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Posted at: Apr 15, 2017, 8:13 PM; last updated: Apr 15, 2017, 8:13 PM (IST)AN OVERVIEW

The twain must meet

With 85 per cent of the students pursuing degree courses, as against 15 per cent in skill-oriented courses, the need is to make degree courses offered by colleges and universities more employment-focused
The twain must meet

Aditi Tandon

Eminent scientist and Bharat Ratna Prof CNR Rao has predicted a significant loss in India's scientific edge unless the national university system is immediately revamped and teaching curriculum brought in sync with the changing times. 

As many as 90 per cent of country's universities have outdated syllabi which don't prepare students for the cut-throat competition of the job market. Another issue is the never waning Indian obsession with degree education — whether or not that education lands students jobs.

Statistics show that 85 per cent of the students (over 217 lakh) enrolled with central, state or private higher education institutions across India are pursuing degree courses as against 15 per cent who are in skill-oriented education.

A further analysis of this crucial data set shows that even among degree courses, general courses attract more students (around 116 lakh) instead of technical courses at the undergraduate level.

This explains why most of the increase in India's Gross Enrolment Ratio in recent times happened on account of the higher enrollment in degree courses. This enrollment was no guarantee of employment though. Experts, however, feel that while degree education is necessary, it needs to be linked to job market requirements.

Outdated curriculum

Prof  Mujtaba Khan of Jamia Millia Islamia, who has been a former member in many education- related committees, says the last he heard of the UGC guidelines on syllabus revision was about 15 years ago.

“A university must update its syllabus at least every three years. While Central Universities have a greater autonomy to do this revision, the state universities remain bogged down by the education bureaucracy. A state university Vice-Chancellor has to almost always look up to the education secretary for everything. Institutional autonomy remains an issue. While we have aped the West in naming all our degree courses, we have not emulated the western capacities to link their degree education to jobs. That's an unfinished task,” Prof Khan says.

One suggestion is for the UGC to issue uniform national curriculum guidelines which institutions of higher education can adopt on a voluntary basis. “There is northern domination in examination setting in India. But when a professor from North India sets a paper, he reflects his own environment, which a student from South India does not understand well. There is a need for a national level new model curriculum at university level which colleges can adopt if they like, and this curriculum should be evolved by top subject experts to reflect the realities of our times,” Prof Khan adds.

Vocational bias

Many educationists say Prime Minister Narendra Modi's push for Skill India through a full-fledged ministry is a welcome development. They, however, qualify their statement with a warning saying the government has to ensure a demand for vocational education.

College and university education data clearly shows a bias against vocational courses with students still running after traditional degrees in the hope of white collared jobs — which are few. New job opportunities lie in new sectors like infrastructure, management, automobiles, public relations and corporate communications. But the institutes are not catering to these sectors.

Prof  Srinivas C, a sociologist with JNU, partly blames parent and student attitudes for this problem. “Students insist on white-collared jobs. There is no dignity of labour in India. We need a shift in social attitudes towards jobs. Universities should lead this change by introducing courses in English proficiency, office management, computer knowledge, working of crucial economic sectors, among others. We today have courses like Indian history and culture which don't serve the purpose of education or markets. Universities must revise their courses periodically and scientifically to ensure students have an edge to enter the job markets,” he says.

Many educationists, also feel parallel structures for formal university and vocational education will not serve much of a purpose. They argue that separation of degree and vocational education creates avoidable biases against the latter form of education. “For instance, why do we need separate set ups to teach people the skills needed to be electricians, plumbers and other such jobs. These skills can be taught at school level and later universities can evolve courses which can marry both the formal and the informal education needs to prepare employable graduates. These are matters which require fresh thinking. We should merge degree and vocational education to add dignity to the skilling sector and send a message that education and skills go together and not parallel to each other,” Prof Srinivas  adds.

For the government, the challenge will be to create a demand for new skills while it expands sector skill councils under the National Skill Development Mission.

Problem of quality

Annually, around 14 lakh students on an average sit for engineering exams, including for the prestigious IITs. This year the CBSE has received close to 11 lakh applications from students for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance exam for medical undergraduate admissions. The interest of students is clear, despite a series of studies that show that 30 per cent of the seven lakh engineering graduates coming out of our system annually are unemployed.

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) which regulates 90 per cent of all technical institutions in India, has now put its foot down and said it will only approve institutions which update their curricula annually by December. Every institute seeking AICTE approval for engineering courses will have to set up subject specific panels headed by industry experts to draft new curriculum and update it every year.

A similar challenge exists in the management sector where only 7 per cent of the graduates get jobs annually. Except IIMs and other top business schools which guarantee jobs for their pass outs, most of the remaining 5,500 B schools in India produce low-quality graduates the industry is not willing to hire.

The problem of quality of education also plagues this sector, which naturally, compromises the quality of the graduates. Ninety per cent of the technical education institutions are private unaided and run arbitrarily charging whatever they want. Many of these offer low-quality teaching.

As many as 130 lakh students out of 2017 lakh studying in institutions offering regular education are in the private set up today with barely 40 per cent studying in government institutions where checks and balances ensure better education.

The recent challenge of corporatisation of education is also worrisome, say experts.

“In a country where attaining basic literacy is a challenge, you open up the education sector to the private sector, and now foreign institutions, at your own peril. It has now become a fashion to enroll with high free structure colleges that offer five-star education. This trend is not healthy and the government must ensure some kind of a balance,” says Prof Khan.

The employability abyss

As the government works on achieving additional higher education enrolment of 10 million by 2017 end, the real challenge will be whether this enrolment will enhance India's economic potential tomorrow by also producing employable graduates.

Many schemes to enhance job markets are gathering dust in government files. The previously debated community college scheme which proposed colleges to impart locally relevant skills has not taken off despite long years of debate in the Central Advisory Board of Education, India's apex advisory body in the sector.

Higher education reforms which a committee under eminent scientist Prof Yashpal had proposed in 2012 never took off. 

HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar recently made the right noises when he declared common entrance exams for all engineering and general education institutions in India but that's a work in progress. For a start, the AICTE has now set up a committee of experts to review the existing content being taught at technical institutions in India and recommend updated curricula. Once the draft curriculum is ready, institutes can adopt it with minor changes to enhance the employability of their students.

Experts, however, caution against the consistent decline in the quality of teaching in India, with faculty development and leadership remaining a low priority area. 

Prof CNR Rao has called for enhanced investments in teaching and content if at all India is to reap the benefits of demographic dividend. 


Need to bridge the skill gap

  • India will be short of 103 million skilled workers in the infrastructure sector by 2022. The corresponding shortages in automobile sector will be five million. There is, however, dearth of systems filling this crucial skill gap, with students obsessed with medical and engineering education.
  • As the government works on achieving additional higher education enrollment of 10 million by 2017 end, the real challenge will be whether this enrollment will enhance India’s economic potential tomorrow by also producing employable graduates.

Statistics

  • Universities: 760
  • Colleges 38,498
  • Institutions 12,276
  • 61 Universities  are  privately  managed   
  • 293 Universities are  located  in  rural areas
  • 430 General  
  • 90 Technical  
  • 61 Agriculture   &  Allied  
  • 45 Medical  
  • 20 Law  
  • 11 Sanskrit  
  • 7 Language  
  • 60 other Universities.

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