Is Indian higher education system geared to meet the requirements of the future?

India, the worlds second most populous country with approximately 1.2 billion people of which close to 50 percent are under the age of 25, is truly a ‘young nation. It is well recognised that she needs to focus on training her youth to reap the demographic dividends. This accords humongous opportunity for the education sector in the country.
The availability of cheap labour provides opportunity for multi-national companies to make India the hub for their manufacturing activities but unfortunately, the lack of skilled workforce makes India less preferred than countries such as China. The existence of highly skilled young population in the information technology related industry, telecommunications sector, financial services and the entire supply-chain services sector makes India attractive. With huge investments and massive activities in sectors such as infrastructure, agro based industries and tourism industry, it is essential to tap the talent of the enormous pool of human resources. This clearly points towards opportunity for training and development in these sectors.

Though India boasts several prestigious institutions offering quality education, their number and penetration is miniscule as compared to the demand and opportunity. There is a huge gap in the training provided by the institutions imparting higher education and the skill sets required by the industry. Therefore, there is enormous scope for Indian and global institutions to offer training modules and knowledge to train the enormous talent pool in India either by establishing independent vocational training institutions or by collaborating with existing educational institutions.

The new government headed by Narendra Modi has recognised that skill development and higher education are distinct and different. The government has realised that several transformational changes are needed to ensure that there is focus on skill development.

Skill development is needed for employability and to provide required manpower to the industry. On the other hand, excellent academics are needed to identify and create skill development programmes. Hence, the mantra is to bring world class education and training to India. This opens up opportunities for all Indian and global institutions to approach the government with their programmes to open the doors to establish educational institutions and skill development centres in India. With the new governments proposition to increase spending on higher education from the current 3.8 percent to 6 percent of the GDP, India has never been more ready to welcome institutions that offer quality education and skill building programmes.

A crucial step taken by the new government for the betterment and enhancement of vocational training in India is the creation of the ‘Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Media reports suggest that the mandate of this umbrella ministry is to coordinate with 20 ministries handling 73 skill development programmes worth about INR 6,000 crore per year with support from all the other ministries which have been carrying out skill development schemes. As of now, the main functions of the ministry are to evolve an appropriate skill development framework, remove any disconnect between the demand and supply of skilled manpower through vocational and technical training, skill upgradation, building of new skills, innovative thinking, mapping of existing skills and their certification. Further, the National Skill Development Corporation and the National Skill Development Agency which were earlier a part of the Department of Economic Affairs under the Ministry of Finance are now under the administrative control of the ‘Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. All these developments point towards the seriousness of the governments resolve for skill development and vocational training of the youth to equip them with the requisite expertise.

Higher education in India is another avenue that needs equal attention to harness the intellectual capabilities of the youth of the country and meet their aspirations. There are several pending issues before the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry which have been in a state of limbo for long. Lack of clarity in relation to the implementation of the regulations for collaborations and twinning programmes between foreign universities and Indian educational institutions, setting up of private universities in India, streamlining the distance education programme in India which offers huge opportunities along with cost savings, establishment of offshore campus of the foreign universities in India and the pendency of several bills before the Parliament need to be addressed by the HRD ministry sooner than later. Further, University Grants Commissions (UGC) archaic approach towards granting fresh approvals has been a constant source of worry and impediment for raising the standards of universities in India. The UGC regulations lay too much emphasis on unreasonable and impractical requirements such as quantum of land to be at the disposal of a university. The current standards are almost impossible to satisfy unless there are drastic changes made in law for providing land for universities as most cities face this constraint. Further, established institutions which have been approved by the UGC also tend to face flak from All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) as there seems a tussle between the regulators to establish their mark on the educational institution. This uncertainty and confusion either discourages most players from taking initiatives or makes them resort to exploitation of the rules. The ambiguity surrounding certain higher education laws also affects the students while enrolling themselves in a course and distorts their perception regarding the choice of universities and courses. There is clearly an urgent need to remove the existing bottlenecks within the education laws and regulations and fill the gaps in order to facilitate quality education in India.

India in the 21st century is ready for positive changes in all spheres. Education, being at the base of any reform, is the first area that is required to be tapped into and modified to brighten the future of the country and with the Modi government having recognised this as crucial, the transformation will hopefully happen sooner than later. So in the near future, we can perhaps witness a more literate India, a more skilled India, a fully employed India.

The authors are Daksha Baxi, executive director, Khaitan & Co. and Shivangi Singh, associate, Khaitan & Co.

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