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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Aiming to minimise compulsory content, increase elective courses: Punjab Engineering College director

On joining colleges like PEC, students gets exposed to a lot of different subjects, get opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life, learn about different careers, following which they slowly start developing their interests and passions

Written by Hina Rohtaki | Chandigarh | Updated: September 28, 2020 8:11:16 am
covid-19 n punjab, PEC, Ped director, Dheeraj Sanghi, PEc college, pec college exams, indian express newsPEC Director Dheeraj Sanghi (Twitter@PEC DheerajSanghi)

Punjab Engineering College (PEC) Director Dheeraj Sanghi speaks to HINA ROHTAKI about bringing flexibility in curriculum for students, impact of Covid-19 on the institution and placements.

We learnt that PEC is bringing flexibility in curriculum for students. What is it going to be about and how?

A basic assumption we are making is that a lot of students completing class 12th do not have much idea about their interests. There is too much focus on entrance exams and to some extent board exams. Hence, they do not have much exposure and time to develop their interests and passion, leading them to choose colleges and disciplines on the basis of previous years’ ranks. In fact, there is a significant influence of parents and others in society on such decision.

On joining colleges like PEC, students gets exposed to a lot of different subjects, get opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life, learn about different careers, following which they slowly start developing their interests and passions. A college like PEC should enable students to explore their interests and get trained in it. This is, of course, subject to the minimum requirement of a degree programme they are enrolled in.

For examples, the curriculum should not be based on what all an electrical engineer can possibly know, but it should be based on what is the minimum that an electrical engineer must know. This change of philosophy means that there should be a significant component of the curriculum which consists of ‘open electives’. These are courses that the student take up irrespective of their discipline. For example, if the student is deeply interested in electrical engineering and wants to get into research and development or a core job, they will do more courses related to electrical engineering. If the student believes that some new age technologies outside electrical engineering, for example, AI, ML, etc, would be interesting, then they should be able to take up these courses. If the student believes that learning more about Economics, Finance, Management and Communication would be more interesting, then they should be able to do courses in those areas. Thus, the major aim of this curriculum design exercise has been to minimise compulsory content and increase elective content.

How will it help students? Has the faculty been trained for reforms?

Students will be able to learn what they are interested in, or what is more aligned towards their career goals. There is no need for faculty training for making curriculum more flexible.

Due to Covid-19, PEC postponed its academic audit and centenary celebrations were also halted. What will be its impact?

The academic audit will be undertaken next year, when we are back to normal functioning with all the students and faculty on campus and when there is willingness among experts to travel to Chandigarh. This is a minor setback. We have never done this kind of audit before, and we really would like to bring in experts from top institutions to look at all our academic processes carefully and advise us on how we can improve ourselves.

The centenary celebrations were supposed to be held from August 2021 to November 2022, the three semesters. As of now, we have not made any changes to this plan. There is still a possibility that we may be able to stick to this. However, certainly there is some concern and some people have informally started talking about having the celebrations from November 2021 to November 2022. We will, of course, inform everyone officially if there is a change of plan.

Though PEC was up by 10 notches in NIRF rankings, do you feel there is still a lot to be done? Which aspects are in focus?

The improvement in ranking is not due to any improvement at PEC. I do not believe that it reflects either an improvement in teaching or research.

There are two major reasons for improvement. Firstly, we presented correct data which showed us in better light. For example, in the previous year we forgot to add the costs of pension in our budget. This year, we were more careful, so our budget per faculty was shown as higher this year. Secondly, we were slightly better in perception. This is because we have become more active on social media and print media also has been very supportive this year.

We now need to incorporate ‘real’ reforms. We are trying to put more focus on research, which has significant weight in ranking. But frankly, very little can be done till we become a central government institute. Our faculty to student ratio is one of the worst in the top 100 institutes. We do not have any officer level posts at PEC. Our infrastructure is designed for a batch size of 400 odd students and we have admitted 800 UG students this year. My own take is that we might see a small improvement in ranking again next year but we will not see a stark jump unless we become a Centrally Funded Technical Institute (CFTI).

How have the placements been this year? Was there any impact of Covid-19 on the placements?

The placements for the outgoing batch has been good. Despite the fact that it was a much larger batch (we had increased our student intake in 2016), our placement ratio remained the same as last year. Our median, average and maximum salary have remained stable or have slightly gone up. We had very few cases of withdrawal of jobs because of Covid-19 and we were able to place most of the students through a special drive. The placement process for the 2021 batch has started with a good note. Let us hope that it continues this way and we have good numbers to report next year too.

Last year, a proposal was sent to the UT Administration for revamping infrastructure. Have things moved ahead?

There is a stay on construction because of some litigation between a contractor and the UT Administration. We hope that case gets resolved soon, so that construction for our hostel extension can be started.

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