JEE 2018 saw only 11.35 lakh students appear for the exam, compared to the 11.86 lakh that appeared for JEE 2017.
The Joint Entrance Exam is held for admissions to centrally funded engineering colleges such as National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs), excluding the IITs.
Admissions to the IITs are conducted through another examination called JEE-Advanced.
The numbers indicate that the declining demand for engineering education in India has left its mark even on the top institutions of the country.
Including all engineering colleges, more than half of the total seats of around 15.5 lakh were vacant in 2016-17. This is despite a sharp fall in the number of seats in recent years.
In the past three years, the number of people appearing for the JEE has declined by 12.2% (see graphic above).
People are turning away from engineering colleges due to a slump in campus recruitment by IT companies. These companies have in turn been hit by a massive shift in the IT landscape from manual labor to automation.
While similar data for IIT-Advanced — the test to get into the Indian Institutes of Technology — is not available, the increasing trend of vacant seats in IITs indicate that these premier institutes too have been feeling the heat.
In 2014, there were only three seats that were left unfilled in all of the 17 IITs that were functioning at the time. Two of these seats were at IIT Kharagpur, while the remaining one was at IIT Roorkee.
In 2015, the number of seats left vacant jumped to 50 on an all India level. Contributing to the sudden rise was IIT Dhanbad, which saw 11 seats go unfilled that year in comparison to 100% admission in the previous year.
Similarly, IIT Varanasi, a part of the Banaras Hindu University, also saw 28 seats go unfilled in 2015 compared to full admission in the previous year.
In 2016, the total number of vacant seats doubled to 96, as IIT Varanasi saw the number of vacant seats increase to 38 from 28 and IIT Dhanbad saw it rise to 23 from 11. IIT Kharagpur too saw 7 seats go unfilled in 2016, while IIT Palakkad saw 5 seats remain empty.
In 2017, the latest year for which admissions have been completed, the total number of vacant seats in IITs have again risen to 121.
This time, besides IIT Varanasi and Dhanbad, other contributors included IIT Jammu (13), IIT Bhilai, IIT Kharagpur (9) and IIT Tirupati.
There were, for the first time in many years, vacant seats in IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi after 2017 admissions (see chart on the left).
Seats are left empty for various reasons, such as the qualifying candidates preferring to spend another year in preparation to try to get into a ‘better’ college or into an engineering stream of their choice.