Quality Improvement in Engineering Education, Andreas Blom, Education Economist, World Bank

Andreas Blom

Education Economist, Human Development
South Asia Region, The World Bank

Andreas Blom works as a Senior Education Economist in the World Bank’s department for Human Development in South Asia. He specializes in the economic policy analysis of human capital and creation of knowledge, and their efficient use in society.

Andreas works with the Governments of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to improve quality, access and financing of their higher education and training systems. In his previous position, Andreas worked seven years on higher education, training, labor markets and public spending in Latin America and the Caribbean. He was part of a team that supported student loan agencies in Latin America, in particular in Mexico and Colombia. He authored several global and regional studies on the financing of higher education, student loans, labor markets, quality of education, and science, technology and innovation.

He holds a master degree in development economics from the University of Aarhus.

Rahul- Please share the objectives and highlights of Technical/Engineering Education Quality Improvement Project I & II (TEQIP).
Andreas- India has a phenomenal potential within Engineering and Technology. The fact that India’s best talent chooses the engineering discipline is a unique and tremendous factor for competitiveness for Indian IT and manufacturing firms. It is also essential for the continued development of key infrastructure for development, such as power, roads,  and water and sanitation.  And how will India overcome the challenges of climate change without qualified engineers and innovative Indian technologies to save energy? Nevertheless, failure to educate quality engineers and produce irrelevant engineering R&D is a possibility. The Government of India  -World Bank supported – Technical Education Quality Improvement Program helps convert India’s Engineering and Technology potential into reality.

The first phase of TEQIP started a reform process. Through investment of USD 250 million (Rs. 1340 crores), we supported 109 competitively-selected engineering education institutions in 13 states and 18 central institutions (mostly NITs).  The results are impressive:
•    Placement rates of graduates into jobs almost doubled from 40% to 83%, indicating improved relevance of programs and increased skill sets of graduates.
•    A 15 percent increase of students graduating with honors/distinction in both undergraduate and post-graduate courses.
•    Post-graduate enrollments rose sharply (up 50 percent in Masters and 69 percent in Ph.D programs).
•    Course offerings were restructured, modernized and vastly expanded in line with employer expectations. 91% of supported programs are either accredited or are under assessment for accreditation
•    The project initiated a reform process promoting autonomy and accountability that led to over 25 TEQIP-institutions becoming academically autonomous. For instance, 17 Regional Engineering Colleges became National Institutes of Technology with university status.
•    220,000 students from disadvantaged backgrounds were assisted through provision of remedial teaching, workshops and establishment of book banks.
•    30,000 faculty and 13,000 staff underwent training and professional development.
•    Sizeable increases in publications, patents and R&D products being commercialized.

The second phase of the program, which will be approved very soon, equally seeks to contribute to a nation-wide improvement in quality of engineering education. We will continue the core-concept from phase I; the competitive selection of institutions, the autonomy and accountability reform, and the bottom-up approach relying on proposals from the institutions. Faculty and Institutions need to drive their quest for excellence, be empowered to do so; and held accountable for producing employable engineers and quality research.
In addition, the second phase will respond to two major concerns: (i) the shortage of qualified faculty, and (ii) lack of R&D collaboration with industry.  Graduating more quality PhDs is the only way to sustainably overcome the faculty shortage, and TEQIP-II will finance the expansion of PhD and research programs in collaboration with industry.

Rahul- What are some of the implementation challenges you have faced while working with Indian institutions on TEQIP. What recommendations you have for the institutions for improving the project outcomes?

Andreas- Overall, we were very happy with implementation of the first phase. Nevertheless, Phase I revealed several challenges to implementation arrangements: Faculty and institutions need to be empowered and incentivized to undertake change. There is too much red tape, and too many administrators will not take initiative. We need to reward more those faculty and institutions that perform well. Linked to this is the need to further strengthen and disseminate the use of performance information. Through Phase 1, Govt. of India collected an unprecedented amount of performance information. For example, over 8,000 students and 1000 faculty members were surveyed each year on the satisfaction with their institutions. This is a very good practice that needs to continue. We also faced turn-over and slow appointment of teachers and administrators, which cripples quality of education. Too many colleges in India lack qualified teachers. This hiring process should be accelerated. Lastly, we need to work even more with the institutions and state governments to ensure sufficient and clear oversight of procurement and financial management. Together with the government and institutions, we work hard on ensuring every rupee is not only efficiently invested in books, equipment, training, renovation of education facilities, but also duly accounted for so that no funds are diverted or abused.

You asked me about how to improve project outcomes. For us, Strong project outcomes mean strong Institutions, employable engineers, and at least a doubling of the number of PhD students! My main recommendations to institutions are: A strong institution foremost means a dedicated and bold institutional leadership that works with a group of well-qualified senior faculty members to draw-up both a strategic plan for the institution and a competitive investment proposal that TEQIP can fund. Second, the institution also needs to actively and seriously listen to shortcomings from students, employers, and faculty.  For example, employers consistently value pro-active and team-oriented graduates that can apply engineering techniques to solve real-life problems. The curriculum, teaching-methods and assessments need to foster such competences.  This requires major innovation and professional development within the existing teaching faculty. Third, increased collaboration with industry is critical-more internships to students, industry-sabbatical for faculty, design of electives around the needs of local economic clusters, and PhDs doing research within companies while earning their degree are required. Fourth, motivating faculty and giving them opportunities for R&D is not going to be easy in many institutions, this will require innovation on part of the directors. Lastly, the State government and affiliating universities will inevitably play an important role. They need to support the mature institutions to become academically autonomous. State governments should award more financial discretion to the institutions in return for greater transparency in use of funds and accountability for results.

Rahul- Recently, India’s bid for full membership to Washington Accord was turned down. What are the top two recommendations you have for addressing the challenges of quality in engineering education in India? 
Andreas- According to my information, India’s bid was not turned down; its provisional membership of the Accord was extended at its request. It is important to keep in mind that membership of the Accord will take India into the premier league of global Engineering Education, so it is not going to be easy. Three actions are necessary:
(i)    Beef up the National Board of Accreditation – make it independent and invest in information systems, more staff, and the evaluators/peer reviews. Accrediting over 10,000 engineering, computer science, and technology programs is going to be a gigantic task.
(ii)    Incentivize accreditation. Accreditation should gradually be made mandatory for public funding – as it is in many countries –and perhaps mandatory for students to be eligible for financial aid, as in the US.
(iii)    Invest in institutions to give them a fair chance to reach the new global standards. Many 100s Indian institutions, if not more, will not meet the Washington Accord standards. Immediately imposing the new standards without funding and availability of qualified faculty will produce a difficult situation. Programs, like TEQIP, are necessary for institutions to modernize curricula and teaching-learning methods, upgrade equipment, and invest in research. Further, a large number of Indian PhDs need to be formed and incentivized to become teaching researchers, and Institutions need to become more autonomous and accountable to compete at the global level.

Relevant links:
World Bank education in India
World Bank blog on South Asia
Learning Forum on Governance of Technical Education in India

Also see earlier my earlier interview with Dean Unnikrishnan of California State University, who was one of the mentors who reviewed India’s bid for full membership to Washington Accord.

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