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Done in by competition

In the race for college brands and degrees, learning is taking a hit, say experts

education Updated: Dec 21, 2011 10:32 IST

Career counsellor and columnist Usha Albuquerque says the learning process suffers in the rush for grades and for degrees from a select set of institutions. There are students who discover a different reality once they have managed to secure a place in some of those colleges - “the staff is not coming for classes, they have to do the learning themselves” and other problems, she says.

“The problem in our country is that we are spending too much time chasing marks and degrees. By hook or by crook, ‘I must get that degree’. It’s not so much about what you learn to get that degree,” she adds.

Of course, people are driven to all extremes due to the pull of a popular brand (and the stamp it would give you), the networking opportunity it provides, and also placements. So much so that they put ethics aside, forge mark sheets, bribe officials, or anything that gets them in. An infamous example is the recent admissions scandal at one of the colleges of Delhi University. Makes one wonder why people cheat. “People cheat for three reasons; a) they are natural cheats; b) they know they will not be caught; and c) they feel the rule is ridiculous and therefore cheating is justified,” says Dipankar Gupta, former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

He goes on to add that parents are usually as much to blame. “Parents often do not teach their children not to cheat; when they do, it is to impress upon them they might get caught. But there is greater emphasis at home on observing family moral standards rather than public ethics. Hence, obey your elders, touch their feet, do not smoke in front of them, but do it next door, and so on. Many of these practices, as can be easily seen, encourage double standards and hypocritical behaviour,” he adds.

Indira J Parikh, former dean, IIM Ahmedabad and president, Foundation for Liberal and Management Education, Pune, says, “Going into these colleges is more about networking. I’m not saying that they don’t add value to you. If you missed out on getting admission there, you’ll damage your life by indulging in these (practices).

That stigma doesn’t go away.”

Parikh adds that “we have good rules and regulations but nothing is implemented. So everybody believes that if you have money, you can get away with it.”

Gupta has a different take on how corrupt practises can be stopped. “”The only way to break it is strong law enforcement. Also it needs to be done on an all round basis. In other words, the role of influence in social life must be minimised,” he says.

Parikh remembers an instance of facing pressure for admission to IIM from “somebody from a neighbouring country”. She stresses that that’s why “structures, systems and processes with transparency are very important which can help you manage, if not beat, the pressure.” That’s a way for institutions to lead by example. “You have to be 100% committed to the values you are propounding.” In the 1970s at the IIM, a student copied from another in an exam, the latter not aware of it, she recounts. “The student from whom the other student copied was denied his gold metal and the one who copied was asked to leave. He left,” she says. The authorities, however, didn’t expel him. “One doesn’t destroy a life,” says Parikh.

She says, “It doesn’t matter where you get your PhD (BA or MA) from as long as you translate your knowledge into hard work, delivery, dedication and perseverance. Ultimately you have to deliver.”

A brand does not necessarily translate into success
Without belittling conventional college degrees, one must consider that the percentage of people who walk away with stratospheric pay packages during campus placements is miniscule. A Rs 32-lakh a year package here or a Rs 39 lakh package there are just one or two cases per hiring season.

Also don’t get carried away by these headline-grabbing packages because these are rupee-conversions for Western postings, usually in cities with very high costs of living. And often, the amount looks lucrative but might actually include joining bonuses, relocation allowance and such one-time perks.

Also, the job roles for fresh graduates are often quite “routine”.

So, re-evaluate your perception of what a vanilla college credential can fetch you in terms of job content and salary package.

So, why not think of investing your time in professional courses, even the ones at diploma levels, equivalent to bachelors’, which definitely pushes your employability quotient higher.

There are decent colleges in other metros and cities that can take you out of your comfort zone and give you a different perspective while delivering the education you want, says career counsellor and columnist Usha Albuquerque.

“Just be open to alternatives. The world doesn’t come to an end if you don’t get into an IIT or an SRCC.” She points out that many people who are not from one of the top-notch names are a success in life while many of their alumni are not. Yes, these institutions “open doors” but employers “are looking for talent irrespective of where you come from. If you are a good student from any college, you can do just as well,” she adds.

First Published: Dec 20, 2011 13:11 IST