The road map for higher education in India

ByDr. Vinod Bhat
Feb 19, 2020 03:51 PM IST

Sustaining education standards and employability will become a challenge. India will be the most populous country in the world, and will grow to about 1.5 billion people by 2030.

Over the next five years, it is estimated that three out of ten Indians will be in the age group of 18-22, the ages that need education and employment. With 119 million young Indians, the current education system will be quite inadequate.

(Saumya Khandelwal/HT PHOTO)
(Saumya Khandelwal/HT PHOTO)

Sustaining education standards and employability will become a challenge. India will be the most populous country in the world, and will grow to about 1.5 billion people by 2030. This change in demographics could propel India in becoming a powerful engine of economic growth and development but only if the education system changes as per the needs of this growing economy.

Landscape of education in India

The education sector in India is perhaps the world’s largest and fastest growing. As per the study conducted by India Brand Equity foundation, the number of colleges and universities in India stood at 39,050 and 903, respectively in 2017-18, with 36.64 million students enrolled in higher education in 2017-18. Standing the second largest in value terms, after US, the education sector in India is estimated at US$ 91.7 billion in FY18 and is expected to reach US$ 101.1 billion in FY19.

The important highlights of this sector are:

•Degrees matter more than skills, leading to high number of graduates with low employability

•Low technology adoption in tier II and III towns, creating pockets of high efficiency in an otherwise slow sector across the country

•Education policy focused on rote learning, and lack of availability of quality vocational training

•Inadequate academic-industry engagement, still limited to select few institutions

•Quality education with global exposure, which is the cornerstone of excellence is limited and expensive.

•Inadequate research and scholarly excellence

While a handful of institutions in the country offer world class education standards, a vast majority is struggling to keep up. The result is a largely unemployable youth population and mismatch between industry needs and degree qualifications.

The Challenge Areas

The biggest problem with the Indian education system is that it is not holistic in nature- teaching the basic skills on which professionals are tested on a daily basis- the reading, writing, comprehension and reasoning. The emphasis is on memorising, where students do not really learn anything, merely commit facts to memory and give superficial exams that actually test nothing.

While planning for a career, there is no structured career counselling that takes into account the skills and mindset of the student. Most Indian children take up courses to please their parents or confirm to social norms, and not because of interest or an innate skill.

With the quality of teachers in government-funded schools dropping, so is the standard of education. Infact people choose to leave the country for greener shores. On the other hand, 35%, more than one third of the country is illiterate, and the fraction stands with all the illiterates in the world.

Access to Education Anyone, Anywhere and Anytime

Technology can come to the aid of planners here. Providing eLearning opportunities will enable anytime, anywhere education for students living in areas with no world-class institutions.

Providing unlimited teaching and learning opportunities will enable an equitable approach to high-quality education. It has done so by providing unlimited teaching and learning opportunities, while also improving the student’s learning outcomes and pedagogical innovation.

With mobility and mobile devices playing a significant role in daily life of the youth, there are no technology or accessibility barriers left any more. In India, even the University Grants Commission (UGC) is now recognising open online courses. In fact, in January last year, the government mandated that 15% of Indian universities must deliver online degree courses. Today, India is one of the fastest-growing online education markets, and over the next two years, should touch USD 1.96 billion. The icing on the cake is the rapidly growing number of Indians on mobile digital tools- Internet usage in India seems to be driven by rural internet growth and usage is touching 566 million people. This could be the best outreach for learning anywhere, anytime.

Mainstreaming Vocational Education

One of the challenges of the education system in India is its major disregard for industry needs. This is what has driven various industry bodies to declare that with an education system like this, there will always be a dearth of talent on the job. The obvious answer is vocational training. Currently, the ITI training offers very low quality teaching for students, mostly of lower income groups. In order that vocational training becomes mainstream, it needs to get investments and validation from the industry, and interest from the government.

TeamLease Services’ research survey that was conducted among 105 organisation where only 18 per cent of the students undergoing vocational education courses get jobs, of which merely 7 per cent are formal jobs. Some reasons were identified as ‘the absence of rich academic content, inadequate funding and negative perception about these courses.

For the road ahead, the research identified that vocational education programs should be demand driven, focussing on specific sector skills and contemporary skills. The National Skill Development (NSD) and the government currently plans to set up 1,500 Multi Skill Training Institutes across India, and hope this gets better. Going forward, India needs to set up vocational training at par with conventional courses, bridging the gap between mainstream and vocational education.

Research & Development

Investing in research could perhaps be the smartest way forward for India. With more research brains and skills, better knowledge repositories, the education system will have added assets in every generation. For every institution, research could be the strongest strand of its DNA. These scholars can take the quality levels to international levels, driving the education sector forward.

The standard of an institution is based on the global ranking of its best scholars. Research and innovative thinking need to be encouraged. At this point, Indian universities and colleges have almost no global standing, and recognition. We are not focusing on research, because in India it is seen as a cost, not investment. The way forward would be for institutions and the government to encourage scholar research, to provide grants for better research and more knowledge creation.

Shaping an environment for knowledge and skills

With a forward-looking plan, the Indian education system, over the next five years or a decade, will be in a position to adopt transformative and innovative approaches to higher education. The focus needs to be on crafting India to become a global force in skills and education levels- the dream is to have at least one in four graduates in the world to be alumni of Indian universities, and at least 20 Indian universities being among the world top 200!

Providing employability security

With a carefully blended higher education and vocational skills training, the dream may soon be a reality. With better quality, vocational training institutes will lose their stigma, get better candidates and this evolution will improve their quality of output. Some technology skills, that were certification courses earlier, could now become full-fledged specialisations- because that is the need of the hour. AI, automation, and their sister technologies are slowly taking over the enterprise and these are the skills to possess for a successful career. Once this planning is set up, the gap between skills and employability could come down very fast!

Technological future of education

Going beyond mobile and connected devices, eLearning will soon include Artificial intelligence led modules, and analytics to personalise education. With an environment that will drive speed, agility and student support, here are to be expectations of good education standards. Reskilling for teachers will also be more focused, and so will be certifications for higher skills sets for professionals.

With Big Data and Analytics, the number of offerings will be varied and even customised for students. Artificial intelligence is all set to make courses more intuitive and accessible, while analytics drives complete personalisation.

What we need is a roadmap that delivers a complete overhaul of India’s education system over the next five years. A fundamental change is needed for the way education is perceived, imparted and utilised in India. An inclusive, quality assured and globally acceptable higher education system in the country will decide if India’s large population is a liability or an asset.

(The author is Dr. Vinod Bhat, Vice Chancellor, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE))

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