The Plight of Higher Education in India : A Deeper Perspective

Written by LUMINIS. Posted in Education Training Blog

In the previous article, we have presented the other side of : Why students are not Industry-ready? The search of answers to this question seems never ending. Though the question is indeed very interesting and important in a way, arriving at conclusive thoughts is nowhere near easy. There would be a consensus about the question itself. The attempt to dig deeper, would point towards, "If students in India are not industry-ready & job-ready, then who is the culprit for the problems therein?"

The complexity of situation would ensure that many of strange vantage points be in the air. At one end of the supply side is Academia, which is producing students/candidates who are seemingly not fit for professional roles or jobs in the industry. They are focused only on the admissions and revenue collections month-after-month, clearly losing the focus on education, its quality of delivery and content in the process. At other end of demand side is industry itself, which is expectedly to absorb whatever fresh human-capital is being supplied to them by academia. Each can blame other conveniently for: Who is the culprit?

None of them or both...??

Industry does not have sole rights to make a uni-dimensional fuss about:

Fault lies with both Industry & Academia

Since this looks like an attitudinal problem, then the fault lies with both sides.

Even in industry, HR departments are actually not able to perform the job of actually developing the human resource with the incorporation of larger strategic context in their practice. In India, the HR has just been reduced to task of filling up (quick-fixing) the left-vacancies. The approaches to mentoring, succession and talent acquisition are widely & extensively missed. When the objectives and the parameters employed by HR departments are meant only for quickly filling up the job which has lately become vacant, how can they over-emphasize the possession of skills & abilities from fresh graduates, new-comers actually? In all practical sense, it must take around 3-6 months at least, for grooming & developing a good candidate with reasonable skills & capabilities as per the exact requirements of their organization. But they don't seem willing to spend the salaries of these 3-6 months on a fresh candidate; instead they prefer to search for ready-made solution to their current problem, i.e., experienced candidate only, who they believe would hit the ground running. On another note, you would rarely find any working professional who has been granted a long leave/vacation of 6-months to 1-year for sabbaticals or personal/sponsored skill-enhancement, without having to worry about his job when he/she would come back.

It is the ruthlessness adopted by industry houses that is at the core of such non-alignment with academia. Within even corporate setups, you would hardly find more people who actually have EYE to spot the right talent of any kind--regardless of what it is? Most of the working professionals in India raise very negative sentiments about the management/HR of their company, for not being able to chalk a growth-path for them. They usually find themselves becoming witness of everyday phenomenon wherein most good jobs are filled up by getting a new professional hired from outside of the company, not by developing the inside talent or succession planning. Can't we ask the question: Why their in-house talent is treated as not 'Industry Ready' by them? Remember it is all chaos there also.

No one seems to be able to put his finger on the real causes, because it is far too complex and messy. Let's re-orient our thoughts with another question:

Who should take the pride of making students Industry-Ready?

Here three segments are involved–Academia, Industry and the student.

If the academia is found being not able to supply candidates with Job-oriented knowledge & skills, does the onus of making himself/herself industry-ready then shifts back to the student again?

If the Industry is found being not able to define well --what it needs from a new-comer coming straight out of Academia, does the onus of making himself/herself industry-ready then shifts back to the student again?

If your answer is NO, then why this onus has seemingly shifted to students in modern times, because this is exactly what is happening. We must not presume that the major onus lies with the student only. Please note: STUDENTS ARE ALREADY TRYING THEIR BEST TO DO IT. When they are not able to become industry-ready, they are opting for all possible kinds of vocational-trainings everywhere.

But again this segment of the equation (fourth one) is also not doing its job well; they usually are not able to make students industry-ready even after charging huge prices. What else do we all expect the student to do? That's not fair. We strongly believe that one should spare the student from this equation, because he is already trying his best whatever way he can.

Academic Competence & Curriculum

There are institutions which are being governed by UGC or various Universities or Government Departments, and usually do not have any control over the syllabus or content they deliver. There is a kind of hindrance with them as far as adopting the specific requirements of the industry is concerned. Even the privately-funded/managed institutions face the similar problems. One, there is the absence of mechanisms at academic institutions or bodies to incorporate industry-requirements into syllabus. Second, the people whom we meet at academic bodies usually, are not those people who would have necessary authority, or access to bring about desired changes in their curriculum or teaching methodologies.

Even if they have it sometimes, they are not able to weight the various skill-requirements expressed by industry-people.

For an example, if during a campus interview season, say 5- IT/Software Development companies visit the institute (for BCA/MCA/B.Tech), and each company indicates 5-different skills which should be emphasized, e.g., JSP & EJB, .Net/ASP, C & C++, Linux & Java, SQL Server & Oracle etc. How can the academic people now be able to bring about changes in their BCA/MCA curriculum? Academic institution would reply that they were already teaching all these things in curriculum. Why the industry is then not able to absorb their students? Where is the problem?

The problem is that they are not able to assign right weights on these 5-set of possible areas of skills, even the 5-companies cannot assist them here, because for each of them their generalized opinions or requirements are more important over others. Similar problems are faced when different soft-skills are emphasized in general. Just like not everyone in the industry is really competent to give right inputs to academia, most of those in academia are really not competent to train students as per corporate needs.

Industry Requirements Are Extremely Lucid

Most of the industry-stated requirements are highly lucid as far as Technical Skills are concerned, and would change very frequently & quickly. Expressed parameters such as Communication Skills, Attitude, Hard work, Awareness, Global Outlook, etc. are mere generalized opinions expressed by people who have crossed the threshold. But the fact of the matter is that even the people sitting in corporate board-rooms are not able to define their skills' requirements in clear & exact terms. Even if the exercise is done sometimes, it is more often based upon the emergency or short-term needs; but hardly ever from a broader perspective or strategic orientation. Most of the time, they don't make right assessment of the un-utilized skills of their current manpower in a way that many people working with them are rendered as 'Not Industry-Ready'.

A Gross fact about the way the Industry operates in India, is that we just have misplaced importance on finding out 'WHAT' to do for our businesses, and in the process we have lost the correct importance of 'WHO' (read: people) element in our thought processes. Once we start making right definition (to our HR) of what type of employees we want our company to acquire and nurture, then we would be able to define what base-level of skills these prospective employees should have to join our companies. Only then the Industry would be able to train them over specific skills and groom them for particular requirements.

Vocational Training lost the purpose

The whole ideology of Vocational Training has lost its very meaning in India. The failing of Academia was the gap these vocational training institutes were supposed to fill up, but did they? We don't think so. If Academia is plagued by bureaucratic pitfalls & lack of skills, the vocational training segment is plagued heavily by money-motivation. Because of the fundamental model they adopted or better to say, forced to adopted, they followed the foot-prints of giants....., essentially making such institutions money-spinning machines only where the student has been treated very unfairly.

Though students, guardians, parents have placed a lot of faith over these institutions and invested with the expectations that their wards will be assisted in the process of acquiring skills, skills which academia has failed to deliver. But here again the prime focus is over admissions/enrollments (in terms of numbers), whereas the motto of skill-building finds secondary considerations.

Identification of the Crucial Content

Institution's educational contents should ideally come from very close understanding of the industry-segment it wishes to cater to and should be backed by hard surveys & findings about industry requirements on on-going basis. Merely claiming so would not solve the problem. The identification of crucial contents should go a little deeper and some more pain should be taken.

Let's take an example, if you find that in your curriculum of computer/IT course, JSP & EJB, SQL & Oracle should be emphasized, and then the real job is not to include those subjects (macro-contents) in our curriculum as they might already be there. But the real job is to find out the most crucial aspects/skills/knowledge about these technologies (micro-contents) which should be well inculcated in the students so that they don't miss the most crucial aspect of the expected skill.

Assigning the importance to various competing contents/sub-contents (macro and micro-contents) should be the most important cog in the design of Vocational Trainings as well as Academic qualifications, but it is sorely missed in our systems. And it should not be done by academicians or faculties or departments, it should 'essentially' stem from the industry-research only.

Next, the most important thing would come from the PROCESS of how we deliver the correctly identified industry expectations or skills or contents–not only one time, but every single time, in every single city.

If we are seeking to bring about the right changes in the system (on smaller or larger level), then we should not think of identifying FEW most important parameters to change or to include so as to make the student Industry-ready. We may end up building a laundry-list of parameters to think about and we would be confused as ever, wishing to do something right, but not being able to. Instead, regardless of what segment of the equation we are serving, we should only think to bring about 'Inside-Out' improvements in our relevant processes. It is not that only 2-3 or 4 factors are to be changed, but just about every-thing calls for 'continuous improvements' there.

Note: Manpower requirement projections done by IDC, Nasscom or any other body have very little meaning. We have been witnessing these data, but irony is that they don't get translated in improved Education delivery system. They have been here for long!

Yes, the Continuous Improvements (CI) is the key and the improvements must come from INSIDE-OUT only. For you would need right people. No other way round!

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