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The self-financed quantitative expansion of engineering education in Kerala since the beginning of the 2000s should not be seen as a logical expansion consistent with demand and supply. Rather it should be primarily seen as qualitative, contributing to a change in the meaning of what engineering education is and has historically been. The qualitative aspect of this expansion is argued from the political economy of engineering education and is deriving from the displacement of functional role attributable to engineering education following the crisis of skills in the new accumulation regime and the new role that engineering education has been playing in the regimentation of the overall field of higher education.
The expansion of higher education in Kerala is best reflected in the engineering degree programmes in the state where from nine colleges with an intake capacity of 2,810 seats in 1991 it has expanded to 180 colleges with an intake of 57,544 in 2017 (Government of Kerala 2018; Mani and Arun 2012), excluding central institutions and private deemed universities. While in 1991, all the seats were under public provisioning (Tilak 2016), including state-owned and state-aided colleges; by the time we reached 2017, about 90% of the seats and colleges were in self-financed sector under public–private managements. Though this trend is more or less consistent with the national trend (GoI 2019), Kerala becomes an interesting case because of the tumultuous history of self-financed engineering education since the 1990s and the present consensus it enjoys even within the political left that led the struggles against self-financing engineering colleges during their inception.
This paper traces the expansion of self-financing engineering education that fell/falls under the academic control of state universities in the state and proposes that this expansion in kind has qualitatively changed what engineering education has been/is in the state. This demands us to see the quantitative leap in numbers as a qualitative shift in meaning and this has important consequences for engineering education policy and practice in the state. The paper argues the case from the perspective of the political economy of engineering education in the state and suggests that looking through the political economic lens offers insights into the newer modes of privatisation of/in higher education and the renewed aims that engineering education plays in the contemporary.
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