GATE 2017 results are out, and once again, there is disappointment all over. This news article is stating that only 16% of those who gave the GATE exam could qualify. "Qualifying" means that these students have the capability to seek admission to an MTech program in the country. I cannot say about all engineering disciplines, and my comments are based on my familiarity with Computer Science/Information Technology education in the country.
We don't yet know the detailed statistics, but we do know that in the last couple of years, percentage of CS qualified candidates was lower than the combined percentage of qualified candidates in all disciplines. Let us assume the percentage of qualified candidates in CS in GATE 2017 to be about 14%.
Note that this 14% is after declaring candidates from reserved categories as qualified at much lower cutoffs. If we were to use the same cutoff for everyone (since that really reflects the preparation levels in Computer Science for all graduates), then this number could be as low as 11-12%. The reserved category students are the majority of the students giving GATE exam.
Are all these students really capable of doing an MTech (which, by the way, typically requires that you know only a few courses in CS). Anyone who has interviewed for MTech admissions, even in tier 2 institutions, would tell you that a lot of them are unable to answer many questions, and their marks in GATE are really a result of sustained coaching effort and not really understanding the subjects. Give them the same question that came in GATE paper in a different format, and they are unable to answer. Give them the same question 4 months after the GATE exam, and they claim that they have forgotten. So the percentage of students who can go through a poor quality MTech program in a Tier 2 institute is perhaps half of these qualified candidates. So may be around 6%. (A lot of hand waiving here. No scientific study. Just my impressions.)
Of course, not everyone gives GATE. How many of the "good" graduates not give GATE versus how many of the "poor" quality graduates not give GATE. I suspect that more than 1 lakh is fairly representative sample, but we may add a couple of percentage to our numbers, just to take care of this. So may be about 8% graduates are capable to doing at least a poor quality MTech program at a Tier 2 institution.
Note that this is roughly the capability required to do routine software related jobs in service industry, and NASSCOM, the industry body which represents the IT service industry, has been saying now for at least a couple of decades that less than 10% of our graduates are employment ready. (There is another class called "employable" which are those who can be readied with substantial training. With that the numbers go up.)
What should be the goal of a 4-year BTech (CS) program? Should the goal be to learn just 4-5 courses in a half-baked fashion which will enable you to do a low-quality job in IT service industry, or get admission in a poor-quality MTech program in a Tier 2 institute. If that was the goal, then about 10% of the graduates are meeting that goal, and 90% are not.
However, as media reported recently, HCL, the 4th largest IT service company will start hiring smart 12th class students and train them on those few things that they really need. The fact of the matter is that what can make you qualify in GATE (CS) is something that you can learn in a few months, you don't need a 4-year program, and that is exactly what the coaching industry is caching on.
In an earlier blog long time ago, I had pointed out that 50% of the graduates actually got a GATE score of 0 or negative in that year. It means that a majority of our CS/IT graduates are no better than a class 1 student (note I am comparing with someone who has just entered the school, not someone who is about to leave the school).
If we consider the goal of 4-year BTech (CS) program to not just learn a bit of programming, data structures and algorithms, but also understand how operating system works, how networks operate, how machine learning can be used to solve problems, and actually solve some of those problems, then the percentage of graduates who satisfy these program goals are much smaller than 10%. We don't have such numbers, but my gut feeling is that the numbers could not be more than 3-4%. Which means that out of about 10 lakh graduates in CS/IT domain, may be 30-40 thousand graduates meet what should be the requirements of a 4-year BTech (CS) program.
(I wonder if GATE would be willing to share the detailed data on each candidate's response to each question, and which colleges these candidates come from, etc., so that we can do a more detailed analysis, instead of making guesses.)
Thinking about who these 30-40 thousand graduates are, I would guess that these are primarily from IITs, NITs, IIITs, some of the state universities, deemed universities, etc. If we consider the entire eco-system of affiliated colleges in the country, there is perhaps less than 1% graduates who meet the requirements of a BTech program. And these 1%, I am sure, are largely because the students were inherently good, and the colleges could not spoil them despite best efforts. (Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, for example, NSIT in Delhi.)
Now, think about it. AICTE is supposed to regulate all affiliated colleges. And the result is that may be around 1% of the graduates of those colleges meet the goals of a 4-year BTech (CS) program. 99% of those who are getting degrees are not good enough for those degrees. What if we were to disband AICTE. What if the government were to suddenly decide that all these affiliated colleges have complete autonomy starting now. They can decide whom to admit, whom to recruit as faculty, what to teach, whom to give degrees, and so on, without any interface with any government department or agency. They can choose to have accreditation, if they so desire. They can decide their fees, and so on. So basically leave everything to the market forces. I am sure a very horrifying thought experiment for most people. But would market fail us even more. Would market forces result in 100% of the degrees being worthless, or is there a chance that may be instead of 99% of the degrees being worthless, the number may reduce to 98% or even lower.
I think the time has come to ask AICTE and MHRD some tough questions. Why regulations?