Karnataka VTU’s Archaic System Stalls Education For Engineering Students

The Visvesvaraya Technological University, or VTU, is to colleges in Karnataka what CBSE is to schools across India: A central educational body that sets the curriculum for and awards degrees to students in the 201 engineering and technology colleges affiliated to it. Established in 1994, VTU is a collegiate public state university that boasts of a collective annual intake capacity of around 467,100 undergraduate students, 12,666 postgraduate students, and 1,800 doctoral students, thereby making it one of the largest universities in India. VTU is also a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities. It stands to reason, then that VTU should be one of the premier higher-education institutes in India. That, however, is not the case.

At a time when technology is developing exponentially, the stalwarts of VTU still focus their curriculum on antiquated information and theoretical knowledge. Modern-day technologies, methods, and developments take a back seat to the tried-and-tested education provided to the previous generation, even if it has no relevance in today’s world. For example, all first-year undergraduate students have a ‘Workshop’ lab where they have to cut iron pieces using a hack-saw blade. You could perhaps make the case of this being useful to a mechanical or civil engineer, but it is a futile skill to learn for a student of computer science.

This irrelevance in the education provided continues through the four years that are supposed to turn a student into a working professional. And at the end of it all, students graduating from VTU are employable, but never in the field which they spent four years studying about.

The problem begins with the colleges themselves. There are, as mentioned earlier, 201 colleges affiliated to VTU and this number is only ever increasing. Every one of these colleges wants to increase admissions, make more money, and improve its ranking. To achieve this, they focus on one thing and one thing only: Maximizing student placements after graduation.

The placement percentage holds more value to colleges and prospective students (or rather their parents) than the college’s rank, reputation, or campus. It’s quite well-known that most engineering students would rather be studying anything other than engineering. In Karnataka, as it is almost everywhere in India, studying engineering has become the most convenient way for a young adult to get a respectable job and start the rest of his life. And VTU takes utmost advantage of this very fact.

College is supposed to have a different approach to education when compared to schools. In college, students should find what they enjoy studying, even if it is in a focused stream, and be allowed to learn. Instead the students of VTU are treated to fixed timetables, practical records, and little or no say in the choice of their elective courses. VTU remains unsympathetic to this as their aim is entirely different from providing a wholesome education to their students. They just want to show, on paper, that the students are good enough to be hired for entry-level positions in one of the many multinational corporations (MNCs) across the country.

VTU doesn’t care about whether students actually learn anything; 80% of a subject’s grade depends on the final exam, which requires a thorough memorization of the relevant textbook to be cleared. Even the practical lab experiments are stripped of their use. The colleges are more intent on showing that a student performed the experiment rather than him or her actually performing and understanding it. Asking computer science students to write down 200 pages of code in notebooks just for the sake of “procedure” is nothing more than a blatant waste of their time. Students have also realized that there is nothing for them to gain by attending classes either, one can learn the textbooks by rote and pass with a fair grade. Teachers unmotivated to teach a class of uninterested students doesn’t help the cause either.

To prevent empty classrooms, VTU, like many other colleges in the country, utilizes a rigorous attendance system. Students have to maintain an 85 per cent attendance rate (75 per cent citing medical reasons) throughout the semester or they will not be eligible to write the final exams. This turns studying into an act of spite for the students and any desire they have for learning is completely extinguished. Come senior year, many students land a job through campus interviews while others prepare for postgraduate studies. It’s those students, the ones who didn’t get one of the few jobs in their chosen field and the ones who don’t want to work in mundane and thankless jobs, who suffer due to the lack of the skill set expected from an engineer.

The job of VTU, however, is done. They have ensured the graduation of most students and have made a fair amount of money doing so. VTU makes an obscene amount of money every semester on something called revaluations. If a student has failed or is unhappy with the marks obtained in the final exam, he or she can submit the paper for revaluation, for the sum of ₹400. An undergraduate student studying at VTU found that invigilators tend to increase marks by a considerable amount if the paper is submitted for revaluation. According to The Hindu, the annual reports of VTU for 2012-13 and 2013-14 showed the university receiving more than ₹22.25 crore in revaluation applications.

“Officials are minting money at the cost of students’ futures. It is true that there is a big golmaal [scandal] in the VTU evaluation and revaluation system,” former VTU vice-chancellor K Balaveera Reddy told Bangalore Mirror.

VTU also conducted something known as a “challenge evaluation” until it was recently exposed as a “marks for money” scheme. Students unhappy with the revaluation, could order another evaluation for the sum of ₹5,000 with ₹3,000 being refunded if the marks increased by 15 or more. The pass percentage after “challenge evaluation” was a whopping 41.9% in January 2006 and had fallen to 22.5% in July 2010, shortly after which the practice ended. Revaluations, though, are still going strong and according to the National Students Union of India (NSUI),
2,00,000 students out of the 4,00,000 who wrote the July 2016 examinations have applied for revaluation.

The NSUI also supported the students of 14 engineering colleges in Bangalore as they staged a protest against the irrational and detrimental year-back system. The year-back system is another issue which VTU is having to contend with in the past few years. According to this system, a student who fails a subject in the first year is not allowed into the third year of the course, even if he or she clears all courses in the second year, until that first-year subject is cleared. This means that students can be held back for an entire year due to not clearing a subject that may not even be related to their chosen fields of study. There are instances of students being held back for two to three years due to a single subject.

It is worth noting that H. Maheshappa, the Vice-Chancellor of VTU from July 2, 2010 to June 30, 2016, had failed 7 out of the 10 semesters over the course of his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He also claimed to have graduated with a ‘First Class’ grade – a false claim as it was later revealed. Maheshappa was removed from his position after an investigation by the High Court uncovered irregularities and illegalities in the recruitment of staff, a depletion of the corpus fund of ₹541 crore, and other lapses during his tenure.

With the fallacies behind VTU’s functioning revealed, it’s about time the institution stopped functioning as a moneymaking organization and instead focused on what’s important: providing a good education that is relevant in today’s world.

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