Core Strength: Top engineering colleges are reforming the civil, mechanical, electrical branches

    NIT Warangal, BITS Pilani, DTU, and Jadavpur University are reforming their core engineering branches to ensure admissions and placements.


    Engineering colleges across the country are shoring up their BTech programmes in core engineering branches – mainly civil, mechanical, electrical, and chemical – with compulsory internships, live projects and courses in new technologies added to the curriculum.


    While the introduction of minor degrees into the BTech programme has arrested the constant fall in undergraduate enrolment, concerns remain about youths losing interest in the core engineering branches. These also struggle with placements.

    “Postgraduate students and PhD scholars do tend to stay in the core sector in the early part of their careers but attracting undergraduate students to stay in the core sector has always been a challenge,” said Sathyan Subbiah, advisor (placements), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras.

    Many top-ranking institutions outside the IIT system are now engaged in a large-scale reform process. National Institute of Technology (NIT) Warangal inTelangana has set up an internal committee to finalise its new curriculum.

    Delhi Technological University (DTU) finalised and rolled out its new curriculum in the 2023-24 academic year. “We are focussing on skill-based and new technology courses from the first semester onwards till fourth semester. Through this, students will not only get skill-based education but also get acquainted with emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and others. Because ultimately these core branch subjects and new technologies have to go hand-in-hand. Engineering institutes need to look at an intersection of technology with core branch subjects,” said Rajeshwari Pandey, dean-academics, DTU.

    That is essentially everyone’s strategy – to introduce new technologies and skills, such as AI and data analytics, to long-established branches of engineering and adding to this, compulsory internships or similar practical training components.


    Jadavpur University, as state university in West Bengal, is overhauling its curriculum to add new-age courses as electives along with minor specialisations.

    While many of these reforms have utilised the basic structure of All India Council of Technical Education’s (AICTE) model curricula, the institutions have done the redesign based on their own and industry needs. The model curriculum has also received some criticism for removing the basics of core engineering subjects.

    AI-ML, design, data

    NIT Warangal’s curriculum reform was steered by a team comprising IIT professors and alumni.

    “The curriculum committee has made two to three common subjects compulsory for all our core engineering branches. One is design thinking and innovation and the other is product development. It will be implemented from 2024-25 academic year,” said A Sarath Babu, dean, academics, NIT Warangal.


    The institute has also added non-credit courses and mandatory internships for making students industry-ready. “Earlier, there were no mandatory internships of six-to-eight weeks and industry-relevant common courses, which have now been added. There will be value-added courses and syllabus will be reflecting the new developments and technologies in each of the core areas, not only in computer science but in each and every discipline. We are trying to make the students ready for Industry 4.0,” added Babu.

    Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) has also added specialisations and courses for core engineering branches. Soumyo Mukherjee, director, BITS Pilani, Hyderabad Campus, stated: “BITS has recently introduced courses like machine learning for chemical engineers, machine learning for electronics engineers, and applications of AI in civil engineering to improve the job readiness of students in core engineering branches.” Along with the courses, the institute has been offering minor specialisations, open-electives and dual degree courses.

    DTU has a “rich mix of courses like ability enhancement, value-addition, along with latest technology courses which will enhance their employability where we are not only focussing on core engineering courses but all other aspects have already been added in the curriculum”, said Pandey.

    Hands-on learning

    Further, to ensure students get industry exposure, DTU has also introduced problem-based projects from industry for students. “We are also offering problems or case studies given by industries to students as their projects. Problems from Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), Indian Armed Forces, and few others have already been allocated to students and we have seen very good results of these projects,” added Pandey.

    Similarly, IIT Madras is pushing students towards national and international competitions and other on-campus features to inculcate interest in core engineering. “IIT Madras has encouraged students to take part in engineering and technology-based national and international competitions via the Centre For Innovation (CFI) in our campus. Through this, hands-on engineering-based problem-solving, teamwork, and applying concepts learnt in the classroom are encouraged. A few companies are also observing the activities at CFI and are starting to sponsor some of these projects in their interest of human resources capacity building,” said Subbiah.

    AICTE model curricula

    While many institutes are using AICTE’s model curricula as the basis for their own reforms, a section of academics have criticised them for slashing the number of credit courses in core engineering. Sumanta Neogi, professor, department of mechanical engineering, Jadavpur University said, “While the new AICTE model curriculum has too many things, the time for the number of lectures for a topic is too small. This means that basic engineering subjects and applied engineering subjects, where the knowledge of core subjects was given, will get neglected.”

    The model curriculum has further added more electives and reduced the number of credits for core subjects. “There is an inclination towards more electives. When you teach more electives and less of the basic subjects, the basics of students become weak in a particular branch. This can lead to students getting weak in core concepts. Students through this curriculum may get away from the basics and depend on software. The problem will be that the graduates may not understand the core of any topic with poor basics,” he explained.

    While Jadavpur is also using the structure of the model curriculum and will likely adopt the policy of minor and major specialisations, it is assigning 60-64 credits to professional courses, far below the model curriculum’s 90-95.

    “This can be very useful but also can be injurious. If someone goes for a major in mechanical and minor in electronics, maybe the student will learn mechatronics. But the problem is, again, the basics may still be weak. Students will not learn basic electronics but jump to software and catchy jargon. This is not good for engineering graduates. Previously, across all the renowned institutions stressed on the importance of the basics. This is getting lost,” said Neogi.


    Even successful JU alumni found the older curriculum perfect because it was able to produce the best scientists and engineers with strong basics. “After the new curriculum, the level of basic engineering will come down to that of a private engineering college,” added Neogi. JU’s new curriculum is still in discussion and has yet not been implemented. “The basic structure has been developed and after a few meetings, it will be finalised within a few months,” he added.

    Fresh boost

    The whole aim of curriculum revamp is to enhance employability but the immediate result is difficult to quantify, said Pandey. “The implementation involves some operational challenges but we are convinced that this has to be done. We are still figuring out how the minor specialisation will pan out through a policy for it, maybe on a first come first serve basis, where every student will be allowed to choose a course of their interest, irrespective of credit score,” she stated.

    Further, Mukherjee noted that core engineering will become more relevant in the coming years. “As the pace of infrastructure development increases in India, with increase in construction, highways, metro rail projects, electric vehicles and fabrication of semiconductors and integrated circuits, space sector, there will be a fresh fillip to core engineering branches,” he added.

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