Fuelling India's youth with quality education

Lokesh Mehra, Regional Manager, Corporate Responsibility, South Asia, Cisco Systems

During the Independence Day address to the nation last year, Hon'ble Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh mentioned that India needs to ensure far greater availability of educational opportunities at the higher education level so that we have not just a literate youth but a skilled youth, with skills which can fetch gainful employment. However, he expressed concern about the fact that as a country endowed with huge human resources, we cannot let the imminent shortage of skilled employees be a constraint to India's development.

As countries like India race to embrace the next phase of growth and become more globally competitive, it is technology that will provide the advantage. Every country today is vying for a place in the global economy and the network can give them the edge they need. According to Gartner's Market Trends: Industry Analysis, India 2004-2009, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) investments in India are expected to double by 2009, which implies, the need for a skilled workforce is growing exponentially.

Given India's 1.1 billion population it maybe difficult to imagine how we can face a shortage of talent. However, with literacy at 52 percent, high poverty levels (319 Million live below USD 1 per day), India's wide rural-urban divide, and the quality of education available, the paucity of talent is indeed becoming a cause for worry. In particular, this demand-supply gap is already being felt by India's burgeoning IT industry and fears of the gap widening in the future are being examined carefully. In fact, according to NASSCOM, each year over 3 million graduates and post-graduates are added to the Indian workforce. However, of these only 25 percent of technical graduates and 10-15 percent of other graduates are considered employable by the rapidly growing IT and ITES segments. Hence, what we have today is a growing skills gap reflecting the slim availability of high-quality college education in India and the galloping pace of the country's service-driven economy, which is growing faster than most countries in the world.

In this demand-supply gap scenario, a look at the Indian education system will reveal that the number of technical schools in India, including engineering colleges, has actually more than trebled in the last decade, according to the All India Council of Technical Education. Part of the skills gap problem is that only a small percentage of India's youth pursue higher education. No more than 7 per cent of Indians aged 18-25 go to college, according to official statistics. Even a more fundamental level of education is proving difficult with nearly 40 per cent of people over the age of 15 being illiterate (Source: The Economist, "A Survey of Business in India"; June 2006.)

Looking at Northern India alone, studies reveal there are a significant number of engineering institutes: Delhi 14; Chandigarh 5; Haryana 38; Himachal Pradesh 5; J&K 5; Punjab 45; Rajasthan 56. However, problems associated with a dearth of skilled teachers, funding, language, outdated syllabi, etc are commonly faced by educational institutions. Furthermore, today there is a situation wherein the best and most selective universities generate too few graduates and new private colleges are producing graduates of uneven quality leading to an imbalance.

Hence, we see that it is becoming more and more difficult to create a robust and continuous pipeline of talent. The university systems of only a few countries would be able to keep up with such demand and India is certainly having trouble.

As businesses propose to double and treble their workforces and Indian companies strive to maintain their position in the global marketplace, it has become imperative to prepare and plan for a world-class, competent, talented and innovative workforce. It is estimated that India would require a workforce of 5,00,000 capable IT professionals in the IT and IT-enabled services sectors by 2010, according to the Economist survey. However, over the past fifteen years, India has produced 1.6 million professionals and faces the uphill task of producing another 0.8 million in the next two years.

Many of the IT MNC's, viz, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Infosys & Wipro have alliances with academic institutions on specific initiatives covering skills based ICT education, faculty upgradation, internships, curriculum workshops, research incubation, etc. aggregating the architects of the new global economy. For instance, institutions like Shaheed Rajguru College of Applied Science in New Delhi, Chitkara College of Engineering, Chandigarh, Banasthali Vidyapith Women's University have tie ups with Cisco, Red Hat, etc.

The time is ripe for us all now to reboot the India education system by various programmes, joint initiatives and other measure by individuals, the government, industry and academia. Such activities have the potential to play an important part in plugging the talent gap in the years to come. Training individuals for the jobs of the future and allowing them to visualise what it possible today will not only make a difference in their lives but will enrich our communities now and for years to come.


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