Gain from demographic dividend
We must facilitate over 23 million children to take an alternative path like vocational education to reap benefits
The current status of higher education is that there are just a few high-quality educational institutions like the IITs and IIMs but a large number of substandard institutions, which exist due to the wrong government policy of increasing the gross enrolment ratio (GER). Like schooling, the government funds, operates, controls and regulates instead of only funding and regulating the sector.
The GER should be determined by the demand for graduates from the job market. Instead, it is decided by the supply side. The erroneous government policies on increasing GER manifests in many ways. For example, the government conducts entrance exam for engineering and medical admission. Every year the government is forced to reduce the cut off marks to retain/increase the merit list quantum.
What happens next? The quality students get admission into quality educational institutions. Those with poor ranks get allotted during counselling to poor quality colleges. So we have designed these children to fail at the admission stage itself. Parents mistakenly think that their child is smart because s/he got a rank and also believe that the college is good because the government has allotted. These students learn little and reality hits them and their parents when they pass out.
GER also drives the fees structure. India has one of the lowest fee structures in the world because the government puts affordability over quality of education. For example, the fee for BCom in a government college in Hyderabad is Rs 2,500 per annum (Osmania University) and Rs 26,000 per annum at a top private college run by a non-profit education society (Badruka College). Is it possible to provide quality teaching at these prices?
Higher Education Reforms
The government should exit running of government colleges and instead give college coupons to poor children from the money saved. First, increase the higher education fees based on the cost structure required to run a quality institution and then cap them at different levels based on a transparent quality grading. Second, subsidise college fees through increased scholarships to meritorious students and those from SC/ST background.
Provide easy educational loans at low interest rates and attractive repayment terms. This will ensure that students choose their college based on the quality standards and receive funding support from the government.
Third, entrance exams must measure and publish what they are supposed to do – to measure the aptitude and preparedness of the student to undertake the course and complete it. Do not dilute the cut-off marks for political reasons. Fourth, stop setting high goals for GER in higher education. Fifth, fund finishing schools to counsel and link students to the job market after graduation.
With the proposed reforms in the school and higher education system, the students entering graduate colleges will decline. In my view, the total graduate in-take should come down to only 4 million per year for them to be employed or enter Masters education. This would mean that over 23 million children would need to find alternative paths. One of the alternative paths is vocational education.
The present ITI and diploma-based skill education has acquired a stigma and so, we need to change this paradigm. Many things have to be done. First, integrating vocational and academic systems through the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF), which will allow students to move freely from one system to the other. For example, you can get a carpentry skills certification and later on acquire a BA in carpentry skills.
Despite being notified in 2013, NSQF has not taken off. Worldwide, especially in Europe, this model is very successful. In China, students are exposed to vocational training at the secondary level (Class VII-IX). Chinese students are supposed to take the senior high school entrance exam ‘Zhongkao’ after Class IX. Their score determines whether the students should be given academic or vocational education. Usually, students with lower marks end up in the vocational secondary stream. As of 2015-16, net enrolment in vocational courses in India is only about 5.5 million per year, compared with 90 million in China.
We have to popularise the NSQF and vocational system through democratic means, i.e, we must reach out to parents via mass media to educate them on the futility of sub-standard graduate education. We have to create employment and self-employment models whereby the skilled workmen earn more than graduates.
But skill training alone is not enough. More than skills, apprentices learn about work ethic only on a live job. How does one do this? Through apprenticeship programmes. Our current apprenticeship programmes cannot provide live apprenticeship opportunities to millions of youth. We have to enable labour reforms for the MSME sector — the largest employer after agriculture — to embrace the apprenticeship programme. The new apprenticeship programme launched by the Centre is an excellent first step. But this requires scaling up in a big way and urgently.
After people work for 4 to 5 years, they realise they are not able to grow. Many of them are in dead-end jobs — stuck in call centres, data entry jobs. So, there must be an ‘upskilling’ eco-system, including loans, training providers, assessment partners among others. The NSQF framework will play a key role here. The upskilling eco-system should also be designed for global placements. This is because we cannot create enough jobs in India and there is a shortage of skilled workmen in many countries.
We need to create structures, processes both in and outside India to enable the eco-system for export of experienced manpower on non-migration contracts. For example, Japan needs a lot of trained and experienced professionals in IT, nursing in view of the Olympics 2020. The salary level is equal to full-fledged employment after the first three years. Indians can work in Japan for a maximum of six years only. But once they complete the six years, they will be in demand in any Japanese company operating outside Japan.
The first five reforms are what the government can do. This last reform is at the citizen level. This means that every citizen must participate in the political process by voting and engaging with the government.
Only then can we rebuild every component of the supply chain of people assets – from birth control, right schooling, relevant vocational and academic education and the right employment practices. Failing to do so will result in the demographic dividend becoming a demographic disaster.
Author: T. Muralidharan
Name of publication: Telangana Today
Date published on: 06/06/2018
published in: Hyderabad