Azad Engineering College, Moinabad, Telangana : Zero students. Maheshwari Engineering College, Adilabad, Telangana : Zero students. 

The roll call of such ghost colleges could go on and on in several Telangana towns like Nizamabad, Mancherial and Kamareddy. Because as many as 70 engineering colleges in India's youngest state do not have a single student on its rolls or at best have in single digits. That's because the standard of education is considered so pathetic that no student chooses to take admission there or the location of the college is extremely inconvenient. Yet they exist on paper, complete with a building and fake faculty. 

In united Andhra Pradesh, there were close to 700 private engineering colleges, 340 of them in Telangana. Most of them mushroomed during the YS Rajasekhara Reddy regime to take advantage of the fee reimbursement policy which he introduced in 2008 as a pre-election sop for students from the weaker sections (family income less than Rs one lakh per annum). This covered apart from engineering, even B.Ed, medical, MBA and MCA courses. 

In engineering stream, every college was given Rs 35000 per student per year. Before bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, roughly 6 lakh students in these professional colleges benefited from the fee reimbursement scheme, one-fourth of them engineering students. In united Andhra, the outgo from the state exchequer was around Rs 5700 crore every year. 

But the scheme did not result in subsidising quality engineering education as perhaps was the intention. Instead, a cottage industry of touts sprung up and till two years back, there were some 5000 of them operating in the two Telugu states. This resulted in anyone and everyone getting an engineering seat. The supply was more than the demand. Till two years back in Telangana, there were 1.80 lakh seats available whereas the number of students passing out in Physics, Chemistry, Maths stream from class 12 in Telangana was only 88000. Touts would even pay money to students to encourage them to take a seat so that they could pocket the fee reimbursement from the government. 

A tout told me that in the heydays of the fee reimbursement scheme, where colleges with political backing sprung up to make easy money, even the student who secured the last rank in the entrance exam, could get a seat in some college or the other and aspire to become an engineer. I even met a student who bagged a seat in the computer engineering stream despite not even having appeared for the entrance exam. These students largely existed only on paper, with the colleges making good the money they got for them from the government.

With the Telangana government reluctant to encourage this loot, in the last three years, nearly 50 per cent of the colleges in Telangana have shut down or exist only in name. The managements of colleges that have only a few students, ask them to go and study in other colleges, while existing in their parent college in the records. 

College inspections are usually a farce. When the University officials come visiting, teachers and students are rented for the day. Those in the know say it is baffling how officials never ask for proof in terms of salary cheques issued when so many teachers are shown on the rolls or projects submitted by students. 

The administrator of an engineering college in Ranga Reddy district, that had just one student on its rolls, admitted the student when she would eventually pass out cannot be called a ``qualified engineer''. Students say the facilities in the labs are non-existent or of below par standards. Investment in infrastructure is obviously not a priority. 

Why are then these ghost colleges not shutting shop? That's because the Telangana government owes close to Rs 2800 crore to all these colleges since the 2013-14 academic year. If the college is shut down permanently, the chances of getting money will also evaporate into thin air. 

This abysmal quality of engineering education is reflecting in surveys done to judge the standard of those who are passing out of Telangana colleges. A study conducted across 500 colleges in India among 36000 engineering students in the IT stream showed that the students in Hyderabad are among the ``least employable'' due to their poor programming abilities. Just 0.7 per cent of those surveyed from the city were able to write logically correct code. 

This Automata National Programming Skills Report, published in the last week of April by Aspiring Minds which is an employability assessment company attributed it to a dearth of quality faculty and poor learning methods. The only consolation, if there can be one, was that 95 per cent of those surveyed were found unemployable for software development jobs. 

Which is why it is not a surprise that Telangana police is employing engineers as constables. In the recently concluded recruitment for constables, 7379 candidates were selected, 1623 of them engineers. It is a sad reflection on what passes off for engineering education in India's youngest state.