Depleting knowledge force a big worry
India has to reform its education system, writes Prof RK Choudhary.india Updated: Apr 22, 2007 18:14 IST
Globalisation is a theme that holds a lot of people captive. It refers to the phenomenon where the borders disappear. This allows "the flow of technology, economy, knowledge, people, values, and ideas … across borders".
However, it affects each country in different ways due to each nation's individual history, traditions, cultures, resources and priorities change. It increases and reflects greater interdependency and interconnectedness in the world.
India has the world's second biggest education system and endowed with one of the largest amalgamate of skilled manpower. If India is to become an overriding player in the services sector and if it longs for a smooth and strong changeover to a knowledge-based economy, resolving the bottleneck of supply side in the field of higher education is very crucial. Alarm bells are ringing over the likely dearth of knowledge workers in India 2010.
The paucity of science and engineering manpower will shatter the dream of making India the largest knowledge-based society. India has only 3.5 sciences and engineering personnel for every 1,000 people, compared to 110 for Japan, 45.9 in South Korea and 76 in Israel. India is short of 59,000 networking professionals and 4,000 tax professionals.
The fissure between demand and supply in the networking field is only likely to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 39 per cent, and is estimated to be 137,200 professionals by 2009. Moreover, 55 per cent of this shortfall will be for professionals with advanced networking skills in the area of network security and new network developments such as IP telephony and wireless networking. A trained manpower shortage is growing heavy upon, and India is beginning to lose its outsourcing edge to other nations.
While demographics clearly weigh in the country's favour, the quality of workforce doesn't. With a flourishing economy in the services sector, the time is right to prepare graduates for futuristic careers. Reports have circulated that only one out of four engineering graduates in India are employable in the IT-enabled services industry. An article titled "Skills Gap Hurts and Technology Boom in India" in the New York Times on October 19, 2006, said the rest were found to lack requisite technical skills, fluency in English, teamwork skills or oral presentation skills.
In the recent years, the problem of unemployment among professional graduates is equally a cause of concern.
The quality of higher education for producing the industry-worthy professional is the demand of the time. India must reform its academia in the fields of cutting edge Research and Development, enhancing employability of its graduates and bridging the gap between educational institutions and the industry. This can only be done if foreign and private capital is allowed to flow in free into this sector; no matter if personal freedom of academic bureaucrats and controlling agencies are subverted.
Education seeds the new economy, and knowledge is a critical input if the Indian economy has to stay competitive. Foreign Direct Investment in education sector can make India a global knowledge hub. India will soon outshine China in the number of students studying abroad; its demographic profile and penchant for quality education makes it one of the biggest higher educational markets in the world.
The attraction of study abroad for Indian students, as a supplement to the Indian higher education available within India, is bound to continue for the foreseeable future. For most students, the motivation is to attain the best possible education. Moreover, the Indian student population is growing at a fast pace, and Indian institutions strapped for funds will be hard-pressed to create seats to accommodate the demand.
The realisation of the need to improve higher education prompted to set up National Knowledge Commission by our prime minister and the clearance by group of ministers to the Foreign Educational Institution Bill.
But India should open its gates to foreign universities with an open mind. Foreign Education Bill must be made enabling, not restrictive. It should not be riddled with so many restrictions and discretionary rules as to make it self-defeating. Psychological fear that allowing foreign universities in India would open the floodgates for substandard operations to set up shops in the country is completely unfounded.
The intention of putting so many restrictive rules is to deter fly-by-night operators, which has it exactly the wrong way round - it is because of excessive regulations and paranoia on the part of Indian educational authorities that only low-quality foreign providers are tempted to enter India.
Basically these restrictive rules discourage the best ones from coming in. When barriers are falling otherwise, attempts to resurrect the bureaucratic command in sphere of education are counter productive.
The best foreign universities are used to function in autonomy. The world-class universities put together a large proportion of the ideas and research that make knowledge economies thrive. Stanford University nurtured Google, Yahoo, CISCO and Sun Microsystems, and if it sets up a branch in India the next Google may emerge from Indian soil.
But the reluctance of allowing the foreign universities to operate in India resulted losing foreign direct investment in education. Stanford, Yale and Georgia Tech. once wanted to set up units in India, but have dropped their plans now.
The statutory and apex body for higher education in India, the University Grants Commission and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has the duty to properly plan and coordinate development of the higher and technical education system. These bodies are also confused over the structure of Foreign Education Providers Bill as proposed by the Left brigade and some other political parties.
The AICTE published a notification in 2003 and modified it in May 2005 announcing regulations for entry as operators of foreign universities/institutions imparting technical education in India.
Let the competition drive the market, which will automatically put all substandard institutes out of race. Direct investment in the education sector by foreign institution offers the opportunity to expand the access to higher education within India. Entry of high quality foreign educational institutions may lead to foreign institutions known for preparing students for job market both through coursework and career preparation services can enhance the quality and relevance of education in contemporary India.
After all, it was the Planning Commission's suggestion that we should actively woo top-flight global universities and set up the equivalent of green channel for them if they want to have branches in India, instead of acting on the assumption that they are smuggling contraband. Red carpet welcome to foreign universities will even benefit Indian academia.
Indian Institute of Technology has made lucrative job offers to foreign faculty to maintain quality. So, the presence of foreign universities in India would give a better opportunity for Indian academia as well get exposed to quality education, especially in the field of research and development.
Ramesh Choudhary is the director of the first international engineering college in India set up in collaboration with a foreign university and approved by AICTE, Ministry of HRD, GoI and Department of Technical Education, Government of Haryana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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