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Pvt partnership offers low cost alternatives

India is a nation of young people. According to the 2003 World Population Ageing report, our working age population of 15-59 years is a staggering 59 million.

india Updated: Jun 17, 2006 22:55 IST

India is a nation of young people. According to the 2003 World Population Ageing report, our working age population of 15-59 years is a staggering 59 million (almost four times that in the US) and set to grow to 87 million by 2025.

But this huge asset is in danger of becoming a liability if we are unable to harness its full potential. India’s 380 universities and 11, 200 colleges annually churn out over 23 lakh graduates and about 3 lakh postgraduates.

Yet, the country faces shortage of skilled manpower as reinforced by the NASSCOM-Mckinsey 2005 Report. It predicts a shortfall of 5 lakh IT professionals by 2010, since only 25% of all technical graduates are employable in the IT industry.

Add to this, the raging student unrest in the country, courtesy the HRD Minister’s proposal to reserve 27 per cent seats for OBCs in higher education institutions, and you begin to realise that India’s youthful exuberance might in fact prove to be its undoing. To even the odds, the government intends to increase the number of seats in already existing institutions.

But the problem with this solution – already overburdened infrastructure and faculty. Colleges such as the Moti Lal Nehru Medical College have reported a 45-percentage shortage of teachers.

In IIT-Delhi, only 427 of the 571 sanctioned posts have been filled, bringing the teacher- taught ratio from 1: 6 some years back, to 1:9.5. The picture is not very different for other centers of excellence.

India can, perhaps, learn from Vietnam, which coped with its teacher shortage by using its higher education students to teach elementary level students. There is no reason why such an ‘Earn while you Learn’, scheme can’t work in India.

India’s own successful private professional institutions prove why this need not be a costly affair.

With IITs and IIMs costing upwards of Rs.1000 crore, the government could explore the practical option of constructing relatively smaller centers of excellence at fractional costs. This can be easily done in collaboration with the successful private sector players.

Amity University Pro VC, Raj Singh, reaffirms this by pointing out that it costs only about Rs.35 crore to set up an engineering institute, Rs.25 crore for a management school and about Rs.100 crores for a medical college.

A unique model is the Edison Schools system in the US, where ailing government schools are contracted out to private management. This not only reduced administrative expenses from 27 to 7 per cent, but also gave an 8 per cent return to investors.