CET in Thiruvananthapuram is one of its kind, it needs to be revamped

The College of Engineering (CET) in Thiruvananthapuram which is facing issues of insufficient infrastructure and funding is on the slide academically and need to be revived.
College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram
College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram
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After the success of the Chandrayaan 3 mission, Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor posted a picture on X (formerly Twitter), of scientist alumni from the prestigious College of Engineering Trivandrum (CET)  who worked behind ISRO's flagship project. The MP rhetorically wrote, "IITians went to Silicon Valley; CETians took us to the moon!".

The post was taken wholeheartedly by the netizens as it was a moment of pride for any CETian or any Keralite. CET, established in 1939, is the state's oldest engineering college, with noteworthy alumni in various fields ranging from ISRO chairperson to state chief secretaries to filmmakers and artists. Many praised how CET has played a significant role in their successful careers while others admired how the government-run college provided cheap but quality education. 

Both sides were sincere in their appreciation for CET, but what they all neglected or unintentionally omitted was CET's current status. Unfortunately, the state-run institute is currently going through one of its most difficult times. Earlier this year, when the NIRF rankings were announced, CET was placed in the band 150-200. The previous year it was in the 100-150 band. The other two engineering institutes in Kerala, the National Institute of Technology Calicut (NITC) and the Indian Institute of Technology Palakkad, both funded by the Union Government, were at 32 and 78 positions respectively. 

For the past few years, both these institutes have been consistently improving their NIRF ranks while CET has been going from bad to worse. The main reason for the reduction in CET's ranking is the low Research and Professional Practice score, which comprises research papers, patents, projects, and so on. Even if one admits that NIRF is not a perfect measure, the kind of decline we have in the case of CET is concerning.

Table 1: NIRF Rankings of NITC and CET

A politically vibrant college

Unlike the other two engineering colleges, CET is a politically vibrant college, with students regularly voicing their opinions on current socio-political situations in the country. For instance, in 2019, CET witnessed massive protests against the misogynist curfew system which was in place for the ladies hostel. Following the successful turn of events at CET, government colleges across Kerala staged similar protests and extended their curfew timings. It is common here to see student gatherings that discuss politics, books and movies.With their limited resources, both in terms of infrastructure and academic support, they have made their mark by hosting popular tech fests and other events. 

Table 2: Financial Resources: Utilised Amount for the Capital Expenditure (In Indian Rupee) 2021-2022

Table 3: Financial Resources: Utilised Amount for the Operational Expenditure (In Indian Rupee) 2021-2022

Widening gaps

It is true that an institute funded by the Union government will be abundant with resources compared to one funded by state governments, but the problem lies in the fact that Kerala government is unaware of the problem in front of them or is unwilling to acknowledge it. There is a stark difference in the amount of funds that is being available for NITC and CET.  Except for library spending, NITC is significantly ahead of CET. However, if one examines how digitalized the libraries of NITC and CET are, one can see how far CET is behind the modern methods of learning.

CET's infrastructure is insufficient to accommodate more than 3000 students. First, the campus does not have enough hostel space. The men's hostel could only hold 400 students, while in the girl’s hostel students were crammed beyond capacity. CET's classrooms still lack sufficient projectors, speakers, and other modern teaching capabilities, as well as the minimum number of desks and chairs. 

The infrastructure is critically inadequate with most workshops and labs not functioning properly. Rather than being proud of how old the machines and equipment are at the workshop, the college authorities should immediately take the necessary steps to modernise the labs and workshops. There have been countless instances of student bodies protesting for fundamental demands like decent restrooms and drinking water facilities, which are yet to be met by the college administration. It is indeed pathetic that students always have to stage a protest to get their bare minimum rights.

Table 4: Patents and Research 2021-2022

Over the last few years, the CET has performed poorly in terms of academic activities like publishing research papers and conducting international conferences or seminars. The library is not yet a 24x7 space, and for a long time, student bodies at CET have been demanding a 24x7 functioning campus, an essential provision in a professional engineering college. But the administration is responding with the typical argument of safety concerns of female students. 

The library is old and also doesn't have access to popular journals and research publications or subscriptions to the softwares and applications needed by students. There is little or nearly zero space for doing research at CET. How can a student pursue their research if the campus doesn't have a proper reading room or access to academic journals or papers? Data also shows how much CET is lagging in terms of research output. 

The colleges also don't have any interdisciplinary labs or project initiatives. After 2015, when CET was under the Kerala Technological University (KTU), the academic quality suffered. The current syllabus and course structure are critically outdated and do not suit the industrial needs or the research methodologies. The number of students opting to go for higher studies suggests how poor the academic situation on the campus is. KTU also has one of the most regressive and anti-student policies, which are consistently called out by student organisations. Consider the level of thought among university administrators when students are awarded additional marks for attendance, even in this day and age.

Table 5: Number of Students and Teaching Faculties

Table 6: Placement and Research 2018-2019

Table 7: Last Rank to get admission at CET in the Kerala Engineering & Medical Entrance (KEAM)

The usual justification, when countered with research output, was that the institute is a professional college and what matters is the number of people getting jobs from the campus when they pass out. However, data from the last few years show that the quality of campus placements is also declining. Mass IT recruiters are dominating campus placement drives here, and it has nothing to do with whether or not you attended CET. When a large number of students from the 2022 batch were not called for their promised jobs due to the global recession and layoffs, the placement cell acted in a rubber stamp manner. If it was Wipro, Cognizant, TCS, Infosys etc last time, it is now companies like Bosch that are delaying the start dates of students who were offered a job last year. Even among students and parents, the brand CET is losing its value. If you observe Table 7, you can see that the last rank in the general merit list of KEAM to get into CET, one can easily see the declining trend. 

The way forward

At this point, the state government should step in and design a comprehensive plan to revitalise CET, or else the prestigious institute would fade into obscurity. First and most importantly, CET should be raised to an independent institute with academic autonomy. As long as KTU doesn't upgrade itself to a quality university, CET also has to suffer under it. The state government should take special initiatives to upgrade the standards of the infrastructure facilities at the campus. This should also include a rampant attempt to revolutionise the course and syllabus as per the needs and demands of the present era. Along with proper industrial training, special care should be given to prosper the research capabilities of the institute. This should include special funds to start research projects as well as to conduct international academic conferences and seminars. Various government departments could also work together to provide internships and other hands-on experience for pursuing students. An eminent panel consisting of experts from their respective fields, students and teachers should be convened to address all the prevailing issues. The alumni of the college also have an equal responsibility here. 

CET is an institute where children of common people study. It is one of the rare colleges in India where the students pursue their engineering degree with so less fees and pass out with flying colours. Therefore, the Left front government which is in power in the state has the moral responsibility to make sure that it provides quality higher education to the masses. When private institutes dominate the field of education, the need to sustain a politically engaged government-funded college like CET has a much bigger dimension than one thinks. CET, the brand has not yet fallen off completely, therefore the government and authorities have ample time to plan and come up with a solution. The story of the CET is unique because it showed creativity, politically aware students and academic pursuits can coexist. State funding and support is essential for revitalising CET and student bodies, alumni and faculties should work together to further this conversation and restore CET to its former grandeur. 

Jacob Joshy is currently studying MA Economics at South Asian University, Delhi. He graduated from CET in 2022.

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