Asish Tilak, a software programmer with Jindal Saw, says his job is an art that’s slowly fading out. He sees fewer students with the wherewithal for programming — the once-coveted MCA, or master of computer applications course — apply for interviews these days. The three-year degree course has been upstaged by short-term, job-oriented certifications in an uncertain economic climate.
“Students these days opt for short-term certification programmes like .Net, Oracle or Cisco which provide good jobs,” he says.
Software programmers are also being edged out by professionals with engineering degrees, as outsourcing work gets more complex. The global economic slowdown saw most multinational companies cut down their IT spends, and this seems to have taken away some sheen from the MCA degree. At the same time, a sharp increase in the number of engineering colleges in the country has given students a wider choice in the form of a B Tech or a BE degree, which are preferred by employers.
“A candidate with an MCA degree might be good with programming, but when it comes to design and technical know-how, he is in a disadvantageous position compared to a BE or a B Tech degree holder,” says Pradeep Bahirwani, VP, talent acquisition, Wipro.
In such an environment, fewer students are applying for the MCA entrance test every year. Nearly 9,276 students took the entrance test in 2009, while 10,398 students had taken it in 2008.
Universities and institutes across the country are also witnessing dwindling interest in the course. There were just 29 takers for the 39 seats on offer last year at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, whose MCA course is considered among the best in the country. At the National Institutes of Technology or NITs, 6,504 students appeared for the combined entrance exam in 2009, compared to 8,223 in 2008. Of the 20 NITs spread across the country, 11 offer the MCA programme, with 766 seats in all.
Another reason for the course losing its appeal is the transformation of software work in India from back-office outsourcing to the more complex “high-end” outsourcing. “One finds more product development and hardcore technical jobs being outsourced compared to plain software testing earlier,” explains Srivas Ramgopal, who works with a subsidiary of Tata Communications. Companies therefore prefer to hire people with engineering backgrounds.
Though the world’s economies are showing signs of improvement, interest levels in MCA are not likely to revive soon. “Instead of a three-year programme, MCA should be made a two-year programme to make it competitive vis-à-vis the B Tech programme. The industry considers an MCA degree equivalent to a B Tech one, whereas one takes longer to finish the MCA,” says ARKS Srinivas, director, TIME Mumbai, a coaching institute.
The top three NITs secured 30% of the students — the one in Tiruchirappalli, followed by Motilal Nehru NIT, Allahabad and NIT Warangal.
Sonajharia Minz, dean, school of computers and systems sciences at JNU and Krishna Kant, professor at the computer science and engineering department of the Motilal Nehru NIT blame the economic recession for the slump in interest among students. “Students are opting for MBA or other courses, as the IT industry has borne the brunt of the recession,” says professor Kant.
The similar trend is being replicated in colleges across Maharashtra. The occupancy rate is witnessing a sharp fall. In 2009, 5,369 candidates were admitted for 6988 seats available across 114 colleges in the State. So, about 77% of the seats were filled up in 2009, compared to 89% of the seats in 2008. Some 5,289 candidates opted for the programme from a pool of 5,908 seats in 2008. It must be noted that of the 114 colleges, 45 are under Pune University, which is one of the top universities for MCA. “Lack of placement facilities and presence of institutes in remote areas could be the reasons for such a bad show,” said an official from the Directorate of Technical Education of Maharashtra.
ARKS Srinivas, director, TIME Mumbai, a private coaching institute said that MCA as a business vertical is losing out due to fall in number of students. “Some 4,500 students will write the Integrated Common Entrance Test for MBA and MCA in Andhra Pradesh this year, whereas, previous about 6,500 students wrote the test for 60 seats,” said Srinivas.
However, the colleges offering MCA degree are considering to increase the number of seats. For instance JNU will be offering 46 seats in this schoolyear. Number of seats in Maharashtra could be risen by up to 20% this year. Seats in various NITs are also on the rise.