The reason I wrote this in 2009 and again in 2011 is rather simple. I get lots of emails on my views on different engineering colleges, and request to compare this with that. I am not in the habit of comparing things based on what I have read on social media or what I have heard on the corridors. And hence in most cases, I have to decline any comments. And I thought instead of just saying that I have no opinion, I could give them an algorithm to make some progress in coming to a decision. And hence this article.
First of all, which is a good college. Yes, I know. The highest package. Sorry, if you think so, and you are convinced about it, this article is a waste of time for you. Please stop reading. Go to any of the infinite sites where you can ask questions about packages and you will get answers that you can completely trust.
Let me suggest an alternative. It prepares you to achieve your goals. And, of course, your goal could be to be rich. But you don't become rich by having large paycheck in the first month. You become rich by having a long paying career. The first job is no guarantee of a successful career. And placement statistics anyway are most unreliable. So may be you should be looking at how alumni are doing 5-10 year hence rather than how final year students are doing. But then that statistics is even harder to get.
So let us look at factors that are most likely going to lead to a successful career. These factors are:
- Your passion and interest in the area you are working in (that is why it is important that you don't choose CS or ECE just because everyone else is doing so, but think of what excites you)
- Your preparedness as far as knowledge and skills are concerned (this is why the quality of education is so important)
- Your ability to keep learning lifelong (this is why good faculty is absolutely important - to not just teach you some technical stuff, but tell you how to learn yourself)
- Your soft skills, attitude, ethics, etc. (this is best learnt at school, but a good college would improve upon this, particularly a residential campus where you learn many things from hostel activities)
- Your network of friends (this is where a good college which attracts more good students will help), and
- A huge amount of luck.
And this article is not about luck. I can just wish you all a huge amount of luck.
So let us focus on the other four factors.
The most important factor is the quality of faculty. It not only helps you in learning how to learn lifelong, but also ensures that you pick up adequate knowledge and skills from the program. How do we know which college has a better faculty than the other. Well, visit their website, and look for the following information:
- Number of full-time faculty members. Please make sure that you read the details, and find out who is a full-time faculty member, and who is a part-time or adjunct faculty member. The important parameter is faculty to student ratio.
- Their qualifications. How many are PhDs. Where did they do their PhDs. Similarly, how many faculty members are having MTech qualification. Where did they do their MTech.
- If a significant portion of faculty received their highest degree (whether PhD, MTech, or BTech) from the same college, then that should raise some alarms. On the other hand, faculty members having a lower degree from the same college, implies that they value the place enough that they returned back to the same place after getting a higher degree from elsewhere.
- If the highest qualification for any faculty member is BTech or MCA, then be alarmed. Top places will only higher PhDs. Good places may have some MTechs. But if colleges are hiring BTechs and MCAs for teaching courses, it means that they are not able to attract enough good faculty, and that should be a cause for concern.
- What are faculty doing. Are they teaching three courses a semester or two. Are they doing at least some bit of research publications.
Another factor that gives an indication of the quality of faculty is the research output of the institution. I believe that there are good researchers who are not good teachers, and similarly, there are good teachers who are not good researcher. However, in general, faculty members who are actively pursuing some research interests would be current on the subject and would have a deeper understanding of the topics. But more importantly, research flourishes when there is an institutional support for it. If faculty members are doing research, then it shows that the college management is serious about the quality of education. Research can be measured by the following parameters. (You may need help from someone in the academic community to really understand these parameters. Go ahead and ask whoever you know.)
- Publication by faculty members. Higher preference should be given to peer-reviewed journals and conferences of high quality and reputation. Then one should also look at local conferences. At least someone is putting some effort in the right direction.Unfortunately, there are enough journals today where one can publish by paying. There are also online sites where anyone can upload a paper. So it has become extremely difficult for anyone but a researcher in that area to figure out the quality of research by looking at the webpage.
- Sponsored research projects by various funding agencies like Department of Science and Technology (DST), AICTE, Dept of Information Technology, etc. Normally, research projects are peer reviewed and thus presence of such projects indicate that peers think highly of them.
- Any industry interaction in terms of research projects or consultancy. Working with industry requires confidence in one's abilities. Industry isn't in the business of charity. Also, industry interaction often would lead to good internships and employment opportunities for students.
- Do they invite several researchers to give seminars. Do they organize workshops and conferences. This shows that the place is active and has energy.
- How many courses do they teach. Unlike the conventional wisdom in India, I believe that the college that teaches you less is a better college. It means that they do less spoon feeding, and give you more space to grow and learn. There are surely exceptions to this general trend, but by and large colleges will try to teach you more, if they know that they are doing a poor job of teaching, and hope that if they try teaching you lots, then perhaps in some courses they will be able to teach you something.A good college may have 40-45 courses in the curriculum, while a poor quality college may have more than 50 courses.
- How many electives are there in the curriculum, giving flexibility to the students to learn what they are interested in. Many colleges may have slots for electives, but they treat that slot as their choice to offer a course. So they won't offer three courses, and ask students to chose one. But instead they will offer one course of their own choice (basically for whatever course they can find a faculty). Also, in most colleges, the curriculum will only contain professional electives, but no open electives.
- Do they have enough number of humanities and social science courses (at least 10 percent courses). One cannot be a complete engineer without understanding economics, sociology, psychology, etc.
Another important criteria is the autonomy of the institute. Can they decide their own curriculum. Typically, universities (including deemed-to-be-universities) can decide their own curriculum, and in general I would strongly recommend universities over affiliated colleges. Teaching someone else's curriculum is demotivating for teachers. If they do not have much stake in the curriculum, it would also invariably mean that exams are also conducted by someone else (by the universities, except for some "autonomous" colleges), and that means students don't care for the classes and teachers. This can not be conducive for lifelong learning, not even for immediate learning. But, of course, a vast majority of engineering education happens in such affiliated colleges, and most of it is poor quality. Of course, this is generalization, and certainly there are some affiliated colleges which are doing a decent job.
Fancy infrastructure is not something that impresses me, but yes, they should have all the necessary labs, good Internet bandwith, WiFi access so that you can use your own laptops and other devices anywhere, a good library with lots of reading spaces, lecture rooms without a projector is like living in dark ages, adequate sports facilities, etc. (Caution: Some of the engineering colleges would have all of this and more, but would not have faculty. Look at infrastructure only after you are convinced about the faculty and curriculum, etc.)
To ensure that your peer group is strong (since so much of learning will happen outside the class room, and your career will be helped by a good peer group), one may look at the closing ranks of the admission test (like JEE). The other possibilities are various rankings that you see in the media. Well, I would just ignore all the rankings. I have seen such stupidities in these rankings that I would not want them to influence your decision at all. But then there is a problem. How do you compare two institutes who take admission through two different criteria. Well, my advice, don't use this criteria in such cases. Of course, this criteria will also discriminate against some new institutes who may have suddenly become very good (like IIIT Delhi in comparison with other Delhi institutes), so take this with a pinch of salt.
Other things that you might want to look at:
- Quality of the website. Do they give you all the information that you need to evaluate them. If they don't give some data, assume the worst. In this age, if they are not serious about even this level of publicity, how serious will they be about your education. How will they attract industry for placement and internships.
- What fraction of graduates go for higher studies? This shows that they are not sick of their education. And also, the higher education is becoming increasingly important for success. So the chances are that a greater fraction of their graduates will be successful in future.
- Placement data (it is completely unreliable and has no prediction value)
- MoUs with foreign universities
I will perhaps keep editing it as I think of more issues.