With 800 Million persons below 35 years of age, the Indian work force is considered a demographic dividend. However, recent reports about un-employability of Indian youth have put a question mark on the real value of this dividend. In November 2016, a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) on higher education stated that almost 93% of graduates from the Master in Business Administration (MBA) and 80% from the engineering stream are not employable. These facts were also echoed by Aspiring Minds, an employability evaluation and certification company, in its national employability report, which stated that 80% of engineers remained unemployable in the software sector.
The reasons for this dismal situation are not far to seek. Of late, getting a degree in India, albeit with some notable exceptions, has become synonymous to purchasing off-the-shelf merchandise. With money, obtaining any degree in the country is possible. Quite of few of these institutions do not even require regular teaching classes. Education too has piggy-backed itself on the online bandwagon. Increasing population has led to increasing demand for colleges. To meet the demand, colleges and universities have mushroomed in the country. People from all walks of life have entered the education business. Real estate tycoons, detergent manufactures, politicos and even sweet shop owners have set up universities and degree colleges.
As education turned into a business and barriers of entry got measured only by financial ability rather than intellectual capability, the results were obvious. Good initiatives, like autonomy to colleges, also got misused. More courses were designed to accommodate larger numbers, regardless of the fact that these courses may be of no use for the future career of students.
Contrast this with the situation elsewhere and we see stark differences. In China, if one wants to join a graduate degree course, there is a national college entrance examination (NCEE). Only those who qualify can move ahead to get a degree. Others, who cannot qualify, join vocational courses. Smaller countries like South Korea too have a similar system, where each person who wants to join a graduate course takes a college scholastic ability test. The results of such early screening are obviously reflecting on the financial growth of these countries.
Against this backdrop, if the employability index in India has to improve, the current scenario of providing degrees to anyone who can afford it, barring a few exceptions, has to change. A common graduate eligibility examination needs to be made mandatory for all aspiring students to achieve a graduate degree, be it online or offline. Only those who clear this common graduate eligibility examination for graduate enrollment can take further examinations for entrance to engineering, commerce, medical or other professions. All others who are not successful could take up vocational courses from various Industrial Training Institutes (ITI’s) and National Skill Development centres in the country.
Alongside screening for degree aspirants, institutions too, autonomous or otherwise, should have standardised courses, which reflect future skill requirements rather than help the finances of promoters. The clamour for autonomy as far as administration is concerned is fine, but the coursework builds the academic capital of the country and hence needs to be closely monitored. The formation of new institutions too should be mapped according to future workforce requirements rather than on grounds of financial avarice.
Our country’s potential has never been in doubt. With an estimated work force of 250 million in 2030, expected to take India to the position of the third largest economy in the world, changes in the current educational system need serious thought. Else this promise of demographic dividend may remain a mirage.
(Sanjay Pandey, an IPS officer, is the Deputy Commandant of Home Guards and deputy director of Civil Defence in Maharashtra. He holds a Masters' Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University, US and is a B Tech in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. Views expressed in this article are personal.)