved the fate of over 400 students. Both Mr. Hota and SOA vice chancellor Prof Amit Banerjee have claimed that this was the ‘first time’ such a thing has happened. But former ITER students have now come out to refute the claim with several of them saying they were cheated in 2015.

It would, however, be wrong to single out SOA for the muck that has bedeviled technical education in the state for so long. SOA at least had a reputation to protect. But there are countless other institutes, which have made a business of collecting money from the students in lieu of job promises that never materialize. Many of the engineering colleges that sprung up during the ‘boom’ period in the last decade neither have the infrastructure nor the human resources to produce quality engineers. Their teachers get a pittance but the students are charged a fortune for a coveted engineering degree. Given the job squeeze in the market, there are few takers for the thousands of ‘engineers’ who pass out of these nondescript institutes. Once they step into the job market, they find that their certificates are not worth the paper they are written on. It was heart-rending to see on TV an ITER pass out, after becoming a victim of the placement racket, working as a delivery boy for food items. If this can happen to an alumnus from the No 1 university, it is scary to think of the fate of products of lesser institutions.

As realization dawned on aspiring students and their parents, the colleges have found to their utter dismay that there are no takers for the seats in their colleges. Over 50% of the seats on offer have gone vacant for the last few years, pushing many of the dubious ones into bankruptcy. But far from doing anything to ensure standards in technical education, the state government, in clear collusion with the Odisha Private Engineering Colleges Association (OPECA), has done everything it can to keep such dubious institutions afloat. As result, just anyone with a Plus Two degree can get into an engineering college.

That the rot has gone too deep hardly needs reiteration. But it is high time students, parents - and above all – the state government woke up to the danger posed by unbridled expansion of technical colleges at the cost of quality. Those institutions that don’t meet the stipulations fixed by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) must be ruthlessly weeded out to ensure that only genuine institutions that have the wherewithal to provide quality education remain.

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