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Techies, we have a problem

By George Iype
Last updated on: November 28, 2005 21:39 IST
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'India does not produce enough good computer engineers and those it does are good at theory but not very well equipped to handle the practical aspects.'
-- Microsoft Chief Technical Officer Craig Mundie

Mundie's bombshell, dropped during a recent India visit, blows our country's pride -- at being an information technology knowledge goldmine -- to smithereens. But just why did Mundie say what he did? What ails our software engineer-developing engines? In a three-part special, we try to find answers. Here is the first instalment:

Not many can deny that Indian students are creative, innovative and scientifically inclined. When it comes to mathematics and the physical and biological sciences, Indian schoolchildren are ahead of their counterparts in developed countries like the United States.

Many bright Indian minds opt for computer science in college to become part of the Great Indian Tech Boom story.

But companies like Microsoft -- which has a full-fledged India Development Centre in Hyderabad -- are not happy with the computer engineers they are recruiting from college campuses.

Here is more proof, in Mundie's words:

  • 'India produces a lot of engineers. But the production of computer science engineers is low, pro rata.'
  • 'India did not have enough software companies nor are enough companies developing India-specific applications.' The reason, Mundie argued, was the poor quality of the country's software engineers.
  • 'There are so few Indian software companies developing local software. That is a negative reinforcement, because there is no local software and no new applications.'
  • 'The problem with the engineers can be attributed to policy issues… Universities in India, did not get proper funding for research and were not directed towards software development.'
  • '[Indian] Computer engineers are more into theory and less in managing businesses, building businesses or writing source codes, the key to software development.'

Experts agree with Mundie.

India's software engineers can work cheaply and quickly, but when it comes to quality, industry experts are unanimous in their opinion: Few Indian software engineers are probing new frontiers, raising the bar or exploring new horizons.

Professor J G B Tilak, senior Fellow, National Institute of Education Planning and Administration, New Delhi, says the gradual withdrawal of government support, with increased private participation in technical education, affected quality and led to commercialisation of education. The NIPEA is the Indian government's apex organisation of education planners specialising in policy, planning and management.

The main concern, Tilak argues, is the "declining share of government expenditure on technical education in the total education expenditure, which presently hovers around 4 per cent, as against over 5 per cent 12 years back."

Compare this to the 15 to 30 per cent that every major economy -- including Taiwan and Brazil -- spends on national research and development. China's research and development spending, especially in engineering fields, for example, is a good 10 per cent, says a recent Forbes study.

Retired engineering professor K S Madhavan says research and development in engineering has been in a state of decline in the last few decades because of the poor state of affairs in India's colleges.

Engineering colleges in the country have been growing at 20 per cent a year, while business schools have grown at 60 per cent annually.

Five Indian states -- Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala -- account for 69 per cent of India's engineers. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Orissa account for only 14 percent.

From its 113 universities and 2,088 colleges -- many of which teach various engineering disciplines -- India produces nearly 350,000 engineering graduates every year. All of Europe produces 100,000 engineering graduates a year, and America produces only 70,000.

But, the quality of Indian engineers is questionable, says Madhavan, who has had a career spanning four decades and is now advisor to several engineering colleges in Karnataka and Kerala. 

"That is because of the lack of trained faculty and the dismal State spending on research and development in higher education in the country," he says.

Part II: Reboot the System

Part III: Stop the virus
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