From coaching teachers being unable to pronounce ‘L’Hospital’ properly to figuring how to solve Irodov’s physics problems, I went through the whole gamut, before finally securing a place at the National Institute of Technology Karnataka, Surathkal.
Considered to be amongst the top engineering institutes in the country, NITK has a strong reputation built on academic rigour and the quality of the incoming students. However, one of the first things I observed on campus as a fresher, is the regional party system that runs student politics and most student events.
Upon entry into NITK, freshers are quickly segregated into their respective parties based on their regional backgrounds. Elections are overrun by pacts formed by these parties, and elections have a sense of inevitability to them. Of course, every student is an active participant in this colossal mishap each year, by either not voting, or voting for the candidate that their party is supporting through the pact.
This system impacts students in multiple ways. I was brought up in Hyderabad; my parents are from Karnataka, yet, my mother tongue is Konkani. Hence, I don’t identify with any of the groups in college. While many students were able to get guidance from their seniors within their party in their first year, I found this especially difficult as I had no seniors from my school.
Secondly, although certain events like “TEDx 2016” and “Incident 2017” were carried off successfully, there has been a general decline in the quality of fests over the years, as the people elected to a particular post might not be the most competent ones for the job.
The easiest way to break this system is for every student to make a conscious decision to vote independently for the candidate that they believe is the best person for the job. This would also give deserving students the confidence to stand for elections even though they may not have the party backing that is required to succeed in the current atmosphere.
On the bright side, the college atmosphere is not as restrictive as some of the other campuses down south that have dress codes, and indulge in moral policing. The beautiful environs of NIT Surathkal offer several interesting avenues for happy couples to explore, and come nightfall, you will witness a steady stream of pairs doing the rounds around campus. The proximity of Mangalore and the presence of students from various parts of the country have also contributed to the development of a dynamic and vibrant student community.
As for the private beach, it is a major marketing point during fests and is mentioned in all marketing material pertaining to NITK. On the first day of the orientation, however, students are warned not to enter it for fear of being dragged away to sea! Despite being aware of its potential danger, college authorities continue to use the beach to develop an aura around the institute.
Girls in NITK are subject to curfews, and the timings vary depending on the student’s seniority. The administration claims this measure is in the interest of ‘safety’ of the female population; does that mean that they care less about the ‘safety’ of the other students? Or by extrapolation, the well-being of the male students is of no concern at all?
The oppression of an entire gender in such a setting severely hampers any chance for well-rounded development of students. According to Sheetal Pasam, a student of mechanical engineering, block timings were amongst the biggest issues that women students would like to address each year because they restrict participation in group projects and reduce their contributions to technical and cultural fests. To my knowledge, none of the IITs have such a system in place. The draconian law is a relic from a time long gone and must be changed at once.
Also, with a skewed gender ratio of 70:30 in favour of males, there is a need to open up more avenues for inclusive participation of budding women engineers. “Tides”, an event held in November 2016, featured talks by successful women entrepreneurs. But such events are few and far between. As for the timings, apart from extensions, there has been no concrete progress on removing the rule completely.
As I watched the protests at Ramjas College, I was amazed at how the student community at NITK has never mobilised for reform on any issue. NITKians think twice before even meeting an administrative head. Maybe it’s the laziness that is built into an engineer’s DNA or the withdrawal that the system cannot be changed.
Studying at a government college, one would expect that issues like water and electricity would be adequately addressed. However, during the summers, students wake up, and the adventure of finding a water source begins. This adventure can turn into a pilgrimage for the less fortunate students, and in some cases, God might be easier to find! The unpredictability of power cuts means that students are constantly on their toes before an exam, unsure of when their tube lights will stop working.
I understand that Surathkal experiences a water shortage and power outage on a regular basis, but a government college of the stature of NITK is expected to provide these basic amenities. There has been a drive to introduce solar energy into the college grid, and solar panels now cover the roofs of most buildings. However, the system is designed such that solar energy merely reduces the load on the grid when power is already available. There are no means to store the solar energy for later use or to provide students with electricity when there is a power cut.
While these may be peripheral issues, the reason for joining a college like NITK is largely for its image as a powerhouse in the field of engineering education. Being a student of the chemical engineering department, I can say that the academic prowess of the teachers is unquestionable. Even though they may not be able to express everything appropriately during a class or seminar, sitting down and having a chat with them can dispel most doubts, and they are quite approachable in this regard.
Some of the newer departments, though, suffer on account of a poor student to faculty ratio. Vishakh Padmakumar, a third-year student, shares that while the faculty is pretty solid in their depth of expertise, the fact that not every student can be guided by a professor who has the same interests. Hence, some students end up working half-heartedly on their projects, merely focusing on getting the requisite grade. If project guides can be chosen at institutes that have a collaboration with NITK, this would lead to more productive work from the students’ side as well.
NITK has a solid training and placement cell that works in collaboration with the School of Management. There’s a strong focus on trying to secure internships right from the second year, and students also work on projects outside their academic schedules to build on engineering skills. Apart from this, there is also a nascent entrepreneurial culture at NITK, with the official startup incubator NITK STEP (Science and Technology Entrepreneurs’ Park) working with student startups and providing them with funding and office space.
The inaugural Entrepreneurship Summit by the NITK E-Cell in March, is a positive step towards developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem. With giants like Practo and Delhivery coming out of NITK, more students are taking the plunge into entrepreneurship and leaving behind cushy jobs. For instance, Yashwant Yenduri, president of NITK E-Cell has already started working on a social entrepreneurial venture.
As I perform a critical evaluation of my engineering education, I have come to realise that most of what I have learnt, technical or otherwise has come from avenues outside the classroom, and is completely unrelated to my engineering curriculum. While projects like “FSAE”, “BAJA” and “IRIS” at NITK are some student initiatives that provide opportunities to implement what is learnt, students do this out of personal interest and do not receive any official credit for it. The projects do not receive funding from the college and have their own marketing teams who gather sponsorships and industry support. They also require tedious administrative work and procedures to be followed, which reduces student enthusiasm and the drive to work.
A vastly outdated syllabus coupled with the minimum attendance rule is the perfect cocktail for a less than stimulating atmosphere within the average classroom, and there’s an urgent need to focus on an outcomes-based learning process, rather than merely focus on getting high grades. For instance, employability of the student or their ability to perform high-quality research should be a measure of how successful their education has been.
Within the ambit of the IITs and NITs, it is my opinion that every student must dedicate a year after graduation working on projects that contribute to the nation’s development. The government is providing me with a subsidy on my fees and making an investment in my education.
Shouldn’t I along with every other student here, then, give back to the country in whatever small way that we can?