GATE 2017: Can the issue of students dropping out of MTech for PSU jobs be effectively addressed?

GATE 2017 registrations are about to close tomorrow, October 4, and PSU recruitment notice publications for 2017 have commenced (link). A study of previous years’ GATE aspirant statistics reveals that not only is the aspirant market increasing year-on-year, but so is the number of PSU applicants and corresponding vacancies. Up until 2012, PSU recruitment through GATE was not an option for aspirants, as most PSUs conducted direct campus placements in IITs. However, in the past 2 years, increasing number of PSUs have released recruitment notices for engineering graduates through GATE exam scores, due to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed at the Madras High court 2 years ago, preventing PSUs from recruiting directly from the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) (link). Moreover, according to a recent news report, almost 2,000 first year MTech students dropped out of IITs mid-course to take up PSU jobs. Despite such an upward trend in the importance of GATE exams, PSUs recruitment advertisements call for that year’s GATE scores only. 
The approximately 9 lakh GATE aspirant market is divided into 2 major exam goals.

Why do applicants’ preferences lie with PSUs over IITs? 

According to some GATE coaching professors, almost 2/3rd of the candidates taking GATE come from weaker socio-economic backgrounds, where higher studies is considered a privilege. As a research fellow or teaching assistant, the stipend that students get is lower than the salary earned in PSUs. Moreover, in many Indian communities, students and families attach high social status and respect with PSU jobs.

Technically, GATE authorities have confirmed that GATE scores for applications to PSUs and MTech/PhD courses are valid for 3 years from the date of examination. However, the benefit of this 3-year validity is very rarely passed on to aspirants. While IITs require GATE scores to be less than 2 years old for MTech applications, PSUs have strictly demanded that only fresh GATE scores be submitted for recruitment purposes. One of the major drawbacks of this system, as reported by some GATE aspirants is that, those stuck with the dilemma of pursuing either an MTech or a PSU job, may invariably chose the latter, since it allows only current year GATE scores for recruitment. Arun Kumar, a first year MTech student at IIT Kanpur, says, “Most students are eager to start earning immediately after graduation, as a result of which, they are willing to ditch their further studies if they get a job placement.”

Extending validity of PSU job offers

Recently, the IITs asked the MHRD to intervene to reduce the MTech student dropout rate mid-course. The MHRD, for this purpose, suggested that PSUs extend their job offer validity for students already enrolled into MTech courses, allowing them to take up the PSU job after they complete their MTech. Mr B. Singh, CMD, Made Easy Group is also of the opinion that, “This is a very valid solution by the government. If PSUs can extend the validity of their job offers, candidates will be able to complete their MTech and have a guaranteed job placement after their course. If this solution is implemented, in the coming years, PSUs will then have to come up with a mechanism to adjust the number of vacancies to accommodate MTech students who were offered the job 2 years ago.”

PSU recruitment notifications for GATE 2017 released this year, are meant to fill vacancies for almost a year later. Hence, PSUs are already adjusting their number of vacancies for a specific time lapse between recruitment requirement and final joining date of applicants.

Increasing validity of GATE scores for PSUs

However, the point of debate lies with the demand for fresh GATE scores by most PSUs for recruitment. PaGaLGuY conducted an online survey of 200 GATE aspirants, of which about 55% aspirants responded to have only fresh GATE scores considered for PSU applications. Sourabh Bhut, a 2014 GATE applicant, working with NTPC Limited, India, says, “It is advisable to join a PSU first and then go for MTech. As a part of a PSU, you are entitled to take a maximum of two years’ study leave while in central government service. Thus, if you pursue an MTech in India, the government will pay for your tuition and hostel fee, and you will get paid your salary during these two years.” Considering this aspect, the requirement for increase in validity of GATE scores for PSUs, almost ends at the crossroads of job vs MTech.

Ideally, aspirants start their GATE exam coaching about a year before the exam. Thus, increasing validity of GATE scores or PSU job offers, will reduce the time taken to prepare for a second attempt at the GATE exam. While time management is an obvious benefit of increased validity, how practical will it be for PSU applicants with older scores? Rahul Garg, a GATE 2017 aspirant, says, “If an applicant is unable to get a PSU placement with his/her current GATE scores, the chance of him/her getting a job next year with the same scores is bleak. Making GATE scores valid for 2-3 years, means than any applicant will ideally be competing with applicants across 2-3 years, making the competition more tough and chances of placement less likely.”

Given the vast difference in the number of applicants vs the IIT openings and the PSU openings, the increasing of validity of GATE scores would not make sense for anyone other than those who have got the top ranks, since both IITs and PSUs would naturally select the candidates with the highest test scores when considering applications.

There’s actually no easy choice for the government and the institutes as to how to tackle the vacant seats following students quitting MTech for PSUs. While increasing GATE score validity will only be beneficial to the toppers, holding vacancies will put an additional burden on PSUs. Given that PSUs offer leave with pay for higher studies, there’s less motivation for students, especially of weaker socio-economic backgrounds to complete their MTech when they can earn a start earning PSU salary while taking up their MTech at a later time.

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