There is a saying that success comes through the path of self-discovery. College of Engineering, Pune (COEP), the grand old technological institute in India, inadvertently reaffirmed the saying by reviving its past glory, albeit with support from government of India and World Bank. One could get a sense of its glory days by stepping into the college’s sprawling 160-year-old campus, with a castle-like building still being used as its administrative wing.
The college, that created alumni like the legendary engineer Sir M Visvesvarayya, saw its radiance dim down after independence, when it was handed over to the government of Maharashtra.
“It became like any other affiliated college under Pune University. The evolution of the college lulled due to lack of autonomy and straight-jacketed norms of the University,” said Professor Mukul S Sutaone.
The slowing down of the college’s evolution resulted in a reduction of faculty strength, down to only 99. With only five percent of the faculty holding PhD degrees, the quality of education also took a hit.
“The institute, which was seen among the top five colleges of technical education prior to independence, became the least coveted college among the students. They would rather go to a private college than taking admission in here,”Sutaone said.
The government of India, along with the World Bank, came up with the Technical/Engineering Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP), under which the college received an initial funding of Rs 25 crores to revive its past glory.
According to Professor Bharatkumar B Ahuja, director of the college, more than the funding, the journey that the World Bank took the institute through was of immense necessity to bring about the positive change.
“We needed the autonomy to decide our fate, which the TEQIP initiative provided us with,”Ahuja said.
In the year 2003, the government of India and the World Bank launched TEQIP to upgrade technical institutions in India and mandated the engineering colleges to be autonomous – by getting funding under this project.
“The Maharashtra government was fast to loosen its noose and the COEP was transformed into an autonomous college from an affiliated college,” he added.
Following COEP’s induction to TEQIP, the institute not only went through a series of procedural changes in its system of running academic programs but also received funding to refurbish its teaching infrastructure. “Since then, it has revamped its curriculum, introduced new courses, enabled faculty to update their knowledge, installed the latest lab equipment, and boosted research. Collaborations with industry and foreign universities have helped in bringing the latest knowledge, and an incubator has been established to promote entrepreneurship,” said Fransisco Marmolejo, lead, Global Solution Group on tertiary education at the World Bank.
Using IIT Bombay as its role model, the institute began revamping the curriculum. The college’s board of governors, headed by FC Kohli, abandoned the old curriculum being followed and replaced it with one along the lines of IIT Bombay. Faculty members were sent to IIT Bombay to undergo intensive training. “They left Pune at five each morning and, after completing one semester at IIT Bombay, sat for exams along with other students there,” Ahuja explained. In addition to it, IIT Bombay live streamed their lectures into classrooms at COEP, allowing faculty and students to interact with IIT professors, resulting in a quantum leap in the standard of academics at the Pune institute.
During the last one-and-a-half decades, the institute increased its faculty strength to 270 against more than 4,800 students in under-graduate, post-graduate and PhD programmes. In contrast to having only five percent PhD holders as teachers in 2003, the college now has 118 number.
Financial autonomy has also given the college the flexibility to invest in new lab equipment. “Now, with upgraded infrastructure, many labs are open beyond regular hours, many a times 24X7. This has enabled a number of PhD students from across Maharashtra to complete their theses, and many other students to receive accolades for their work,” MJ Rathod, professor at COEP, said.
As per TEQIP data, the college has strengthened nine of its laboratories with funds received from World Bank. The new lab equipment has led to a dramatic increase in the number of publications in various conferences and journals. These have shot up from just 500 in 2003-04 to over 1,600 today. In addition, 42 patents have been applied for so far, of which nine have been granted. The one and half decade long effort to emerge as a centre of excellence resulted in stupendous success achieved by its students.
COEP today is among the few engineering colleges in India to have launched a student space satellite that rotates the globe regularly. Students in the satellite club of the college are ready to launch another with funding from ISRO. “We are ready with our design and also have received commitment from ISRO for funding of Rs.20 lakhs for our next launch,” said Umair Daimi, leader of the satellite club.
The college students also boast of making an All-Terrain Vehicle that has won the national championship five times for its strength and durability. No wonder then that COEP’s achievements have resulted in a consistent record of 85 percent student placement, and the college has figured in the list of top colleges in India ahead of some of the IITs in India.
“Today, some of the most sought-after employers – Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and others who recruit primarily from the IITs – line up at the COEP campus for placement,” explained Dr Sandeep Meshram, the institute’s corporate relations officer who is also in charge of campus placement. The institute’s decade-and-a-half long effort is reflected in the latest rankings. In 2016, COEP ranked 21st out of the top 100 engineering colleges in the country, even higher than some IITs and NITs. The rankings were carried out by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) – the first time the MHRD had done so.
“Now our aim is to be among the top ten in the country,” Ahuja said. “And, we have begun to look at the world’s best universities to reach their standards.”
Tara Béteille, senior economist and the World Bank’s task team leader for TEQIP says that COEP is among the top institutes under the project, having performed exceptionally well since the first phase of the project in 2003. She says, “COEP made excellent use of the opportunities provided by TEQIP. It is now well-positioned to mentor other engineering colleges, thereby multiplying the impact of TEQIP reforms.”
In the last one and half decades, starting from the year 2003, the World Bank has funded over 250 institutes under TEQIP and has observed increase in transition rate among the under-served students from 45 percent to 65 percent. It has also been observed that 75 percent of the students that passed out from TEQIP colleges are in full-time employment and six percent have opted for higher studies. The third phase of TEQIP is expected to support 200 engineering colleges.