In the context of the educated unemployed in India the question we in higher education have to be asking is very simple: Are we putting out the graduate the market wants? The answer to this is essentially two fold. First is an appraisal of the demands of the system from a longer term perspective and seeing if the right choices have been offered to the youth as they enter the University or college. And second, is in seeing if along with the necessary academic orientation, an institution of higher learning "prepares" a student for the job market. And much of this has to do with honing in skills related to employment, be it in speaking skills, logical reasoning and quantitative methods. India is a multi-lingual country but for the most part employers are looking for good communication skills in English and a lot of this today has to do with the forces of globalization and revolutions in information technology.
It is indeed a shame for the country that such a large number of our youth who are graduates or more are without a job. A common perception not just in India but also elsewhere is that the sluggish economy is to be blamed. In the case of India we do not have the luxury to take cover under this explanation for the simple reason that the Indian economy is doing much better than even the developed economies of the world. A growth rate of about 7 per cent is nothing to be looked down upon.
The problem of unemployment exists because the educational system does not graduate the "right" person. We are still bogged to a rote learning procedure with little emphasis on applications. The market is looking for youth who is not only well rounded in his/her field of specialization but also an individual who is going to be able to put theory to practical applications. Further as I said before we need youth to be very proficient in communication skills. Whether it is on-shore or off-shore, the ability to connect is ultimately what determines success or failure. For education to be useful to society, it must be both academically rigorous and practically relevant to the dynamic market place.
The only way we are going to be able to close the discrepancy pertaining to quality is in ensuring that we have the right person for the right job. Before we even sign off on the accreditation process, the authorities would have to ensure that "quality" is in place. Opening an institution of higher learning seems to be a very easy thing in India--just take a ride through some of the rural areas and you will see what I mean. You will see scores of colleges and universities that do not have even basic facilities or amenities. And then you ask the question as to how these institutions even came to be signed off; and the answer is quite obvious.
We have heard of Universities and colleges going without teaching positions filled for months, if not years. The schism between Tier One, Two and Three will continue to exist as long as there is no proper will to execute a plan of action that benefits the student community. And then when we look at the State government institutions and recruitment to teaching positions, we are in a totally different ballpark with a scenario that is quite baffling indeed.
We often announce the opening new IITs and IIMs without worrying about where the faculty will come from. Unless we are able to attract bright minds to teaching and research, our universities and institutions will have no chance to carve out rightful place in the world academic space.
The bottom line for Indian higher education is not ourselves patting on our shoulders and saying how great we are. Proliferating ranking agencies within India is not exactly going to push the quality of education in the country. Ultimately we have to be at par with the best in the world for this is a globalised world where no country can pretend to operate on its own. And to achieve this, we must be able to attract the brightest minds to teaching and research offering globally competitive salaries and benefits. We have to nurture our junior faculty to excel.
We must pay attention to curriculum reengineering with active input from industry representatives. We must pay a lot of attention to placement providing skills training to make sure that the student gets placed. This is not a numbers game, but a plan that every institution must have to make sure that the student is successfully placed and in the field that he/she has studied. Of course there can be marginal inter-relatedness of jobs; but for the most part the student should derive satisfaction from the job after all those years put in colleges and universities.
In all this talk about higher education, fine tuning higher education and coming to terms with the educated unemployed, we also have to factor in the basic educational system in India as it pertains to what is being imparted at schools for the simple reason that the "pool" generated from these schools is what is received by institutions of higher learning. Here again we find a vast difference between the government schools and private schools, although to categorically say that the latter has always had the edge is somewhat mis-leading.
1. We must work hard to bring prestige to the teaching profession.
2. Teaching profession should not be allowed to become a dumping ground for people who do not find place elsewhere in the economy. We must attract good students to teaching by nurturing them and paying decent living wages.
We must make no compromise on quality, be it with respect to teachers or infrastructure.
He is a Ph.D. in Business Administration from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA. He has held several respected positions before he took up the role of VC of SRM University. He served as Director of the Operations and Supply Chain Management Program, Chairman of Decision Sciences Department and Senior Manager with two reputed multinational firms: Philips Electronics in India and Digital Equipment corporation (DEC) in the US and Others.