It seems the golden era of the engineering colleges in the Kerala is getting over. Kerala Technological University has taken action against 23 colleges where not a single student was admitted to 23 batches this academic year. Another 13 colleges with less than 30% admission are also under observation. The boom period of engineering colleges in Kerala started off in 2001.In 2001, the ministry headed by A K Antony adopted a landmark policy that allowed the private sector to start self-financing colleges offering professional courses in the state. Since then there was a surge in the number of self-financing engineering colleges operating in Kerala. Accordingly, 50 percent of the total seats in the colleges were to be filled up as per the norms of government colleges and the rest were left to the managements. This understanding resulted in Kerala witnessing a steady increase in the engineering colleges, as there was prolonged demand for engineering courses in Kerala.
The implementation of the policy has led to increasing in the number of colleges in the state, but a commensurate improvement in the quality was not visible. The pool of engineering colleges in the state made the engineering degree comparatively cheaper as the chunk of banks in Kerala supported the students through the provision of education loans. The engineering degree syndrome in the state propelled the students to depend on the bank for educational loans without taking into account excellence of these engineering colleges. There was also a substantial increase in the flow of students from Kerala to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu for pursuing their studies in engineering. Now these banks that supported the students through educational loans are running into trouble, as these educational loans have been transformed into non-performing assets (NPA). The total outstanding educational loans in the state is Rs 9370 crore, out of this the total NPA amounts to Rs 100 crore. A large number of engineering colleges in the state has created a lump of engineering graduates, but the market in the state was not capable of absorbing these much number graduates.
The engineering syndrome in the state is slowly declining. The cycle has reached a saturation point hed. This is evident from a large number of seats in engineering colleges that are lying vacant. The 118 self-financing colleges in the state were able to claim only 40 percent of its merit seats. The Government is trying its every bit to fill up the vacant seats in these engineering colleges. It has put forward measures including the relaxation in the selection criteria, such as more priority should be given to the 12th standard marks than the entrance marks. One has to wait and watch whether the government will wither away the entire concept of engineering entrance exam to save the ailing engineering colleges in the state. However, whether these measures provide any meaningful solution to the real problem is doubtful.
The plan for the closure of the engineering colleges in the state comes in the wake of the stringent measures put forward by the Kerala Technological University. As per the order issued by the Higher Education Department, all the colleges offering B.Tech and M.Tech courses have to affiliate with Kerala Technical University. Kerala Technological University, set up in 2014, is now the regulator in this field that was absent nearly for a decade. All the problems popped up in this domain were due to the absence of a regulator. The corrective steps initiated by the Kerala Technological University can help to clean the messed up scenario of the technological education sector in the state.
This could have happened even before, provided we should have a mechanism whereby the quality of these large numbers of engineering colleges in the state can be assessed. For instance, Credit Bureau Information Limited (CIBIL), a Credit Information Company in India, collects and maintains records of an individual’s payment about loans and credit cards. This information is used to create Credit information Reports (CIR) and credit scores for individuals that will be provided to banks and other credit institutions to evaluate and approve loan applications. In the same line, a record on the educational loan defaulters in the state could be linked to the institutions that they have studied. The deafault loans shows the inability of the students to repay the loan as they are not able to find adequate employment. This throws light on the failure of the institution to equip the students with necessary skills and quality that enable him to compete in the job market or lack of the interest shown by the companies in the campus placement. If the students from a given institution form the larger part of the loan defaulters and if proper reports and credit score are maintained in similar line with CIBIL, it will be a black mark on the educational institution. The banks will be then unwilling to provide educational loans for students opting for such an institution. The market mechanism will operate making these institutions cease to exist. If such a mechanism has existed in the state, Kerala would not have witnessed a rush to engineering colleges.
“Experience is the best teacher”; taking this into account the government should be able to adopt sound policies that help in reforming the higher educational sector in Kerala. It is not the quantity of educational institutions that matters but whether these institutions are competent in imparting quality education to students should be a major concern.
 D Dhanuraj is the Chairman to Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi
 Deepthi Mary Mathew is Research Assistant at Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi
This article is a reproduced version of the original article which was published in Pallikkuttam; a Rajagiri Educational Magazine