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4 November
India and the shortage of engineers

Having written just yesterday that I wouldn’t be writing about India and that I wouldn’t be writing much anyway because I needed to do other things, I’m breaking my own trappist vows almost instantly. That’s because I came across a story in an Indian newspaper that seems to contradict much of what we hear in the UK about the pace of development in countries such as India.

The story relates to the numbers of engineers. Conventional wisdom in the UK is that we don’t produce enough, and that countries such as China and India are now producing so many that the areas where we might still be able to claim advantage – product design, innovation, etc – are likely to be eroded through sheer weight of numbers. In addition, we face the eternal conundrum that we seem to have in the UK a shortage of engineers, yet the laws of supply and demand, which might suggest that engineers’ pay would increase to the point where the attractions would draw in a whole new set of people, don’t seem to apply.

Cut, now, to India, widely perceived as one of the places ready to step in to exploit our apparent engineering weaknesses, and what do we find? Well, this year, according to a report in the Times of India, more than 200,000 places at engineering colleges and technical institutes have remained unfilled, and several Indian states have put in requests to the central All-India Council for Technical Education asking that no further engineering institutes should be allowed to be set up.

What has happened has been that capacity in technology colleges, particularly for courses based on engineering and computers, has more than trebled in five years and in some states about 70% of higher education is in these tech colleges. It’s too much. Entry requirements have been relaxed, but still the places haven’t been filled. Conventional courses in mechanical, electrical and civil engineering are holding up, but sector specific and computing sides have fallen away.

I’m not sure what the lessons are from this except to reinforce the view that getting the supply and demand for engineering skills in balance is a tricky problem almost no matter where you look, and that if we in the UK think we’ve perennially got it wrong, then others may be doing no better.

But it does explain one other thing that I thought rather odd during my recent holiday. In India, it’s commonplace for buildings of all sorts to carry painted-on advertising. Usually the adverts relate to cement companies or underwear (innerwear, as they call it) suppliers. But almost as common are advertisements for college courses in engineering, computing, accountancy, marketing… most of the professions except medicine. Odd, I thought, until I read the report about the shortfall of students. But now I understand.

3 November
After a period of silence...

… will probably come another period of silence. This blog has been neglected over the past three weeks because I’ve been away on holiday in India, where internet access has been limited and the days far too full to spend them sitting in front of a computer screen. We had a fantastic time (thank you for asking), saw things we will never forget and will, if you really insist, go on and on and on about it, showing you perhaps a small fraction of the several thousand pictures we took between us.

But not yet and not here.

Why? Well, for a start, I think it would be fatuous and pompous of me to pretend that I’ve got any great and devastating insight into India after just 16 days there in the privileged cocoon of the tourist existence. I can tell you what impressed or intrigued or bothered me, but it’d probably tell you more about me as a pampered and sheltered visitor than about the places we visited. It would be badly presumptuous. All I will say is that I don’t think I’ve ever been more conscious of how easy it is to live as I do, in a big UK city with amenities, and how ill-equipped I am to live any other way.

But there’s another reason for reticence, and for why that reticence will continue. I just checked my bank balance. India’s a cheap place to go, but you can spend money there and we did. So November is going to be a head-down, get-on-with-it, earn-some-cash month. Blogs don’t pay bills. I’ll look in on occasion. But my priorities are elsewhere.

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