The Centre's new plan to improve technical education with a World Bank loan, the MERITE Project

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The union government is working on a new project to improve technical education in India with a focus on equity, resilience, and governance with a special focus on low-income states since the Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP) series has come to an end. The Multidisciplinary Education and Research Improvement in Technical Education (MERITE) project, which will be co-financed by the World Bank and the ministry of education, has been given a framework by the government. It is expected to last for five years, from 2022–2023 to 2027–2028. The initiative is in line with National Education Policy 2020, according to the draft framework (NEP).

According to the draught the project will be implemented in engineering schools throughout all states, with a special emphasis on “laggard states,” with a goal of addressing major issues like a lack of infrastructure, funding for research and innovation, a lack of female enrollment, and others. Undergraduate engineering students from historically marginalised Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) and vulnerable communities would be the focus of this initiative. The project excludes prestigious universities like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and the National Institutes of Technology (NIT). Over the course of the project, the new initiative is anticipated to benefit close to 4 lakh people. BTech students, technical institutions’ teachers and non-teaching staff, state technical education departments, elected officials, and industry-related organisations will all be included in this.

Although the project’s sites haven’t been made public, they probably include some of the universities and other institutions covered by the TEQIP series’ prior phase. Its third phase came to a close in September of last year after the central government granted two extensions.

The government has been consulting with key players from several states since October 2021, including IITs, and organisations that oversee higher education such as the National Board of Accreditation and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) (NBA).

MERITE to replace TEQIP

MERITE will take the role of TEQIP, another ambitious project of the education ministry. TEQIP was controversially terminated, leaving more engineering graduates from some of the best technical universities in the country jobless. The MERITE documents opine that TEQIP-affiliated institutions are probably going to take part in MERITE as well. The government had hired over 1,500 graduates from India’s top technical institutions – IITs, NITs, and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) – through TEQIP to improve the quality of technical training, address faculty shortages in educationally underdeveloped areas, and provide employment and research opportunities to engineering graduates.

They were hired with the assumption that they would be hired as permanent employees after the project time to teach in state engineering colleges in underdeveloped areas and get the programmes accredited by the NBA. But no permanent employment was offered to these educators. Many of them are forced to work as tutors or even in stores since they lack jobs and are in debt.

Technical Education: Project objectives

With the implementation of this new project, the government will solve a number of significant difficulties. According to the document, just 12% of undergraduate students major in engineering, and only 1.8% of SEDGs (Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups) participate in the programme. In terms of gender, girls make up 43% of all STEM students – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – but only 27.5% of engineering students. Low participation in the job market and other developmental activities among underrepresented groups and female students.

Another contributing element, particularly for kids from underprivileged backgrounds, is the students’ “inability to adjust to competitive conditions.” Low entry-level marks, insufficient preparation for the demanding engineering curriculum, irregular attendance in class, low self-confidence, and limited English language abilities are cited in the document as causes of difficulties. Other significant problems were a lack of funding, obsolete placement cells, inadequate faculty, bad infrastructure, and a mismatch between the curriculum and market demands. The education ministry has established academic methods to address these issues as part of the equity action plan (EAP). The project architecture suggests diagnostic exams at the start of each semester as well as remedial classes to assist students in keeping up with the engineering curriculum.

To improve writing and speaking abilities in English, the plan also calls for literacy clubs. The strategy includes training sessions for third- and fourth-year students to enhance their technical and soft skills and get them ready for interviews and further education. The engineering schools must also give attention to students’ mental health by offering counselling services that address issues like anxiety, stress, abuse, violence, homesickness, and similar issues. Additionally, the “equity action plan” recommends non-academic methods to address women’s challenges, the promotion of scholarship programmes and other financial aid, and the improvement of digital infrastructure.

Engineering Colleges: Measuring outcomes

Five outcome measurement indicators are the main focus of the study. The project institutions will develop plans to enhance student learning outcomes and graduate employability with a focus on the underprivileged, including those from the SC and ST categories. They will also keep track of students’ skill and learning progress, the results of competitive research grants, the proportion of accredited programmes in institutions, and the proportion of participating institutions with an operational board of governors. For each indicator and result, the education ministry plans to create a monitoring strategy that will collect and analyse data that is broken down by gender, caste, and disability to track their development.

The government has not yet made public the project’s total funding structure. The amount of money given to TEQIP III was Rs 2,600 crore. The government is required to ensure environmental and social integration in the design, implementation, and monitoring of the project-supported activities in order to receive financial support from the World Bank. The environmental impact of any little infrastructure development will be carefully considered because the project’s major focus is on underdeveloped areas.

Mayank Tewari

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