3-year BTech for working professionals is back but yet to find its audience

AICTE has reinstated the 3-year flexible BTech in computer science, AI-ML, civil, mechanical, and electronics and electrical engineering.

List of AICTE approved engineering college for working professionals was released in 2023 (Image: Goa Institute of Management)List of AICTE approved engineering college for working professionals was released in 2023 (Image: Goa Institute of Management)

Atul Krishna | April 13, 2024 | 11:42 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Rakesh M is a 38-year-old automation manager at an automation company in Bengaluru.

As a postgraduate diploma holder in electrical and electronics communication, earned in 2004, Rakesh had joined a regular college to complete his engineering degree but fate had other plans. Forced to drop out by “personal problems”, he first joined a petroleum company and later an automation company to sustain his family.

Two decades later, he is one of several candidates who stand to benefit from the All India Council for Technical Education’s (AICTE) decision to reinstate three-year engineering courses for working professionals in October 2023.

“I’m currently working as a manager in the automation division where they process cement, gas, food and beverages, etc. Those processes need machine intervention and controlling those machines without human intervention requires computer application. After getting this degree I can go for higher responsibilities in the same organisation or I can switch my career and go to a different organisation for better remuneration,” said Rakesh, who has joined the electronics and communication engineering (BTech ECE) department of HKBK College of Engineering, Bengaluru.

But even with the enthusiasm of professionals like Rakesh, many of these institutes are still struggling to find students. Teachers pointed to the sudden AICTE announcement reinstating the courses and the students’ lack of awareness about the decision for the vacant seats. Some institutes are still watching things develop. In Karnataka, for instance, 12 institutes used to offer three-year evening college programmes; now only eight have applied and received AICTE approval.

Evening to flexible BTech courses

In 2019, AICTE, the top regulatory body for technical education, decided to discontinue the evening and part-time BTech for working professionals as part of its measures “to improve the quality of engineering education”.

The evening and part-time BTech courses were popular and AICTE’s decision invited opposition.

To appease industry professionals who were demanding the course be reinstated, AICTE allowed institutions to offer the degrees as a “flexible course” known as 3-year BTech for working professionals in India. The institutes can now provide engineering courses with “flexible timings”. With this, the AICTE removed the “evening” and “part-time” tag from this group while essentially keeping it the same.

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During this gap of four years, many engineering professionals considered other professional courses in a bid to enhance their career prospects. The reversal of the decision came as a big relief.

“I was looking at BCA [Bachelor of Computer Application] and those kinds of streams. Engineering in evening colleges was not being allowed at that time. Recently, when they allowed engineering, it became an attractive option. Moreover, here they emphasise on physical classes. I come to the college every day and the lecturers are really helpful,” said Santhosh, a 40-year-old IT professional in Bengaluru, who is currently pursuing computer science engineering in AI and ML at JSS Academy of Technical Education.

In October 2023, AICTE published a list of 137 institutes, most of them private technical institutes, that had been permitted to offer three-year part-time BTech degree courses to working professionals.

In all, the AICTE-approved courses were for computer science engineering, computer science engineering with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and electronics and electrical engineering.

BTech: Late announcement, few admissions

But the decision to reinstate the courses came late in the year, in October 2023. As a result, even in popular courses such as a BTech with specialisation in AI and ML, most institutes are seeing swathes of vacant seats.

“We have not been able to get enough students this year. Total admission for the degree is around 13 in both [regular computer science engineering and the AI and ML departments],” said Anil BC, head of computer science and engineering (AI and ML) department, JSS Academy of Technical Education, Bengaluru.

The admission for working professionals is through lateral-entry which allows diploma holders to join in the second semester of the engineering courses directly. In Karnataka, candidates were admitted through the Diploma Common Entrance Test (DCET) for which applications closed by November 2023.

“Working professionals from various industries are applying. There are 30 seats in total. We have 11 students enrolled from the government quota. The rest we are trying to fill through management quota. We are hopeful that we will be able to fill the seats in the coming weeks,” said Latha R, head, electronics and communication engineering, HKBK College of Engineering. The government quota amounts to 50% of the seats filled based on DCET.

Institutions hope that the lack of demand this year is a one-off and that admissions will pick up pace in the next academic year.

“It was not supposed to be a sudden decision. They [AICTE] took four years, despite a lot of requests from the industry, to continue with the evening courses. They only eased the regulations around last year after a lot of requests…maybe there is a lack of awareness among candidates also. By next year, we are definitely expecting more students,” said Anil.

Promotions and upskilling

The courses have so far attracted candidates from across industry sectors and levels.

“All the candidates are from industry only. A few are working in the advanced services such as managers; a few are working as system administrators. The main thing is that they are looking for promotion in their company. The second part could be for upskilling. We know AI and ML are a factor in all industries and these skills are required for everyone. These students have done their one-year diploma and have no knowledge about AI. So, based on this they can upskill themselves for better prospects,” said Anil.

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For working professionals, degrees are not only about promotions but about gaining confidence and a better grasp over the basics of the newest technology in their field. Moreover, despite the IT industry relying on the candidates’ work portfolio for recruitment, professionals said that having a degree can be a major advantage.

“I am working in the IT industry right now. The industry grows leaps and bounds almost every day and this pace becomes too vast for us to cover. So, it’s always an added advantage for us when we are enrolling in such engineering courses. We could learn the very basics of it, when our basics are strong then it becomes easier for us to navigate the complexities of the projects which we can study on our own…AI is the new buzzword in technology. In IT everything is AI now. So when we are learning engineering, why not go for the technology which is currently booming?” said Santhosh. “Although we say that a college degree is not mandatory in IT, it does give us confidence when we have a degree from a reputed college or institution. Also, for some clients and some of projects, the basic eligibility criterion is the degree. There are many clients who don’t emphasise on a college degree but there are some that do. In such instances, the degree becomes very important.”

Note: This story will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Careers360 magazine.

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