13 February 2022 06:19:00 IST

‘Software skills preferred in all disciplines of engineering’

VIT Chennai campus

G Viswanathan is one of the pioneers in engineering education, taking the VIT brand from the small town of Vellore national. In this interview, where he responded to questions on email, Viswanathan talks about interdisciplinarity in engineering courses today, why students from all disciplines prefer jobs in the IT field and VIT’s stellar annual placements. Excerpts from the interview:

G Viswanathan, Chancellor, VIT
What kind of transformation is engineering education going through as deep tech courses take shape?
No engineering course can be left stagnant. Students need to be prepared and confident enough to face the world in any form. The deep tech courses will enable the students to diversify in multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary fields. Jack of all trades is a master of none may be proverbially accepted, but now, one has to be a jack of all trades and master of all too. 
Transformation in engineering education now lies in the perfect collaboration between academic institutes and industries. Any transformation is welcome but with absolutely no compromise in terms of quality. Most importantly, the kind of transformation that takes place must convert even frozen minds into free minds with a focus on inventions and innovations, besides consistency in all fields of research.
How has VIT taken to offering the areas that are seeking talent now, such as AI and ML and data sciences? 
VIT has always been a pioneer in engineering education and is sensitive to industry needs and requirements. VIT is offering BTech programmes with specialisation in AI, ML, Data Sciences, IoT, and other upcoming areas at its various campuses —Vellore, Chennai, Andhra Pradesh and Bhopal. 
Extension of cooperation — in terms of resources, manpower and fund — to the introduction of new programmes make any execution effective and result-oriented. As a result of which, VIT has always been able to maintain its unique standard both in teaching and research. 
Engineering education has become highly compartmentalised with students being exposed only to the core subjects. Any change in the offing to change this paradigm, as recommended by the NEP on interdisciplinarity?
Fully Flexible Credit System (FFCS) was first introduced by VIT where students are given the flexibility to choose the faculty, course, and time slot. They have the flexibility to undertake credit courses from other disciplines and are encouraged to undertake research at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels and present their findings at Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) conference, organised by the institute, every semester. 
Has Covid-19 impacted the pedagogy and how have you been tackling the situation to salvage the academic year?
The education sector witnessed the greatest impact of Covid-19 with remote learning and online classes. In pre-Covid times too VIT has always integrated technology with the classroom. The faculty used Learning Management Systems such as Schoology, Easy Class, and Moodle to conduct quizzes, assignments and sharing course material.
However, Covid-19 necessitated introducing platforms for teaching and conduct of the examination. VIT collaborated with Microsoft Teams in the beginning of the pandemic period and also provided training programmes in using Microsoft Teams to its faculty members. 
Simulation softwares were used to conduct laboratory experiments. In this way, it could minimise the teaching loss. Further, it also collaborated with an advanced software company for conducting examinations. 
What are the steps that you are taking to promote innovation and entrepreneurship among students? 
The Technology Business Incubator VITTBI established in 2003, takes care of promoting and supporting the innovative ideas of the students. It supports students with access to knowledge, infrastructure, mentoring and funding. 
VIT understands that lack of support for early-stage prototyping in the country has been the cause for many innovators to lose interest in their ventures. There is a definite need to address the gap. 
The VITTBI Prayas Centre provides funding support for converting innovative ideas into prototypes, under the National Initiative for Developing and Harnessing Innovations (NIDHI) programme, conceived and developed by the Department of Science & Technology (DST), Government of India. VITTBI-BioNest supports bio-entrepreneurs engaged in the fields of life sciences and medical devices. 
The TIDE 2.0 centre at VITTBI provides holistic incubation support to ICT ventures using emerging technologies such as IoT, AI, blockchain, and robotics. These are just a few to mention. Many students have successfully carried forward their innovative ideas through constant support and encouragement from our Technology Business Incubator. 
How are you making the courses and students industry-ready? 
The syllabi are framed having the requirements of the industry in mind. Apart from this, every subject has a module “contemporary issues” which requires interaction with an expert from the industry through a guest lecture. This is mandatory for every course, every semester. The students and the faculty have an insightful discussion which keeps them updated on the current trends. The students get a clear picture of what is expected from them as they step out of the university, and the faculty incorporate the inputs in their lectures, and the syllabi too is updated periodically based on these inputs. 
Apart from the internships in the final semester, the students are mandated to take up a one-month internship any time after their second year to give them good knowledge and exposure to the demands of the industry. Periodical industrial visits are also part of the curriculum. 
Not only the core subjects, but even language classes keep this perspective in mind. It is worth noting that VIT was the first institution to successfully get the ABET accreditation which emphasises the courses being industry-ready. VIT has an excellent track record of taking inputs from the industry through its alumni who are well placed and take regular feedback from the industry pertaining to the requirements and VIT’s efficiency in meeting the demands. The placement record is proof enough that the students of VIT are well equipped to meet the demands of the industry. 
How’s the university faring on the placement front? While a large number of IT companies come to the campus for recruitment, what about companies from other spheres? 
The Career Development Centre plays an integral role in creating the illustrious placement record of VIT. For the tenth time, VIT has entered the Limca Book of Records for campus placements. Earlier, VIT had entered into the Limca Book of records in 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015 (two records), in 2016 for the highest number of IT services placements, in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 for the highest number of dream offers. 
Apart from the IT companies, some of the top core companies that recruit our students are – L&T Construction, IOCL, Mahindra, Shapoorji, SIEMENS, Bajaj and Honeywell. Some of the core companies that recruit non-engineering students are – Upgrad, Federal Bank, LSEG, GTM and Sons, Intellipaat and Insplore, to mention a few. 
Students from all kinds of disciplines of engineering get sucked into software as that’s the growing sector and also offers better compensation packages – does that mean other sectors such as civil and mechanical are starved of talent? 
One of the primary reasons behind such an immensely increasing demand for software engineers is the rapid growth of technology. The exponential growth and evolution of technology in the last few years can clearly be seen considering all the recent technology trends such as quantum computing, AI and ML. 
 Experience from IT companies also comes in handy in many mechanical and civil engineering fields. Students with experience in coding are preferred over others even in core companies. The support offered by IT companies has become integral and inevitable in the smooth and effective functioning of any business. Hence, students prefer IT jobs – both as a career and as an experience to equip themselves better in their respective core fields.
How is the academic year 2021-22 faring in terms of placements and how does it compare to the previous year? 
This year a total of 7,072 students were placed in various companies, an increase of 1.06 per cent compared to last year’s placement record of 5,805. Even in the case of super-dream offers, there is an increase of 185 placements with 1,311 offers this year. 
There is a gradual increase in the graph of placement records in the past three years with 4,314 placements in 2019, 4,914 placements in 2020, 5,876 placements in 2021, and has crossed 7,000 placements for the 2022 graduating batch(as on date). 
How did VIT students ride out the pandemic in terms of outcomes, student learning, faculty training for online tutoring? 
One of the greatest challenges faced by the education sector was to take the teaching-learning process to the students’ doorstep without any hassle. Fortunately, VIT was well equipped as it adopted blended learning even before the pandemic. 
Every semester, the faculty used to engage the students through online portals and MOOCs were well promoted much earlier with platforms such as Schoology, Easyclass, and Edmodo. Assignments were given through these platforms which encourages peer reviews and online discussions. Students were also encouraged to take online courses from reputed universities on Coursera and the likes to supplement their classroom learning. These practices had introduced and made online learning a part of the curriculum much before the compulsion of the pandemic to get into online mode of teaching and learning. 
So, we can proudly claim that neither the faculty nor the students found any difficulty adapting to online education. In fact, the transition was so smooth that nobody even realised it. As always the management provides excellent infrastructure to make the process hassle-free. It may be noted that the VITEE which reaches out to lakhs of students was conducted smoothly, and efficiently through online portals. 
What are the new courses and programmes that you have launched over the past couple of years? 
We are trying to incorporate state-of-the-art technology into our curriculum and we have launched courses such as BTech Fashion Technology, BDes Industrial Design, and BSc Visual Communication in the recent past. Since we believe that inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary courses will have a rosy future, we have introduced a few BTech Computer Science Engineering courses with specialisations in AI, ML, Data Sciences, IoT, cyber-physical systems and robotics. 
With more innovations in technology, we cannot rely on the conventional methods of teaching with only theory and practical sessions. Just like online courses have changed the course of education during the pandemic, we should look forward to more such breakthroughs in the years to come. We can have 3D virtual conferences in collaboration with foreign universities, flipped classrooms, and more.