Redefining Engineering

Professor Sanjay Dhande, Founder Director, Mahindra École Centrale College of Engineering on how an inter-disciplinary engineering syllabus will better their students understanding of their core subjects

We aim at honing scientifically and technically sound, well trained engineers who are grounded in humanities, who will become ethical leaders of tomorrow

Professor Sanjay Dhande explains how infusing liberal arts into engineering education helps hone 3D engineers—technocrats with an understanding of the societal, environmental, economical and industrial impact of engineering. This in turn translates into technical know-how and entrepreneurial skills that will help create a new generation of technological systems

The 5WH in brief

Who: Professor Sanjay Dhande, Founder Director, Mahindra École Centrale College of Engineering, Hyderabad

What: Professor Dhande is spearheading the Mahindra Group’s new higher education initiative, delivering engineering education that is designed to create a new breed of engineers—technocrats with well-rounded personalities, global exposure and a deeper understanding of the socio-economic and environmental framework they would work in.

When: Commissioned in September 2013, first batch entry in August 2014

Why: Because only polyvalent engineers can come up with innovative solutions for the complex challenges facing the world in the 21st century. It takes a fine mix of technical know-how and entrepreneurial skills to consciously act for positive change and development, and to design and manage complex technological systems that benefit humanity.

Where: Mahindra École Centrale Engineering College,Hyderabad

How: By creating an inter-disciplinary engineering syllabus which also incorporates liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, philosophy and a foreign language, based on a successful European model, with help from a global leader in the field.

Mahindra École Centrale Engineeering College (MEC)Hyderabadis a new higher education initiative of the Mahindra Group. Not just another college of engineering, MEC brings to life the Mahindra Group’s vision of engineering education and in the process, seeks to address the lacunae in engineering education in India.

One of the biggest drawbacks of engineering education inIndiatoday is the fact that it is dated. “The curriculum of the IITs, leaders of engineering education inIndia, was a novelty in the 1970s. Not so any more,” says Professor Sanjay Dhande, Founder Director, MEC. What to say of other colleges?

Indian engineering education badly needs to be internationalised. Professor Dhande’s personal experiences testify to this fact. “Throughout my years at IIT Kanpur, I used to receive feedback from students. They felt that their alma mater could have done better, in terms of equipping them with skills to fit into global business settings. Globalisation should compel us to think in terms of preparing our students for international roles.”

Another pressing need is to become more serious about giving students opportunities to learn by doing—because applying theory to real-world problems is fun and inspires innovation, the need of the hour.

A third shortcoming of existing engineering education is it is heavily skewed towards the manufacturing sector, whereas a greater number of engineering students pursue careers in the growing services sector. “In keeping with the changing profile of the Indian economy, students need to be better informed about effective communication, intellectual property rights, team work, project management, etc,” says Professor Dhande.

Reengineering process

How is Mahindra École Centrale reengineering engineering education and what makes it stand apart in the Indian higher education arena?

A PARTNERSHIP ENDEAVOUR: MEC is a joint initiative with École Centrale Paris, a two centuries old leading engineering educationinstituteofFranceand Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University Hyderabad (JNTUH), a respected Indian technological university.

JNTUH will confer the degrees. École Centrale is defining the curriculum and the pedagogy and will contribute relevant faculty members fromFrance. MEC will deliver the courses.

INTEGRATED DUAL DEGREE PROGRAMME: Partnering with École Centrale has given the programme a distinct global / French touch. MEC’s five-year integrated dual degree engineering programme is modelled on its counterparts in Germany, France and Russia, as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon model of education in vogue across India, which offers a four-year graduate programme and a two-year post-graduate programme. MEC offers no drop-off option after the fourth year. But, students successfully completing both degrees will be conferred with distinct B Tech and M Tech degrees so that they can subsequently pursue doctorate degrees anywhere inIndia.

According to Professor Dhande, “We aim at honing scientifically and technically sound, well trained engineers who are grounded in humanities, who will become ethical leaders of tomorrow in domestic as well as international settings. While the dual degree takes only one additional year of study, it will make a huge difference to what students imbibe. While the graduate engineering programme will prepare a solid foundation, learning at the post graduate level will prepare engineers who are masters of their domains and possess strong skills to adapt.”

Partnering with École Centrale has ensured that the integrated degree awarded to students is recognised by the French government, which will help to attract top placements in French corporations.

INTERDISCIPLINARY EDUCATION: MEC offers dual degree programmes in Computer Science & Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Courses making up these programmes aim at imparting a strong basis in fundamental sciences to promote analytical thinking, abstraction and the development of concept-oriented minds. More significantly, students of each discipline will be exposed to and involved in cross-disciplinary research to develop a system-approach, the ability to enter into dialogue with specialists and adapt to change, the ability to master the complexity of challenges, and to understand and usefully adapt new technologies that are still in their infancy.

 “The inter-disciplinary approach is what guarantees the programme’s modernity and aligns it to the needs of industry,” says Professor Dhande.

Case-based learning is less commonly employed at the graduate level inIndia, especially in the discipline of engineering. MEC will employ this method, and also assign students projects, industry apprenticeships, internships, and involve them in research to reinforce its inter-disciplinary approach.

LIBERAL ARTS: MEC’s programmes will include complementary courses in business and management, social and human sciences, culture and language (including English and French). For instance, the first semester has a novel course titled “Society, technology and science,” which will necessitate students to team up with their peers to come up with technological solutions for pressing societal challenges. Another first semester course on “English literature and philosophy” will get students thinking about language like they never have before.

QUALITY EVALUATION OF PROGRAMMES: Students’ soft skills, their understanding of professional best practices and therefore, their employability quotient, will be enhanced through close relationships with the corporate world via visits, conferences and internships. What stands out is MEC will have this aspect of its programmes evaluated by non-academic trainers. Another key programme objective is diversity in the curriculum, to allow students to excel in various professional spheres—research, entrepreneurship, management, operations, marketing, etc.—and in different sorts of organisational structures—corporate, national bodies etc. MEC proposes to actively follow the career paths and successes of its alumni to score itself on this count.

GLOBAL EXPOSURE: Giving students global exposure is a key MEC objective. To this end, 15% of the seats on offer are reserved for international students excluding the exchange students on campus. International faculty and staff also help create a multi-cultural environment on campus, which MEC will achieve by flying in faculty from École Centrale Paris. Also, many of the 25 faculty MEC has recruited for the first year are academicians of Indian origin, previously settled overseas. As importantly, the curriculum has been given an international flavour, by including global case studies. Students will be involved in multi-cultural activities and encouraged to opt for International Fellowships.

OPTIMUM FACULTY RATIO: MEC’s academic hierarchy comprises the Director, two Deans, the Registrar and the faculty body. MEC aims to maintain a consistent 10:1 student-faculty ratio. It has recruited highly experienced doctorates with international exposure, education and teaching experience.

“We want to bring onboard Indian and overseas academicians who work at the frontiers of academic enquiry and follow the developments of the real world to educate students to become experts in their disciplines. We want faculty to be ideal role models for students—their backgrounds must excite students to the possibilities that lie ahead,” says Professor Dhande.

Early acceptance  

In less than a year of being commissioned and even prior to the start of the first academic year, the Mahindra Group’s new paradigm of engineering education has garnered appreciation from Indian and overseas industry. Numerous French corporations have expressed an interest in joint research and collaboration with MEC. “Thales, Schneider, Nationale, Safran, BNP Paribas are just a few companies that we will be working with,” shares the visionary director.

Professor Dhande is actively involved in spreading word to prospective students and their parents through road shows and group interactions. “They are taking to the concept, albeit with some trepidation as it is something new for the country,” he says. That MEC has set high standards for admission—applicants must make it in the JEE Main and score 60% in their qualifying board exams—tells of his confidence in not only filling all the seats but filling the lacunae in engineering education in India.

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