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Friday, April 27, 2012

Higher Education in India: Contextualizing to the Changing Job Market Scenario

The Indian economy is in the midst of an unprecedented growth spurt. During the last three years, it grew at about 9%-plus, while it was 9.4% during 2006-07. The non-farm sector recorded a growth rate of 10% for the last three years and 11% in the immediate preceding year, as against 6% recorded during the earlier years. The investment rate in the country rose to 31.5% in 2004-05, to 33.8% in 2005-06, and to 35.1% during 2006-07, from a peak of 25% during 2002-03. During the current year, it is expected to be over 36%. The domestic savings too have shown a significant rise: they grew by 30% in 2003-04, 32.4% in 2005-06, and 34.7% during 2006-07, and it is expected to grow by more than 35% of GDP during 2007-08.The foreign exchange reserves stood at a comfortable level of $214 bn plus. The number of millionaires has grown substantially. And the future too is looking hunky-dory. Thanks to the software industry that grew by 33% and the BPO industry that grew by 37% during 2005-06 and the ongoing reforms that integrated Indian economy with global economy, India is today “going places”. The emerging new image of India is well captured by Rangachari (“China Chakkar: India-China Relations – A Review”, Freedom First, July 2007, pp 5-8) when he observed: “India and Indians are sought after, Indian companies are becoming global players and India is even cited as a possible threat to future prosperity of the developed world.” Simply put, India is “resurgent and en route to prosperity!”

How to Sustain the Current Growth Rate
The prosperity and progress of an economy, even in such an “enabling environment”, is largely dependent on the social norms and institutions of a country. The citizens’ attitude towards work, their level of mutual trust, standards of ethics and social norms form the foundation for economic activity and prosperity of the society. It is only when people maximize their own individual utility that the economy as a whole can grow and also sustain its growth rate. And maximization of individual’s utility is directly proportional to the quality and quantum of skills-set that one carries with him/her. In a globalized economy, businesses, while competing for a share in the highly competitive markets, essentially look for qualified knowledge workers for improving their product differentiation. It means, all this becomes feasible only when the market can enjoy uninterrupted supply of ‘efficient’ workforce.
The Mckinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2008, 160 million jobs in services are likely to be performed offshore, which means India stands a better chance of getting those employment opportunities. According to a 2005 Nasscom-McKinsey study, if we maintain the current global leadership level in IT and BPO industries, our offshore industries could, by 2010, well become one of the world’s great export industries on a par with France’s luxury goods industry or Japan’s automotive sector. But to maintain the growth momentum, the report says that “India will need a 2.3 million-strong IT and BPO workforce by 2010”.
Ironically, the same study states that India will confront a potential shortage of skilled workers in IT and BPO industries in the next decade. According to the report, currently only about 25% of technical graduates and 10-15% of general college graduates are suitable for employment in the offshore IT and BPO industries respectively. The intensity of the problem can well be gauged from what NASSCOM has recommended: setting up of ‘focused-education zones’ to improve the quality of higher education, and deregulating higher education in stages over the next five to seven years and shifting to a largely demand-based funding system for colleges and universities. It also recommends that the trade body, NASSCOM, may pilot industry-owned programs and government-facilitated integrated skill development programs, and scale up to cover over 2000 colleges by 2010.
There is yet another disturbing deficiency in our present educational system: a recent KPMG report titled “Global Skills for Graduates in Financial Services” (Business Standard, June 6, 2007) says that 58% of Indian financial services organizations are facing difficulties in recruiting the right people with the right set of skills. The report also states that the graduates are coming out of universities “with inspiring theoretical knowledge.” But what the financial companies are looking for is business soft skills such as: teamwork, communication, client relationship management, customer services, business awareness, problem-solving and achievement-orientation skills that are essential for them to operate in today’s global competition. As customers are becoming more and more demanding, retention of their loyalty has become a big challenge for financial service providers, including insurance companies, and that is where the relative importance of ‘soft skills’ has increased. The net result is: acute shortage of skilled workforce for the financial services companies that are today contributing 7%-plus to the country’s GDP, which is likely to increase further.
Interestingly, amidst these constraints, we do have an advantage over the competing countries for outsourcing jobs: the median age of our people is just over 24 years, and by 2025, it is likely touch 29 years compared to 48 years in Japan, 45 in West Europe, and 37 in China and the US. It means, the world looks at India for eligible workforce, particularly in service sector. And it means tens of thousands of global jobs are likely to move to India, provided we are equipped to capitalize on the growth in world outsourcing business. All these developments cumulatively suggest that we not only need to assemble a large pool of science, technology and managerial talent of the quality looked for by the industry, but also equip the graduates from the general stream with market-related knowledge and soft skills. This obviously calls for a paradigm shift in our higher education system, that too at a fast pace.

Higher Education in India: Current Status
Although there is growth in the infrastructure under higher education, which is rated to be the second largest after the US in the world, it hardly covers 7% of the population and is lower than even that of developing countries such as Indonesia (11%), Brazil (12%), and Thailand (19%) (Source: UGC Annual Report 2000-01). In qualitative terms, it depicts a still agonizing scenario: “There are serious complaints at all levels about the lack of responsiveness in the system. Academic activities are at low ebb and the academic calendar itself gets seriously disrupted almost every year. The system of higher education continues to encourage memorization of facts and regurgitation rather than creativity. While the results in higher education are clearly determined by the foundation laid in school education, we cannot wait for the ills of school education to be remedied before bringing in meaningful improvements in higher education. We cannot ignore the fact that we do not have many colleges today which can pride themselves on imparting undergraduate education of high quality, comparable to some of the well-known institutions in the world” (Ramamurti Committee Report, 1990). The findings of this report, though old, still hold good, and for that matter, the current situation may be worse than what has been described in the report.
The current plight of our university system is well described by Andre Beteille (2005) who laments that “our universities are simply functioning as degree-giving institutions concentrating on conducting examinations rather than becoming a system that transmits, generates and interprets knowledge.” That being the reality, it is no wonder that Prof. Manoj Pant, in his article “Reorienting Priorities” (Economics Times 2007), observed that according to the 2001 Census data, out of the 38 million university degree-holders, 28 million are non-technical graduates and are, therefore, considered by the private sector as lacking employable skills. “One of the main reasons for such poor skill competency is the lopsided growth with emphasis on churning out university graduates to the neglect of employable industry skills”, he said.

What Then Needs to be Done?
If our youth have to acquire and enjoy a unique competitive advantage in the global job market, we should not cripple the universities, be they private or public, with bureaucratic procedures. They must be allowed to capitalize on the market opportunities by granting them freedom to redesign their courses or design new courses with least time lag. At the same time, universities must hone their faculty resources and build relationships with the industry, the generator of employment, thus facilitating a free dialogue between them in designing the requisite curriculum for supplying ‘employable’ graduates to the industry, in the process helping industry compete in the global market.

Honing Faculty Resources
The teaching of quality and the quality of teaching often overlap and cannot be easily differentiated. According to Ronal Barnett, the central philosophy of higher education must essentially aim at turning out students with right experience, learning and achievement, rather than focusing on institutional performance in terms of efficiency, economy, research ratings and student output. Teachers have to therefore pursue ‘beyond-teaching strategies’. This can be achieved by encouraging students towards independent learning, which is only possible through the case study method of teaching, particularly in disciplines such as insurance, finance and human resources management. In order to make this happen, institutes must engage in upgrading the skills of the existing teachers by equipping them with tools of positive thinking, effective communication, leadership, self-development and ability to cope with stress. It is only then they can take the concept of ‘beyond-teaching strategies’ to their logical end.
The universities must also enjoy the freedom of recruiting faculty from a cross-cultural system to obviate inbreeding in faculty and thereby generate cross-fertilization that can result in innovative teaching styles. Here, it would be interesting to look at the observations of the recently-appointed Oversight Committee of Reservation for OBCs in IITs and IIMs (2005): “One key issue in faculty recruitment is the need for cross-fertilization of ideas in institutions of higher learning. All the great universities of the world have an inflexible policy of recruiting only alumni of other universities into the faculty. In India too, in earlier decades, faculty was from diverse backgrounds and drawn from other universities and states in large measure. But over the past three decades or so, increasingly faculty is drawn largely from among the alumni of the same university. Such ‘academic incest’ is leading to a stultifying atmosphere of limited intellectual interaction and undermining fresh thinking, new ideas and innovative research. As part of the effort to rejuvenate our universities, we need to adopt the global best practices in recruitment”.
Today, the real reason for lack of quality faculty, particularly in professional institutes such as medical, engineering and management institutes, is poor emoluments. The current levels of payments in these institutes do not make teaching an attractive profession. With the kind of ongoing corporate recruitments, the same may hold good even with the traditional disciplines. Therefore, the obvious need of the hour is to make them competitive. There is also a fear that many institutes do not provide conducive atmosphere for the faculty to deliver quality intellectual output. It is also felt that there is no ‘incentive’ for performance. With the result, the main stakeholders of the system—students—are destined to live with mediocre teachers, recruited at times even on non-academic considerations (Thangamuthu 2007). Corrections must be made wherever warranted.

Introduction of Soft Skills as a Subject in Every Programme
Today, the contribution of services sector to GDP is more than 50% (Rashmi Banga 2007) and the greatest chunk of it is contributed by export of services like software and other business and professional services that have grown from almost nil to more than 60% between 1980-81 and 2005-06. Similarly, according to a study by Banga and Goldar (2005), the contribution of service sector input to output growth in manufacturing (organized) was about 1% in the 1980s, which increased to about 24% in the 1990s. It means with an annual growth rate of 9%, the service sectorexporting English-speaking skills of Indian boys and girls, retailing, tourism and hospitality, BPOs/KPOsis all set to become the job market for Indian youth.
As against this changing job market scenario, our universities are still languishing with traditional curriculum that is heavily oriented toward hard skills, that too, imparted through rote mode. Thus, a substantial section of graduates leaving universities, having no idea of the business environment and its dynamics and lacking soft skills that are found essential by the business for maintaining better client-business interaction, are not recruited by the industry. At least that is what the KPMG report “Global Skills for Graduates in Financial Services’ says. It is, therefore, time for Indian Universities to start teaching soft skills—teamwork, communications, negotiation, client relationships management, customer services, business awareness, problem-solving and achievement orientationas an independent subject. It must be introduced as a separate subject with suitable curriculum, offering it for a minimum of two credits, starting from the first semester. If needed, the regulatory authorities such as UGC, AICTE may make its introduction mandatory, just as UGC introduced the subject of environmental sciences for creating awareness among the youth about the challenges posed to the environment by the actions of mankind and about restoring its sustainability.
It must be taught mainly in the form of role-plays and case studies showcasing team-culture, customs, attitudes and behavior and other requirements for the success of team play at work places. Instead of teaching stereotypes, institutes must teach prototypes. Panel discussions may be arranged with managers who have worked in different parts of the world for global companies, so that insights into the practical challenges of working in multicultural teams and workplaces can be provided.
Institutes must also allocate time and grades to students in order to encourage them to undertake social work to better the lives of the less-endowed in the society, so that such interactions will build a right mindset at the right age among the youth for cultivating the concept of ‘social inclusiveness’, besides eliminating acrimony between the haves and the have-nots. This will also help them in establishing relationships with their future customers with confidence and ease. In all streams of higher education, institutes must place their students on summer internship with businesses, which they are likely to ultimately join, for having a genuine feel about the business environments and for getting themselves acquainted with business dynamics well before joining them. This single act of the universities /institutes will give a terrific boost to the employability of the graduates.

Alignment of Course Content with Changing Job Market Scenario
K Sudha Rao and Mithilesh Kr Singh (2006) argue that there is a gap between the need of employment terminals—industry—and the academic institutions. As employment in government departments is decreasing and the industry-related jobs are increasing, they feel that there is a need to foster close links between academic institutes and the user industry to identify gaps in skill requirements and fill them with proper modifications to the curriculum.
According to an Evalueserve report, the global KPO market will grow by 45% per annum, from $1.29 bn in financial year 2003 to $17 bn by financial year 2010, and 71% of global KPO revenues are likely to be garnered by the Indian KPO sector. This growth potential in the KPO sector is thus expected to create 250,000 jobs by 2010. Another enticing aspect of this job potential is its multiplier effect: for, every job created in the offshore financial (KPO) sector will result in the creation of two to three jobs in other sectors. Most of these jobs are confined to research, particularly in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, design engineering, market analysis, financial analysis of companies, statistical analysis, learning solutions, content development, legal services, copyright protection services, network management training and consultancy.
All these jobs call for a specific set of tools. Firstly, the curriculum of currently offered courses under economics, mathematics, statistics, English and psychology needs redesigning so as to make the graduates realize their full potential in the new jobs thrown open by the global outsourcing businesses. Secondly, there is also an immense need to make these programs more practical, besides being analytical, in their orientation. Thirdly, students undergoing these programs must be placed, at least for a month-and-a-half, with KPOs under summer internship with a mandate to submit a project report, so that they will have a hang of the business environment in which they are likely to work later. This single innovation alone will make students more employable. The courses in which such modifications are warranted and a suggestive modification of curriculum thereof are as under:

MA Economics
As businesses are getting more and more internationalized and sovereign functions are getting redefined, the discipline of economics is gaining critical importance. In tune with this, the proposed curriculum offers a solid foundation in computational mathematics and quantitative techniques that have today become indispensable for a student of economics to explore newer frontiers of research in the fields of industrial, managerial, monetary and international economics. The program also emphasizes on international trade, monetary and fiscal policies, welfare economics and advanced econometrics to enable the students analyze and interpret economic events, both national and international.
Semester I
1.            Micro Economics
2.     Macro Economics
3.     Political Economy
4.     IT Skills
5.            Computational Mathematics
6.            Soft Skills
Semester II
7.     Monetary Economics
8.            International Economics
9.     Economic Growth and Development
10.    Econometrics
11.    Welfare Economics
12.    Soft Skills
Semester III
13.    Advanced Econometrics
14.    Globalization and Indian Economic Environment
15.    Managerial Economics
16.    Industrial Organization and Public Policy
17.    Environmental Economics
Semester IV
18.    Research Methodology
19.    Elective I*
    Paper I
     Paper II
20. Elective II*
      Paper I
      Paper II
*Electives to be chosen from the following area-specific papers:
Financial Economics:
   Financial Markets
   Managerial Finance
International Economics:
    Global Economic Environment
     International Financial Management
Economic Policies:
     Monetary and Fiscal Policies
     Trade Policies

M Sc Mathematics
Today, virtually in every field there is application of mathematics. In the light of this development, the suggested curriculum offers students a thorough grounding in basic mathematics from where they can branch off to newer fields of mathematical application. It shall provide practical training in cryptography, dynamical systems—discrete and continuous; chaos theory and optimization techniques. The unique feature of the program is its intensive training in applying mathematical principles to financial modeling, risk management techniques, economic analysis, simulation techniques, neural networks and actuarial sciences.
Semester I
Advanced Real Analysis
Linear Algebra
Advanced Algebra
Ordinary Differential Equations
IT Skills
Soft Skills
Semester II
Complex Analysis
Partial Differential Equations
Optimization Techniques
Dynamical Systems Soft Skills
Semester III
Probability and statistics
Discrete Mathematics
Neural Networks
Functional Analysis
Semester IV
Modeling and Simulation Techniques
Discrete Dynamical Systems
Control Theory
Research Methodology
* Electives to be chosen from the following area-specific papers:

•  Financial Mathematics
__ Mathematical modeling in Finance
__ Exchange Rate Dynamics
•  Cryptography
__Information and Security Systems
__Data and Knowledge Extraction
        Actuarial  Mathematics
          __ Mathematical Economics
       __Actuarial Principles and Practice

M Sc Statistics
The program aims at providing a solid foundation in statistics per se, and from that platform encourages students to branch off into various applications: industrial statistics, statistics for management, actuarial statistics, bio-statistics, etc. It also introduces students to the important statistical sources used in business and government decision making to make the students aware of the limitations of such data and to develop their presentation skills. The ultimate aim of the program is to make the students competent to apply their statistical knowledge in different walks of research and thereby widen their employment opportunities.
Semester I
Mathematical Analysis
Theory of Probability
Distribution Theory
Theory of Sampling
IT Skills
Soft Skills
Semester II
Advanced Probability Theory
Theory of Estimation
Parametric Testing and Decision Theory
Multivariate Data Analysis
Linear Statistical Models
Soft Skills
Semester III
Computational Techniques
Sequential and Non-parametric Methods
Time Series Analysis
Stochastic Process
Industrial Statistics
Optimization Techniques
Semester IV
Elective – I*
             __Paper I
              __Paper II
Elective – II*
        __Paper I
      __Paper II
          Research Methodology
*Electives to be chosen from the following area-specific papers:
A. Actuarial Statistics
       Paper I - Probability Models and Life Tables
       Paper II - Actuarial Mathematics
B. Biostatistics
       Paper I - Bioassay Techniques
        Paper II - Clinical Trials
C. Economic Analysis
       Paper I - Economics
       Paper II - Statistical Models
D. Programming and Knowledge Discovery
         Paper I - JAVA Programming
        Paper II - Data Mining

M A English
In the context of increasing importance of English under the ongoing winds of globalization, the program provides a sound grounding in British Literature, Indian Writing in English, American Literature and Commonwealth Literature, Literary Theory and Criticism, World Literature in Translation, Translation Theory and Practice and English Language Teaching. The unique features of the program are intensive training in Listening and Speaking Skills in English Language Lab., English for Business Communication, Science and Technology, Online Writing and Creative and Media Writing. It finally makes the student ready to start as an editor in KPOs engaged in content development, learning solutions, documentation, legal services, etc.
Semester I
Language Lab
British Poetry - I   (Beginning -18th Century)
British Drama (Beginning - Present)
British Prose and Fiction - I (Beginning -I8th Century)
IT Skills
Soft Skills
Semester II
British Poetry - II   (19th Century – Present)
British Prose and Fiction - II (19th Century – Present)
American Literature
Commonwealth Literature
Soft Skills
Semester III
Indian Writing - I   (Poetry and Prose)
Indian Writing - II (Drama & Fiction)
World Literature in Translation (European and Indian)
English Language Teaching
Literary Theory and Criticism
Journalistic Writing
Semester IV
Research Methodology Report Writing
            Elective – I*
          __Paper I
           __Paper II
Elective – II*
              __Paper I
            __Paper II
*Electives to be chosen from the following area-specific papers:
A. Business Communication
       Paper I - Corporate Communication
                Paper II - Technical Writing
B. Writing for Multimedia
         Paper I - Online Writing
         Paper II - Media Writing
C. Translation and Creative Writing
          Paper I - Translation - Theory and Practice
          Paper II - Creative Writing

MA Psychology
Training may be offered through course work, field work and research in various facets of psychology—psychometrics, counseling, and biological and cognitive processes, Once completed, students, as counselors, shall be able to apply the psychological principles in new business organizations, such as IT, knowledge management and investment management, to solve stress-related problems, besides helping such organizations as professional trainers in toning up the soft skills of employees from time to time.
Semester I
1.           IT Skills
2.     Principles of Psychology
3.     Social Psychology
4.     Quantitative Methods
5.           Child and Adolescent Psychology
6.     Soft Skills
Semester II
7.           Abnormal Psychology
8.           Theories of Personality
9.           Psychology of Adulthood and Aging
10.    Biopsychology
11.    Cognitive Psychology
12.    Soft Skills
Semester III
13.    Psychology of Learning and Reading
14.    Psychology of Motivation
15.    Health Psychology
16.    Counseling
17.    Psychological Testing.
18.    Psychological Testing – Practical
Semester IV
19.    Research Methodology
20. Area-specific Elective I*
-   Paper I
-   Paper II
21. Area-specific Elective II*
-   Paper I
-   Paper II
*Electives to be chosen from the following area-specific papers:
A. Psychometrics/Assessment and Intervention
Paper I - IT and Knowledge Management Industry
Paper II - Education

B. Counseling
Paper I - Family and Marital Counseling
Paper II - Cognitive-behavioral Counseling
C.  Organizational Behavior
Paper I - Structure and Dynamics of Groups and Organizations
Paper II - Training and Coaching

Such refocusing of existing programs towards changing job-environment shall not only make these graduates highly employable, but also pave the way for garnering more business for the BPO/KPO industry, which will ultimately sustain the economic growth rate.

There is a strong feeling in the market that growth in BPO/KPO, IT and ITeS sectors is likely to be impaired by shortage of workforce with right set of skills. And the industries, as a whole, are looking at the educators to fill this gap. Educators must, therefore, strive to build long-term relationships with the emerging job market segments and offer, in conjunction with them, well-trained graduates with requisite skill sets who are ready to hit the ground running and contribute to the growth of the business. Such innovative initiatives alone can sustain the current growth rate of the Indian economy.

1.  Beteille Andre (2005), “Universities as Public Institutions”, Economic and Political Weekly, July 30, 2005.
2.     Business Standard, June 6, 2007
3.   C. Thangamuthu (2007), “The Indian Higher Education: Retrospect and Prospect”, University News, Vol. 45, No. 06.
4.    K Sudha Rao and Mithilesh Kr Singh, University “Education in India: Challenges Ahead”, University News, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp. 1-16.
5.    Rashmi Banga, “Indian Service Sector: Inviting Growth with Open Arms”, The   Analyst, January 2007.
6.      The Economic Times, August 10, 2007.

University News Vol 45 No.50, Dec10-16, 2007, pp5-12


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