Need for Greater Role of Industry in Higher Education in India

Naresh Wadhwa, President and Country Manager, Cisco - India & SAARC

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For India to become economically, politically, and socially developed, education is critical. As a result the government must assume the responsibility for providing and financing education, especially basic education. Today, India already produces some of the most talented and intelligent students and workers, but questions related to quality, access, and equity still challenge educational planners. In corroboration, a recent study titled Effective Education for Employment (EEE) by Edexcel stated that there is a huge mismatch between what is being taught in schools, colleges and universities and the knowledge, skills and behavior businesses and organisations are looking for, in new recruits. Even students felt that their education lacked relevance to the jobs they were hoping to apply for in the future which reinforces the missing element "linking education to careers".

Recently, HRD Minister, Mr. Kapil Sibal called for significant reforms in the Indian education system in order to address these deep-rooted issues that are hampering the modernization of the sector. However, taking on such a responsibility is immensely compound, making it important for the government to explore diverse ways of financing and providing educational services. The Indian education system has a multitude of governing bodies - employer associations, chambers of commerce and other business organizations all of which work somewhat in silos. In fact in most developed and developing countries it is the Chambers of Commerce that leads from the front and represents employers and businesses.

The complexity of this challenge calls for a bold and timely response-a solution that can allow us to leapfrog costly stages in the development and expansion of our education systems, while still enabling institutions to incorporate 21st century skills into a demanding curricula. At this stage we would do well to encourage public-private partnerships, attract foreign direct investment (FDI), provide independent accreditation rating systems and grant autonomy in governance, amongst many other initiatives. Moreover, if such a system could be guided by a comprehensive roadmap of curricular and assessment reform, new teacher recruitment and training strategies, leadership development, and the integration of collaborative technologies, we will be able to address some of the challenges we face.

The end goal here is the systemic improvement of the quality, inequity and accessibility of education to everyone. Following such an approach enables us to address the existing skills gap that is been echoed from various quarters, particularly from the industry which has long been reeling under a talent crunch. And from past experiences in India and in other countries, the way to go forward is clearly to build strong public private partnerships.

The main rationale for developing public private partnerships (PPP's) in education is to maximize the potential for expanding equitable access to schooling and to improving education outcomes, especially for marginalized groups. Following a PPP model especially when it comes to higher education can bring multiple benefits. To begin with, the challenges that institutes face have a direct impact on corporations and the future of their business. Sustainability for the private sector depends on the innovation and expertise of their employees. Hence their priority will always be the recruitment and retention of top talent.

 Finally, we know that although today's global, Internet-based economy provides numerous opportunities not available before, there is still a critical need for universal access to quality education and visionary leadership. And PPP's, when implemented correctly, can increase efficiency and choice as well as expand access to education services, particularly for households that tend to be poorly served by traditional delivery methods. PPP's also allow governments to take advantage of the specialized skills offered by certain private organizations and to overcome operating restrictions such as inflexible salary scales and work rules that may prevail in the public sector. Unfortunately quality in India is viewed when private institutions are able to surpass the standards set by Government institutions and are able to garner students based on this fact. But, while many corporations invest heavily in ongoing education and skills training of employees, they still depend on the solid foundation taught during primary, secondary, and tertiary education.

IT majors such as Infosys, Wipro, Cisco, Autodesk have been leading the way in building sustained programs to impart the desired skills at a college level. For example, Dr. Reddy's Foundation's Livelihood Advancement Business School (LABS) works towards assimilating its students into the competitive job market, it also helps them acquire the required livelihood and social skills in an environment of learning and mentoring that is responsive to the student's emotional and developmental needs.

Such success stories now need to be scaled-up in association with other corporates to make a sizeable impact on the system. For a country betting on its demographic dividend, these kinds of partnerships help build scale. On the other hand, government also plays a role in defining and monitoring the role corporates play in the education system. The proposed new National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) which would take over the academic, accreditation and financial functions of the regulators is one such example. In essence, because corporations are consumers of the talent developed by the education system, engaging in strategic initiatives for education reform in partnership with the public sector becomes mutually beneficial.

Education has been the passport to opportunity and prosperity - It has enabled individuals, whether in developing or developed countries, to become academics, entrepreneurs, and business and government leaders. And by working together, both private and public sectors can help achieve this goal.

Naresh Wadhwa

Naresh Wadhwa
President and Country Manager
Cisco, India & SAARC


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