Do toppers think of civil as a less lucrative stream

Even if the oldest examinee in the Graduate Aptitude Test for Engineers (GATE) 2021 is 88 years old, qualified civil engineer, JEE Advanced 2020 toppers seem to have given civil engineering the short shrift. Going by recent preferences of the toppers in the first round of seat allocation, the majority of the top 500 candidates in the open category in the Common Rank List (CRL) have opted for Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) programme while vying for nine of 23 top IITs. What may come as a surprise is that civil engineering (CE) is among the less preferred choices, this when, IT companies tend to recruit not just fresh computer science graduates, but even those from the ceramic engineering streams.

It will be difficult to attribute any single reason to the current trend, says V Ramgopal Rao, director IIT Delhi. “Both civil engineering and computer science engineering are equally good and important departments at IIT Delhi. Student preferences are based on multiple considerations including perception, pay packages, job prospects, social pressures, last year cut-offs etc,” he adds.

Students will always be driven by market forces including developments and innovations in the area,” says Eldho TI, Institute Chair Professor and head, Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, known to have modern lab facilities, quality faculty, ambience and plethora of opportunities for CE students to develop their professional and personal skills.

He recalls the 1970s and 1980s when civil engineering was among the top choices. “Government jobs at that time which was assured for civil engineers was prestigious in the society. However, with tremendous developments in the areas of CS, IT and electronics in the past three decades, the student interest and trend changed. Market forces such as high pay packages for CS as opposed to the normal pay packages and necessity to work in the field for CE changed students’ perception.”

Manu Santhanam, head, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Madras, attributes the recent stream choices to a lack of awareness about civil engineering and the gloss surrounding the IT profession. “In the views of a common person, a civil engineer slogs it out in the open irrespective of the weather, with no clearly defined work hours, and generally (much) lower pay packages than equally qualified professionals in other fields. As a result, the typical civil engineering roles are perceived to be less glamorous compared to the roles of software engineers, management consultants, or even manufacturing industry personnel.”

The truth of the matter, he claims, is that civil engineering goes much beyond the field practice. “The breadth and depth of subjects in this field are unmatched except perhaps in mechanical engineering. Further, the concepts learnt by civil engineering students attune them to solving global challenges, like sustainable infrastructure development, reducing pollution, enabling clean water, just to name a few. Civil engineers are thus more likely than computer science majors to be found in leadership roles in various organisations that look at solving large scale problems.”

Santhanam stresses that