This post is about the question which is usually asked by Americans is why are so many Indians into engineering, as compared to the low ratio of Americans in this field? Yes, Indians are largely represented in the field of engineering ( along with Chinese as well) There are many reasons for why and how this happened.
To begin with, I am too an engineering graduate ( and Indian!). After my bachelors in engineering in India, I hoped on to board a flight to America ( just as many Indians do.) to complete my M.S in U.S. As soon as I came in US, I could see hundreds of Indians in my university ( Infact, in some of our classes, Indians comprised of 70-80% of student population, while the rest consisted of Chinese, Bangladeshis or Americans) Indians are famously known to study their MS in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering or Information Technology. Ofcourse, there are other streams of engineering such as Mechanical, Civil or Biomedical, which many Indians do pursue. But a major chunk of the student population usually enrolls in these three field of engineering. Why? The simple answer is the high demand of graduate engineers required in these domains. Silicon valley companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon prefer masters students who are graduate in these fields, and the high salary package, coupled with the elevated status to work and live in Silicon valley comes with a lots of perks such as good prospects to get married to a rich guy/girl, and presence of lots of Indians since the last few decades in the San Francisco Bay area. It isn’t wonder that due to the huge influx of Indians in IT and Tech companies in silicon valley for the last few decades, today we have Indian-American CEO’s of Google, Microsoft and IBM.
Hence, we see that Indians come to pursue their masters in US in large numbers, and most of them end up in silicon valley. But the real question is why do Indians study engineering in huge numbers, for MS in US and for Bachelor’s in India? For US, the reason is related to monetary returns and social status. For an engineer in India, it is quite worth to come to US ( even by taking considerable student loans) and pursue a Masters in engineering, as US provides excellent opportunities to work under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) and work visa (H1-B) programme. Many Indians have taken advantage of this programme and have successfully worked and even become resident ( though it needs nerve wracking patience to get a Green Card!).
Most Indians are very concerned of the currency conversion rate between Dollar(USD) to Indian Rupee(INR). While pursuing MS, it is natural for students to feel the pressure to reduce the costs and payoff the students loans. But once he/she graduates, and starts working in a MNC, the strength of the Dollar makes is easy to payoff the loans quickly and then earn, save and invest as much as they can. Hence, as compared to India, an Engineer in US earns quite a lot for the same work often!
Besides, the status of living in US is an additional bonus for Indians who are in the business of arranged marriage. Isn’t it strange that for a person who is just staying abroad, after having earned his masters, and settled in a MNC job in silicon valley, his value in the game of marriage increases several fold, not to mention about the dowry business…
Anyways, but it is worth noting that all Indians who come to US for masters, and then work in large numbers in IT and tech companies have already gained their Bachelor’s in Engineering in India, itself. Though there are some rich Indians who do pursue their Bachelor’s in engineering in US, but their population is very less as compared to the Americans (including Indian-Americans) pursuing Bachelor’s in engineering. So, the question is why do Indians study Engineering in India so much?
This question was very humorously touched by the movie “3 Idiots”. I would say all most every Indian ( especially who is an engineer or wants to study engineering) must have watched this movie, several times. This movie reflected the dark reality of an education system where only marks are valued, and the engineer’s quality is assessed by his performance in exams, and how much salary package does he/she acquires at the placement rounds.
Adding to that, there are many social aspects which pressures students to pursue engineering more in India. First, this comes from family. Few decades before, when India had just become independent, there was a large need of Engineers to construct dams, roads, bridges, to electrify cities, power stations etc. The country was poor and needed quality engineers in large numbers for the industrial development of the country. But there were only few engineering institutions ( which the British had started ). Hence, PM Nehru started seven IIT’s (Indian Institute of Technology) to bridge the gap between demand and supply. This turned out to be an excellent and visionary decision for India and also for the world (especially silicon valley and Wall street!) This is because the engineers who were selected in these institutions to study engineering, had to crack one of the world’s toughest entrance exams. And even after having enrolled in the engineering programme, they had to work hard for four years and due to which, the smartest and most hard working engineers were produced by these institutions. Later, most of them came to US to either pursue their MS/Ph.D or MBA, and ended up working in Silicon Valley or Wall Street respectively. They were not only praised for their talent, but also today, as we see most of the famous CEO’s and businessmen in US are IIT graduates. Some of the famous ones are Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google, IIT Kharagpur batch 1989-1993), Raghuram Rajan ( Former RBI Governor & Distinguished Prof of Finance, Chicago Booth school of Business, IIT Delhi batch 1981-1985), Arvind Krishna (CEO of IBM, IIT Kanpur batch 1981-1985) and many more.
The success stories of the above IITian’s ( engineering graduates of IIT) stand as an inspiration for the many Indian parents who also wish their sons/daughters to study engineering and then move to USA to achieve the American dream. Due to this, many Indian students dream of getting into IIT and then USA, and hence decide to become engineer to attain this. But the seats in IIT’s are limited, and hence, everyone could not get into IIT. Also, the demand for engineers did not get fulfilled by IIT’s either, as most of the IIT graduates usually go to USA, and this brain-drain berefts India of good, talented engineers. However, this does not mean that the decision of IIT graduates to settle in USA and not work for India (inspite of gaining their prestigious IIT degree) is wrong or cynical. There are many reasons for IIT graduates to choose to go to USA over work in India such as high salary package, excellent work opportunity, advanced education, good life, lack of corruption & reservation etc.
Hence, to again bridge the requirement gap of engineers, and to cater the increasing needs of the students desire to study engineering who could not secure an admission in IIT, the politicians in India decided to allow private institutions to start engineering colleges on a large scale. Thus, what happened is as the number of engineering colleges increased, so did the number of students who wanted to pursue engineering. Due to which, more and more students started studying engineering, with a hope that they will fulfill their parents wish to become an engineer, and also some day might land in USA, just like the IIT graduates did.
At the same time, the IT wave hit India, along with Indian economy got opened after 1991.This resulted in huge demand of IT and computer engineers in India and abroad as well. Many Indian IT companies like Infosys, Wipro, TCS etc started hiring IT professionals and later sent them onsite (to USA). Thus, began a trend of Indian engineers, who were not IIT graduates, to get a chance to work in USA and pursue their american dream. This motivated even more parents and families all over India to push their sons/daughters to study engineering, and this is how the number of Indians in engineering skyrocketed! Today, we see that in big cities like Mumbai, Pune or Bangalore, every family or home has either their son/daughter or some distant relative settled/working in IT in USA.
Besides, another thing I noticed from Americans is that American students in high school are especially scared of maths and engineering. And this is one of the reasons why they don’t study engineering. Ofcourse, Americans are fortunate to have a lot of freedom and options to choose their desired field of study, besides engineering. Usually, American girls are less motivated to pursue engineering (they prefer writing, arts or nursing more as told to me by several Americans), and even American guys often think of studying business, law or medical more than engineering/STEM. The public school system in US is not at its best, and is often derided by several Americans. Hence, the basics of maths are not taught well enough in school to motivate the students. Also, students are well aware of the other options like business or law, which are not only more lucrative but also relatively easy as compared to Engineering.
Also, the large influx of international students in the STEM/engineering has been reflected in the mindset of Americans in someway. The usual assumption that Asians are good at math or Indians are good at programming makes american kids less interested in engineering. Also, as the international crowd usually does not study law or business or arts in USA (atleast not in large numbers), this makes these fields less competitive and hence, more preferred. Another reason which does affect is the relatively less family/societal pressure among Americans to study engineering. American kids have more freedom, and the parents rarely pressure their kids to pursue any particular field of study. As most of the American families are either well-off and educated, the motivation to pursue American dream of good and luxurious life only after engineering/working in IT does not hold true. Americans can pursue any career, and still maintain their high standard of living as the other fields like business, law, sports or even writing yield rich dividends( depending on the level of education and experience they attain in those fields). But the point is that due to availability of multiple lucrative career options ( apart from engineering), it is natural for many Americans to take the less difficult path.
For Indians, however, this is not the scenario. First of all, even though math is feared by Indians as well, but the fear of being deprived of a good life in America is more dreaded than the fear of maths. In simple words, it is “Do or Die” situation. Indian kids simply have to bite the bullet, under the family/societal pressure to study difficult subjects like maths and engineering, even though they might not like them. Also, unlike Americans, there are not many other career options available which are as lucrative as Engineering ( except few like medicine or cricket or bollywood, but the chances to succeed in them is very very less). Better not to mention about arts or writing or law as a career, which is not only looked down upon, but might also turn out to be a financial disaster, unless the pursuer is wealthy enough.
Hence, due to all these conditions, it is imperative for Indians to go for engineering over other careers. But it is worth noting that, not all Engineers in India end up doing engineering. Many decide to pursue MBA, some aspire to become a civil servant while few brave ones venture out in the field of bollywood, cricket or even writing. Funny as it may sound, but India might be one of those few countries where bachelor’s in engineering is considered as a “basic degree”, and several movie actors/actresses and sportsmen are engineering graduates. To name a few movie stars who are engineers such as R Madhavan, Vicky Kaushal, Kartik Aryan, Ritesh Deshmukh, Kriti Sanon, Tapasee Pannu. There are even few cricketers like Anil Kumble, K Srikanth, R Ashwin, Javagal Srinath who are engineers (All are South Indians, and no wonder, South India has more engineering colleges). This happens only in India!
Finally, on a similar note as conveyed by the movie 3 Idiots, it is of increasing concern that this trend of Indians studying more and more engineering only is no good in the long run. This is because the other fields like arts, design or basic sciences(physics, biology or astronomy) gets deprived of the talent which is instead sucked by the engineering colleges. As everyone does not like engineering, and so it is an injustice to push someone to pursue engineering ( on an assumption that it might reap rich benefits in future) if he/she does not like it or does not have an aptitude for it. If compelled to study engineering against his/her wish, then they would make no good quality engineers, and due to which the skillset level of the entire field would come down. Today, it is unfortunate to see that many engineers are not skilled as expected by the industry. Though this might be accounted for the lack of good colleges or resources provided, but it does relate to the few students lack of interest as well, which definitely should be given a priority. Besides, the brain-drain happening since 1960’s to USA is no good for India, and in order to restore the balance in all the fields of study, it would be beneficial to work for the country, and develop all fields of work lucratively which will motivate the next coming generations to study as per their aptitudes and talents.
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