In recent days a serious discussion on the quality of higher education in India, the international ranking of higher education institutions in India and their failure to enter the list of top 200 institutions of the world, and the low employability of Indian graduates has started all across the country. At long last a debate has been initiated in the media on the topic and it seems that the country has started realising that the Indian education system needs immediate serious attention. It has received further importance as the President of India has been expressing his concern in every possible forum. Several educationists have focused on the problems of poor quality primary education in India which has been brought to light through the recent NCERT and Pratham reports. But we would like to focus on the quality of higher education in India. In one of our recent articles we pondered some of the reasons which hinder Indian universities from becoming world class. Here we would like to discuss why the employability of Indian graduates seems to be very low.
Kiran Karnik, then president of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), in one of his articles a few years ago had written that by 2010, the IT industry alone might face a shortfall of 500,000 professionals, unless proactive steps were taken. Sadly, of the large number of engineering and other graduates being churned out every year, only about 10 per cent are employable in the IT industry. Reports published in various newspapers last month reveal that only about 30 per cent graduates in India are job worthy. In case of engineering graduates it is reported that their employability worth lies somewhere between 20 to 25 per cent. Many academicians feel it could be still lower. It is therefore important to dwell upon the possible reasons which cause low employability of Indian graduates in general and engineering graduates in particular.
The Knowledge Commission of India headed by Sam Pitroda has said that the country will need more than 1,500 universities by 2015 to provide opportunities of higher education to eligible Indian youths. Today the country has more than 700 universities and 33,000 colleges which offer a large number of programmes in Arts, Science, Commerce, Finance, Engineering, Technology, Law and Medicine. The country has grown in terms of number of colleges, universities and programmes, but it seems that there is a huge gap between the quantity and quality of higher education offered in this country.
It seems there is lack of proper planning, appropriate guidelines, and corrective measures while sanctioning new institutions and disciplines. Thus a large number of institutions are being established taking only profit into consideration and with little emphasis on quality of education. Even many government institutions have become battlegrounds for political rivalry resulting in poor governance leading to poor quality of education. Most of the technical education institutions including the better known ones are understaffed and lack in qualified, competent and suitable faculty members.
In most of the engineering institutions the course curriculum is, by and large, theoretical in nature and students are not made aware of the applications of the theories in industry. The programmes and their course content reflect lack of interaction among academic institutions and industries. In the process the curriculum quite often fails to meet the needs of the industries. Not many structural changes have taken place in the curriculum even though rapid developments have been taking place continuously in the fields of science and technology. New branches of engineering have been introduced with the structure remaining in the traditional mode.
Moreover, the institutions mostly follow the traditional method of teaching giving little thought to the fact that information nowadays is readily available on the net and thus students would not get interested unless they get something extra by attending classes. It is more of content delivery than knowledge delivery. The assignments given quite often are routine and do not involve any research or innovation. It is a great challenge to motivate and attract students to serious learning. Moreover, the evaluation system has not been made robust enough to find out the knowledge level of the students. The philosophy of the semester system and the continuous evaluation process are not being understood by the students and also by the faculty members. Thus they are applied in a routine manner and the students concentrate only on grades and not on learning.
The emergence of the IT sector has also affected the quality of graduates in other traditional engineering disciplines. Knowing that it is easy to get a job with a high salary in the IT sector, students from other disciplines also take as many IT related courses as possible as electives and do not give much importance on their discipline subjects. Even during summer vacations some of them take coaching in IT related courses. In the process we produce half-baked engineers, neither good in their own disciplines nor in IT. In addition, over-dependence on software packages in some of the core discipline courses rather than on concepts has led to poor understanding of the subjects. Moreover, the emphasis on soft skills during campus interviews has created a wrong notion among students. They give too much importance on the development of soft skills and ignore the subjects of their disciplines. It seems employers have also accepted the fact that students with soft skills can be trained in the industry and thus do not expect a high level of knowledge in discipline subjects.
However all above mentioned points sound relevant when we look at higher education in isolation only. If we see the whole education system starting from the elementary level we find that the problems lie at every stage of our education system. At the school level we find that the present day syllabus does not stress simple and subtle concepts, but involves tiresome details. Most entrance tests for admission to better known institutions emphasise speed and memory and not calm and collected thinking. When students join undergraduate programmes, they are exhausted than excited; they show confidence, but no capacity, they show familiarity, but no understanding. Too much of pressure in the last few years in school makes them feel that they have achieved the goal in life after securing admission in a good institution through highly competitive admission tests. Thus when they come out of professional technical institutions, many of them do not have adequate knowledge to implement projects or carry out research independently. It is a fact that the employers look for ready-made engineers who can directly be asked to do a specific job whereas educational institutions are better suited for providing training of minds and not training for jobs. Since job requirements are continuously changing it is quite difficult to produce tailor-made engineers unless there is regular and structured interaction between academia and industries.
Thus an all out effort is needed to produce readily- employable technical man power in the country. The improvement of infrastructure, redesign of curricula, improvement of teaching-learning methods and attracting well qualified teachers are only a few steps that could be initiated by individual institutions. The main challenge is to create an academic environment and education system that promote and ensure learning. However, there are many external and societal factors that need to be addressed. The process is quite challenging, but not impossible to achieve with honest effort.
(A.K Sarkar is Senior Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, BITS Pilani. S.K Choudhary is Associate Professor Department of Humanities & Social Sciences at the same institute. Views are personal.)