Public-private Partnership in Education Needed in India

The Asian Development Bank noted in January 2008 that education in India was lagging seriously behind its rapid economic growth with only 12,000 training and vocational institutes, compared to half a million in China.

 Short-term turbulences aside (just as we are witnessing now), India has entered an era of high economic growth. As we enter the last quarter of FY 2008, the fourth consecutive fiscal when India has witnessed over 8% growth, we find India’s manpower shortages aggravate even further. Just as growth has been multi-sectoral, so have the manpower deficiencies.

 There is a growing demand that the government should increase the outlays on education and do other things to motivate and encourage education. It is true that for India to have consistent rate of growth; Greater levels of R&D, combined with extensive investment in workforce can make a significant contribution. Part of the solution lies in forging strong partnerships between the private sector and the academia. They should be developed in tandem with the government to ensure that courses like computer science are nurtured and developed as a discipline in schools.

 In India; on the one hand, you have world-class institutions of higher education such as IITs and IITMs and on the other hand, we have mushrooming private institutions/universities which function more as coaching centers, rather than as centers of achieving innovative excellence. Lack of university capacity has resulted in a lower proportion of youth ages 17 to 23 enrolled in higher education in India than in China, the Philippines or Malaysia. This could have an impact on the IT industry, unless immediately rectified.

 There is scarcity of skilled manpower in every industry, from good carpenters and plumbers to factory workers, doctors and scientists. The banking industry, which employs 900,000 people, is expected to add 600,000 more over the next three to four years. Similarly, the IT and ITeS industry will need around 850,000 additional skilled manpower by 2010. And, the retail industry will need nearly 2.5 million skilled professionals by 2012. Not only are jobs within India on the rise, the developed world too is facing manpower shortages, which are expected to rise to 40 million by 2020. This shortfall can be met by India, where both educated unemployment and the number of people joining the workforce are on the rise. In short, the opportunities before India are huge, provided our education sector gears up to take these on. Manpower shortages are both quantitative and qualitative in nature.India needs more universities. While Japan has 4,000 universities for its 127 million people and the US has 3,650 universities for its 301 million, India has only 348 universities for its 1.2 billion people.

 The Economic Survey released by the Government of India on 28th February 2008 is significant for what it does not say, than what it does. The Survey glosses over the UPA government’s failure to keep its common minimum program pledge of raising public expenditure on education to 6% of GDP. Public spend on education as a percentage of GDP has slipped below the high of 2.9 % achieved by the NDA government in 2002-03. For the first time, the government has acknowledged that the 86th Constitutional amendment – mankind education a fundamental right for all 6 to 14 year olds-has not been enforced because the enabling Right to Education Act is yet to be enacted. The Survey is also silent on the number of school dropouts, learning outcomes and low enrollment rates for higher education. These issues are part of the reality check that the Survey provides. In the Union Budget 2008, the Government has allocated Rs. 34,400 crores for education. It also announced its decision to establish one Central University in each of the hitherto uncovered states in the country. Besides, three new IITs are proposed to be set up in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. Two Schools of Planning and Architecture will come up at Bhopal and Vijayawada.

 The government through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the flagship project of the HRD ministry, is geared towards achieving useful and relevant elementary education for all children by 2010. This movement is showing results. The number of out-of-school children in the 6-14 years age group has dropped from 13.4 million in 2005 to 7.06 million in March-end 2006. In the Union Budget 2008; the project received an allocation of Rs. 13,100 crores which would be spent in enhancing retention, a shift from the earlier focus on access and infrastructure.

 India needs ‘curricular reforms’. In today’s world, where technological knowhow is evolving with each day, educational institutions need to be granted the freedom to engage with the industry and change the curricula as and when required. Educational institutions must teach what the industry needs.

 It is essential to realize that learning needs to continue after formal education. Capgemini in India employs almost 15,000 people in six cities and recognizes that industry must continue the training that they left after graduating; all new recruits participate in a six-week intensive course before induction, developing their business and behavioral skills. Offering expert training on the job is the responsibility of the industry and is essential for a developing economy.

 In 2002, India’s Chhatisgarh state launched a Private Sector University Act to encourage private universities to start up in the region. But as 100 or so private schools sprang up-some with offices in Chhatisgarh but campuses elsewhere-regulators realized that lax rules were allowing many of the schools as diploma mills. The Supreme Court knocked down the Act in February 2005. This episode emphasizes why just private investment in education will not solve the problem; a public-private partnership is necessary in education to combine the agility of the private sector with the social responsibility obligation of the public sector. Examples which come to mind include the Cisco Development program and Microsoft’s University program. The latter include the Imagine Cup competition, run in universities worldwide to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, and in which students from Eastern Europe and South-East Asia regularly outperform their western counterparts in both the volume and quality of their entries

 The Global Education Centre was similarly established by Infosys in Mysore to train its new recruits for 14 weeks. The key was to address a key aspect of the national psyche, i.e. to take the reactive minds of Indian youngsters and change them into proactive problem solving ones. Infosys Global Education Centre operates on 3 principles. First that the company is a campus and in a campus, there is openness, receptivity to new ideas, meritocracy and a lot of porous learning. Second, that business of Infosys is its context. Third, to teach recruits what Infosys business is all about so they understand what kind of decisions they have to take, what kind of crises they have to encounter.

 A private engineering college started by one of India’s original technology tycoons and Chairman of HCL Technologies, Shiv Nadar, near the high-tech hub of Chennai was approved in 2003 by the National Board of Accreditation. The school, known as SSN College of Engineering, is affiliated with the nearby Anna University, formed in 1978 from the merger of several public and private colleges. Anna University design the programs and grants degrees to SSN students, but SSN is seeking university status, which would allow it to grant degrees in its own name. Over the past decade, Shiv Nadar has poured $ 37 Million into SSN to build facilities and fund scholarships. SSN’s School of Advanced Software Engineering offers a graduate program that sends select students to study in the US at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

 It is noteworthy that Goldman Sachs has a “university”, McKinsey has a “people committee” and Singapore Ministry of Manpower has an “international talent division”.

 Quite a few of the present courses taught in India lack originality. Students should not be studying computer science only for its core programming content. Courses should equip the students with the relevant skills, so they can make a significant contribution to the knowledge economy. Merely studying for the sake of getting a good job is very superficial education. Students are taught job-specific skills, but they don’t know how their skills can contribute to the world knowledge economy, or even to the business model of the company for whom they intend to work for or are working, as the case may be.

 The initiatives that are born out of such alliances between the government and private sector for cooperation in education gives students access to the biggest technology players and offer real-world insight, thereby easing the transition from university to employment.

 Companies can also keep universities up-to-date as technology changes and customer preferences and requirements change, and they can plug gaps in expertise or facilities.

 Such partnerships also help business. Graduate programs are valuable but they also signal how important it is for companies to take greater responsibility for developing business training.

 But one should bear in mind that these companies are trying to assist themselves by training their new recruits. For there to be training for one and all; in a setup as in India, Government cooperation and partnership is the key.

 There are apprehensions that MNC’s are outsourcing work to India because Indians are good at effectively completing the designated tasks in a timely manner without asking any further questions. MNC’s confidence in our ability to improvise the existing product and come up with high quality cost effective product seems to be the motivating factor behind the outsourcing of work to India.

 As the pay scales go up in India, various companies are trying to identify other low-cost destination such as Philippines and Vietnam to put up their outsourcing units. This will force Indian workers to move up the value chain, for which they do not seem to be having the requisite education skills.

 Originality does not come just from courses in universities, but in the mindset of the entire nation.

 The entire country needs to adopt the concept of “Originality in Thinking” for India to become a true superpower. This concept of originality has to be ingrained in the minds of every India right from the time he commences his preliminary education, for India to emerge as a truly powerful economic force on the world scene.

Note : Mr SUNIL KEWALRAMANI is a WHARTON BUSINESS SCHOOL MBA and is an International Finance Consultant for leading foreign financial institutions, Multinational companies and NRI clients on FDI and money management matters.

Source by Sunil Kewalramani

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