Meaningfully employed: Addressing the policy gaps in our higher education sector

We are well and truly in a digital world. That many people have been managing work from their homes without going to the office for almost two years now and that many educational programs ran completely online during this period is a huge testimony to this fact, if anybody ever needed one.

The World Economic Forum says that, “the Fourth Industrial Revolution blurs the boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other technologies.” This was way back in 2016. We can see this in reality now.

If the various chatbots that manage customer queries on websites is not proof enough for a lay-person about AI being in use, the self-driving cars that are already being sold should be enough visual proof for this.

Given this background, it is only natural think if our higher education sector is ready to prepare students for this digital world.

The answer to this question will be a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ at the same time.

‘Yes’, because many institutes in the country have been readily proving the industry with talent that lies at the backbone, if not at the forefront of the emerging technologies. Many foreign companies, both technological and operational ones have been benefitting from the talent that our country has been able to produce. This can be seen in the number of such companies that have established their India campuses not just at one location, but at multiple ones, in many cases.

Many such talented people are sent abroad to their main campuses due to the spark that these companies see in them.

However, such cases do not dominate the statistic. While actual statistics are hard to find, one can say that the Pareto principle, 80-20 rule, can be said to be broadly in play here. The top 20% of the talent gets benefited and in turn the companies benefit heavily from them, enhancing the credibility of the institutes that the students they come from. This builds a beautiful symbiotic triad between the student, the institutes, and the companies.

The remaining 80%, in general, end up on the not so bright side, many of them not ending up with a job. If at all they do end up with one, it may turn out to be not a much dependable one. One will need to remove the premier institutes of the country like the IIMs, IITs, NITs, NLUS etc. as a huge percentage of their students, if not all of them, will be covered under the 20% discussed above.

It is, therefore, this 80% of the students that the policymakers and the institutes need to focus on. The general and obvious question to ponder over would be “How to increase meaningful employability levels of students from higher education.”

A bigger question would emerge if we consider the data of graduates’ vs post-graduates. The ratio of post graduates to graduates is much lower than it should be. This is again because of the same reason discussed above – meaningful career opportunities after post-graduation for a good percent of post graduates. While the problem/reason is the same, the outcome/resultant is a much bigger cause of concern. Research across various fields is driven by post-graduates/PhDs. The lesser we will be able to inspire students to go for post-graduation, the more will our research capabilities suffer. The results are out there for everyone to see. Not many of our universities are rated among the best across the word.

Addressing this problem will benefit in various ways. Students get inspired to get into post-graduation leading to better research happening at institutes, improving the standing of our universities across the world which would attract more companies to hire from these institutes which in turn inspires more students to take up further education– a hugely positive loop. While easy to visualise, the execution of this is where the devil lies. This cannot be achieved by one institute of excellence operating on its own. This needs a unified vision and plan for the country as a whole to be pushed and executed by the central government on top priority. It is the 75th year of Independence and it is never late to start a good deed.

Ramnath Kanakadandi, National CAT course director, T.I.M.E.

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