The Pressure of the Penny, the Plight of Passion

The recent news making headlines is the Rs 2-crore package being offered to two IITians by IT giant Google. However, as congratulatory messages started to pour in, the mood at India’s best engineering colleges including the IITs did not seem as jubilant as one would expect. The final year students in most of these had started to worry about calls from family and peers who would soon be enquiring about the pay packages they had been offered at the commencement of placement season in the first week of December.
Amidst the joy of celebration of success of compatriots, an unhealthy competition seeps in to secure the best of the salaries which has come to be regarded as the sole parameter of success. But a logical question to be asked here is – can everyone be at the top of the ladder? A package of 2 crores cannot be the reality of all students taking admission at the IITs or other reputed engineering colleges. Besides, salary alone cannot define a successful career or achievement in education.
The placement process in institutions follows a complex structure wherein several factors are considered, such as the cumulative grade point average, which is taken to be the indicator for academic performance, innovation orientation of students, in case of companies conducting tests, the performance in such tests, the course curricula and knowledge thereof and of course, performance in the interview. Also not all companies offer similar salaries despite the undeniable quality of students to whom they make the offer.
“When parents make a call to a student asking about the highest salaries received by a fellow batchmate, the students assume that parents are only interested in high salaries though the parents may not have any such intention and may be making a general enquiry. This puts the student under a lot of stress”, said Atal Ashutosh Agarwal, a 4th year student at IIT Kharagpur who also leads the students’ body at the Institute.
An obvious fall-out of such stress is disinterest in core engineering areas and motivation to join sectors such as IT, Consulting and Finance which offer higher salaries. Thus, a student who may have joined his engineering college with a passion in engineering ends up as a coder, with the sole motive of earning a higher salary. This is one of the reasons why supply of quality graduates in IT industry is on the rise while that in core engineering companies are lagging behind.
Another domain that takes a hit because of this obsession with salaries is entrepreneurship, which itself is a job creator and the backbone of an industrial economy. But a start-up company needs sufficient time to break-even and even the earnings of the promoters in the initial period may not be as high as those of students opting for highly paid jobs. But where earnings constitute the primary motivating factor, students become disinterested in launching start-ups.
India being a country primarily dominated by the middle class, career choices are often decided by the earnings potential, instead of passion and talent. The responsibility hence lies with society as well to motivate would-be graduates to look beyond fat pay cheques.
“IIT Kharagpur, which places close to 1500 students every year, has faced this issue for several years now where the highest salary goes beyond crores while the average salary hovers around INR 10 lakh. The Institute prepares the final year student community for the inevitable and also makes them aware about alternative opportunities like entrepreneurship. Alumni from the Institute, who have launched their start-ups or have opted for higher studies, are also engaged in providing counselling to the students for alternative career choices” said Atal.
The efforts have paid at the Institute. About 100 students at IIT Kharagpur this year skipped placement for companies in IT, Consulting and Financial sectors to apply for companies in various core engineering sectors. This trend is despite the fact the average salary in core will not be as competitive as IT, Consulting and Financial sectors. Rishita Das, topper from the Dept. of Aerospace Engineering, who got offer from Airbus said, “It is learning from the professors of my Institute over the five years that has motivated me beyond measure to pursue a career in Aerospace industry. Despite the lure of high package job offers from a number of non-core companies, I never thought of preparing or applying for one. I understand that I may have had a wonderful career in one of those fields but I chose to continue in my core out of my interest and passion for Aerospace Engineering.” Navojit Saha from the Dept. of Chemical Engineering said, “The job is more important than salary.”

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