Gender Gap in Indian Engineering Scenario

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Engineering is the backbone of every country’s economic development. India is no exception. With almost a million engineers graduating every year India is the second largest producer of Engineers in the world closely following China. But engineering education in India is plagued by issues such as “Lack of Quality Faculty” and “Unemployable Graduates”. One of these issues is the Huge “Gender Gap” in Engineering education.

CHANGING SCENARIO OF ENGINEERING IN INDIA

Engineering has traditionally been a Male dominant profession not only in India but all over the world. The presence of women in Engineering is much lower than in the Sciences, Arts and Medicine at the Bachelor’s level. But in the past few decades, the world has witnessed a huge improvement in the gender gap. The ripples of these changes have also vibrated the Indian engineering scenario. According to data issued by MHRD showing the status of women enrolling in Science and Engineering in India, there has been a steady increase in the numbers over the years in both streams with science being the preferred career choice. In 1970-71, there were 16.7% women in the sciences while engineering only had 2%. By the end of the century 20th century (2000-01), the percentage of women in sciences rose up to 37.5% while in engineering it increased to 23%. Now, One-Third engineering students (almost 30%) in India are women.

Women usually shy away from engineering due to the mindset of engineering being a male dominant discipline. Another major factor is Money! An engineering course is expensive. After a recent hike, the tuition fee of IITs and NITs has increased up to 2 and 1.25 Lakhs Per Annum respectively.  Many private institutes also charge more than 3 Lakhs Per Annum as Tuition Fee. Despite so much development, gender-based discrimination is still rampant in the country. This social stigma often resonates with the parents as they are reluctant to invest so much money in their daughter’s engineering education.

But the picture is not as bad as it seems. India still beats a lot of developed countries like USA where 18-20% engineering graduates are women and UK where the percentage is only 16%. Even though the gender gap in branches like Mechanical and Civil engineering remain high due to its lesser popularity among women, the gap has reduced manifold in the past few decades. In another research, it was found that 45% of Computer Science graduates in India are women compared to just 21% in the US. Considering the fact that India was ranked at 87 in the Annual Global Gender Gap index compiled by Geneva-based World Economic Forum, this is a huge achievement for India. A recent study also suggests that 85% boys and 79% girls in India aspire to become an engineer which is the highest in the world.

THE ALARMING GENDER GAP IN IITs AND NITs

Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) and National Institute of Technology (NITs), the “Institutes of National Importance”, tell a completely different story. With the Male to Female ratio (MFR) ranging from 10:1 to 14:1 in IITs and 8:1 in NITs, the situation doesn’t show much signs of improving in spite of increasing number of girls appearing for JEE Mains every year. An analysis of the JEE Mains 2017 shows that a total of 11.86 lakh candidates appeared for the exam of which 27.8% were girls. 2.21 Lakh candidates cleared the exam and qualified for the JEE Advanced 2017. Of these a total of 46,160 (20.8%) were girls. Noticed a trend here? If not, then further data will make it more clear. Of all the candidates who secured a rank of 5000 or less only 9.3% were girls. Only 6.8% girls featured in the top 1000! Similar trends were observed in JEE Advanced 2016 where 23.16% of the candidates who appeared were girls, compared to 17.35% in 2015. Still, the share of girls in the candidates who secured a rank was 12.49%. Over the past decade, the Male to female ratio in IITs has remained stagnant between 8-10%. Around 8.8% women were admitted to IITs in 2014, and the figure went up to 9% in 2015, but in 2016 it came down to 8%.

A Famous study “Women in Engineering: A Comparative Study of Barriers Across Nations” done by Aspiring Minds, a joint venture of IIT and MIT alumni in 2013, compared the number of women in engineering in India to that of women in top tier colleges in the US which consisted of MIT, Berkeley and Stanford.   At the application stage the Male to female ratio for IITs and MITs were pretty similar, about 2.27 Males per 1 female at MITs and over 2 Males per 1 Female at IITs. The selection rate for males being 7.2% for MITs and 6.4% for IITs are also quite similar. But a drastic difference was observed in the selection rate for Females being 15.5% for MITs and only 1.9% in IITs. As a result, the MFR at MIT, Berkeley and Stanford ranges from 1.4 to 4 Males per 1 Female. At the IITs, on the other hand, the MFR ranges from 14:1 to 10:1 while at NITs and other top state-run colleges, the ratio is 8:1.

Why is the ratio of females in MIT much greater than the national average while in IITs it is the complete opposite? Does this mean India is not capable of producing high-quality female candidates in the technical field at higher secondary level? A study in India found out that two-thirds of the top 1% sample in the non-medical science stream, a proxy for engineering aspiration, were women. So why is the gender ratio so screwed in the IITs and NITs?

According to the study, the most likely explanation for such a high Male-Female ratio in India’s premium engineering colleges is the use of high discrete cut-off on tests scores in the selection criteria. If this selection method through high cut-off or the test itself is not changed in any way, then the American lesson is that top-tiered engineering programs will remain stagnant with MFR’s of 7:1, or thereabouts, at best. It is universally accepted that a standardized test format does not suit women. Top colleges in the US, therefore, opt for a more broad-based selection process. If IITs also use more steps like a larger test selection pool followed by interviews, as India’s own IIM’s use in the selection process, this may enable candidates to show other skills besides the rote learning that is required in preparation for the JEE.

Another major barrier faced by female IIT aspirants is the costly coachings required in order to crack the exam. Due to the low success rate, parents are unwilling to invest in these coachings for their daughter even though parents are ready to invest money if their son wants to take IIT coaching. Also, major IIT coachings are based in a few important cities like Kota, New Delhi, Hyderabad, etc. So the parents in smaller tier 2 and tier 3 cities are reluctant to send their daughter to these coachings.

In order to tackle the stagnation in the MFR in IITs, the Joint Admission Board (JAB) of the IITs have approved 20% supernumerary seats for girls in IITs which will be achieved in a phased manner by 2026 starting with 14% in 2018 followed by a unity increase each year. This will however not affect the existing number of seats for male candidates as the supernumerary seats will be additional seats reserved for female candidates. It is hoped that these extra seats will give some incentives for parents to invest in their daughter’s preparation for JEE.

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