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Delhi: Distant prospect

EducationWorld October 12 | Education News EducationWorld

The long-standing proposal of the Union government to establish 14 autonomous ‘innovation universities’ — first announced by the National Knowledge Commission in 2010 and for which purpose a draft Universities for Research and Innovation Bill 2012 was tabled in Parliament in May (where it has been stuck in logjam following the prolonged disruption of parliamentary business) — has acquired some traction. Following a two-day National Roundtable Conference on government-industry partnership to promote theme-based innovation institutes on September 25-26 convened by the Union HRD ministry, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and attended by representatives of 17 Union government ministries, the contours of these unique institutions to be promoted in the PPP (public-private partnership) mode were outlined.

“These institutes should be different from regular degree providing institutes and should admit trained people across disciplines to do research and innovation, leading to the award of Ph D degrees in specific sectors. These institutes will be fully autonomous, independent, and will focus entirely on research and innovation. Respective ministries will only play the role of facilitators and the industry partner shall set up the institutes and run them,” said Sibal in a press release issued by the HRD ministry.

CII’s hope is that these research-intensive universities will produce scholars who will generate India-specific syllabuses and curriculums to develop workplace skills and improve the dismal productivity of labour. “Insufficient supply of quality skills is one of the major impediments to further economic growth in India,” says a World Bank paper titled Employability and Skillsets of Newly Graduated Engineers in India. According to the report, 64 percent of employers in India are dissatisfied with the skillsets of fresh engineering graduates. It further notes that the skills gap is widest within higher order thinking skills.

This is not the only indictment of India’s archaic higher education system cast in the Macaulay mould. The US-based global human resource firm ManpowerGroup (NYSE-listed world leader in innovative workplace solutions), in its sixth annual talent shortage survey, says India ranks second worldwide for skilled labour shortages after Japan.

Yet it’s quite obvious that neither the HRD ministry, its handmaiden AICTE, nor India Inc (represented by CII) — which has to fund the proposed innovation universities — are  in any hurry to get this high-sounding proposal off the ground.

“After this conference, our work will be to set up sector-specific groups together with government ministries, and develop suitable curriculums to produce skilled employees. The major outcome of the conference was that it highlighted the gap between industry needs and skilled human resources and drew a road map to bridge this gap. Now the ministry needs to help fast-track regulatory clearances for starting these universities and guarantee private sector players the autonomy to run them,” says Shalini S. Sharma, head, higher education — knowledge & innovation initiatives — of CII.

In short, despite the impressively titled Research and Innovation Universities Bill 2012 pending in Parliament, the initiative is still at the discussion stage. The benefits that will flow from it are a distant pie in the sky.

Swati Roy (Delhi)

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