Nearly half of the 539 colleges in Tamil Nadu are on the verge of closure or deserve to be closed, says V Amrithalingam, a Madurai-based educationist. Over a lakh seats have had no takers  in private engineering colleges in the state, which possesses the second highest number of such institutes

"126 Tamil Nadu engineering colleges closed 225 PG programmes in 2 years"

"92 Tamil Nadu engineering colleges told to cut intake due to lack of infrastructure, faculty"

"Tamil Nadu has most engineering colleges with less than 30% intake"

"90% seats in 52% Tamil Nadu engineering colleges vacant"

These are a samples of headlines from various dailies in the last few months. As can be seen, there is a huge crisis in engineering college education in Tamil Nadu, and the worrying part is, there is no apparent solution to the problem.

Every year since 2015, over a lakh of seats have had no takers across the 539 private engineering colleges in the state, which has the second highest number of such institutes in the country.

At least half of these 539 colleges are on the verge of closure or deserve to be closed, says V Amrithalingam, a Madurai-based educationist. "The other problem is that most colleges that run without much problem are not able to deliver quality education. It is a very troubling situation for the last few years," he adds.

As per the numbers released on the ongoing engineering colleges admission counselling by the apex Anna University, out of the 470 colleges that were part of the counselling, 52% of the colleges could not even fill 10% of their seats. A total of 35 colleges could not get even a single admission. At the moment of writing this article over 1,25,000 seats are yet to be filled. Three colleges achieved 100% enrolment. And not surprisingly, all the three are government-managed institutions. A total of 36 colleges have 80% of seats filled, and again, 18 of them are government-run colleges.

Reports say only colleges in Chennai and Coimbatore, as a cluster, are attracting a good number of students. The rest are simply floundering.

Tamil Nadu's engineering education system till at least the end of 2010 used to be a success story. It had churned out lakhs and lakhs of engineers who, regardless of their intrinsic quality, have managed to gainfully employ themselves. Now that success story is turning alarmingly sour.

One of the reasons is the obvious mindless mushrooming of engineering colleges. The AICTE merely checks whether an education trust or a person wanting to start an engineering college has the requisite 2.5 acres in an urban setting or 10 acres in a rural one, whether each classroom has a minimum of 66 square metres of carpet space and whether the college administration can furnish proof for a fund of Rs 1 crore as operational expenses. In many cases, colleges have been started with these requisites being met only on paper.

Industry insiders say the period between 2008 and 2009 was the worst. A total of 163 institutions were given permission in these two years alone. The then DMK government just blindly dished out permission letters. Since most of these self-financing engineering colleges are run by politicians and real estate sharks, they have no understanding of education or running an institution.

Now we have a clear mismatch between demand supply There is no market for so many engineering colleges, says Rathna Ganesan, an educationist in Chennai. She says, "in 2005, Tamil Nadu had 211 colleges affiliated to the Anna University, but by 2015, this number doubled to 495. That’s an increase by 135% in 10 years. This is ridiculous for any market."

Another problem is deplorable quality of teaching in most of these colleges. Most colleges simply don't have the faculty to cater to the students. It is a case of “student yesterday, professor today” in many colleges. Even if some of them are good in their grasp of engineering studies, they simply lack the ability to impart education, says Rathna.

With placement companies also refusing to visit smaller towns, engineering colleges find it even more difficult to attract students. “There are good placement opportunities in A- and B-level colleges. But beyond that there is a yawning space,” says placement officer in a Chennai based engineering college.

On the one hand, you have corporates complaining that engineering graduates from TN are mostly unemployable. On the other, colleges too face the threat of closure. So, you have trouble at both ends of the spectrum, says Amrithalingam.  

In 2017, the Madras high court took cognisance of the state of affairs, and said, "it is a fact that many engineering colleges have been opened without any manpower policy and the effect of producing more engineering graduates causes unemployment and other social problems.  The position is due to lack of a policy on the part of the Government as well as the AICTE (All-India Council for Technical Education) and other connected stakeholders."

In two years, alas, things have gotten worse.