But TLSU couldn’t be more different from the archaic ITI that incubates it. Its interiors have been refurbished to look more professional, while one of the floors is fitted with an industrial kitchen and an attached restaurant. The floor below that houses a well-equipped mechatronics lab. “Companies like Larsen & Toubro and Apollo Tyres have given us the latest equipment to train with,” says Dr Anupam Mitra, head of TLSU’s commerce department.
It isn’t just the physical bells and whistles that set it apart, though. TLSU’s new and improved vocational curriculum is in sharp contrast to ITI’s outdated ones. “All our courses go through a Board of Study, which features at least two to three industry participants and academics from other universities. They help us keep the curriculum relevant,” says Umatt. For instance, the mechatronics department recently included the study of sensors, an integral part of machinery used in automation.
Being situated inside the ITI campus also locates TLSU close to the industries whose ranks it seeks to bolster, via the adjacent Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC).
A BCom by any other name
“TLSU is different from other universities in one critical way. We only pray to one god. The employer,” says Sabharwal. Creating employable candidates is the guiding principle.
Students can either be on-campus, onsite (training at a companyq), online or placed on-the-job. Further, they can choose between a diploma (1 year), an advanced diploma (2 years), a degree (3 years) or a short-term course, which may last anywhere between 3-9 months. These combinations, says Sabharwal, enable students to work towards degrees over 5 to 10 years. Even within the regular degree course, an entire semester (4 months) is dedicated to on-the-job training (OJT) with companies across different sectors.
“We work with employers to come up with a continuous evaluation system for the student. It ensures students actually learn job-related skills, instead of just being used to do repetitive work,” says Umatt. Students often end up getting offers while their OJTs are still on, she adds.
Sitting in his tiny, low-lit cabin, Mitra juggles a constant stream of phone calls while answering questions. “A bachelor’s degree in commerce (BCom) is the most popular course here,” he adds. A BCom isn’t typical of a vocational or skill-driven university, and Mitra insists that the way it’s taught at TLSU is indeed different from mainstream institutions. “We teach them practical skills… Like calculating taxes or filling up challans,” he explains.
Mitra’s enthusiasm about TLSU’s commerce courses is somewhat tempered by the sobering reality that not many people still take a vocational skilling university seriously. “On the outside, the curriculum looks exactly the same. But our pedagogy is completely different. Students and parents don’t realise that. It’s still just a BCom course to them,” he says.
The proximity of Vadodara’s legacy institution—Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU)—and other private colleges, further compounds the problem. TLSU still attracts a student base that doesn’t score enough for legacy institutions like MSU or can’t afford high-end private alternatives.
Despite lower-than-average fees ($352 per semester), TLSU offers scholarships to attract a wider student base. In the academic year 2019, TLSU offered a total of 480 seats, out of which 35 seats in every course were allocated to scholarship students. In 2018, TLSU reached out to over 200 high schools in Vadodara to raise awareness about their courses but, as Mitra indicates, the quality of placements will be their ultimate advertisement.
The GIDC complex next door gives TLSU plenty of placement opportunities to test this hypothesis. Even though the neighbouring ITI also supplies students to the same micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), some employers told The Ken they prefer the TLSU placements.
“The main difference in how equipped the new recruits are with the right soft skills,” says Asutosh Shah, the director of a Vadodara-based electronics enterprise called G-Tek. Shah was part of an initial advisory council at TLSU. He now employs three mechatronics graduates from TLSU, and one student is currently pursuing an apprenticeship at his firm.