Reviving an institution to its past glory of being among the best in the country can be an arduous task. But, after fifteen years of administrative and educational reforms with the financial help and guidance of the World Bank and the government, the 160-year-old College of Engineering Pune (COEP) has emerged among the top 25 in the country.
The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) ranked COEP at 21 out of the top 100 engineering colleges in the country, in the first ever ranking exercise undertaken by it. Even in private sector exercises by various periodicals, COEP, which boasts a heritage building and a workshop complex which reportedly undertook armament manufacturing during the World War II, scores over some of the prestigious IITs and NITs.
Much more than just funding by the World Bank under its Technical Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP) has clearly helped COEP not just arrest the slide in academic standards but also re-emerge among the top ranking engineering colleges in the country where both the faculty and the students take pride in being meritorious.
Trophies and certificates of merit can be seen displayed not just in COEP director Prof. Bharatkumar B. Ahuja’s airy room in the restored heritage building, which houses the administrative office, but in many other workshops and main halls of the college. Prof Ahuja states with pride that after IITs, it is the first choice of students from the state.
In an environment where industry is known to be critical of most engineering colleges, COEP has received Rs. 1 crore worth of scholarships for students this year. A number of industries are coming forward to help the college set up labs for promoting innovation. Having got autonomy, a pre-condition under the World Bank project, COEP is striving to achieve university status to push ahead with its programme to introduce more specializations and research. It boasts of 118 PhDs among its 217 faculty members.
During a recent visit, unmindful of the high temperature in the tin-roofed workshop of yore, enthusiastic students could be seen engaged in club activities like robotics, racing car, 3D printing, etc. The college has over 30 clubs including a satellite club, where projects are started and taken forward by next batch of students. On the fourth floor of one of the buildings, in a makeshift station, the satellite club members monitor and communicate daily with the communication polar satellite Swayam ( the fourth student satellite from India) when it passes over Pune. The club is now working on a new satellite - Solar Sail - with research funding from ISRO.
Umair Daimi, the head of the satellite club, explains that the new satellite would be a step forward as it looks to use solar energy instead of fuel based thrusters for gaining altitude. “The Solar Sail will not require fuel for changing its orbit. We plan to have it ready in three years,” says Daimi, who is preparing to hand over the baton after completing his course. Interestingly, most of the clubs in COEP have students from different disciplines and different batches working on different aspects of the various projects. The quality of work done is these clubs can be gauged from the fact that many of them are providing services to the private sector right from surgery to manufacturing, helping cut down costs and time involved in varied operations.
The longest running higher education reforms project, TEQIP has so far been implemented in 317 institutions across the country since its launch in 2002. In the third phase starting this year, another 200 engineering institutions are to be brought under the project umbrella. Francisco Marmolejo, World Bank's Lead Tertiary Education Specialist and Coordinator of its Network of Higher Education Specialists, says the TEQIP has helped to promote “collaborations with industry, nurture talent and innovation, and promote entrepreneurship.”
Citing COEP as one of the best success stories under TEQIP, Marmolejo said the next phase would seek to “accelerate quality and equity of engineering education in states which are not performing as well as other states”. Having benefited from TEQIP guidance and its own reform initiatives, COEP is now reaching out to help other engineering colleges not just in Maharashtra but in other states too to share ideas and provide mentoring just as it benefited from mentoring by IIT-Bombay in its initial phase.
It is a matter of pride for Prof Ahuja and his team that the dropout rate of students particularly from backward communities has come down substantially thanks to the introduction of a third summer term for weak students. The outcomes are visible not just with industry acknowledging that the COEP students have strong engineering fundamentals. The number of PG, PhDs, published research papers and patents to the college's credit are also going up. More innovations led entrepreneurship are in the pipeline.