Nation’s Priority Number 1: Education

I felt happy when Kapil Sibal talked of education reform as priority on NDTV on May 17, the V-Day of Congress party that has been liberated by the people verdict of election 2009 while answering NK Singh.
India boasts of its demographic dividend. Population of young India between 12 and 35 is 521 million with 268 million men and 253 women that can make India rule the world, if it is educated, employable and skilled. Today 25%, that is, 130 million, out of this population, are studying in schools, colleges and universities.

According to another estimate, number of unemployed in India is still at around 250 to 300 million. India adds about 15 to 20 million new job seekers every year to the number of unemployed. However, about 70% of these youngsters aged between 18 and 25 are illiterate or barely literate. And that is the main hurdle for India to compete with the world. The new government must take this task of educating the population its topmost priority.

Some other data about the 521 million of the population between 12 and 35 years provide potential and challenge to policy makers and entrepreneurs of the country.

67.9% are unaware of the Internet

86.9% don’t go to movie theatres, 76.8%never listen to the radio, 4.1% read English newspapers while 17.9% read Hindi dailies

40.9% never watch TV while 44.2% watch it once in seven days

One recent study titled ‘Universities of India 2008’ provides some encouraging trends about the education in India.

o The total number of enrolled students has grown by 81 per cent in the past two years.
o Women enrolment increased by 100 per cent in the last academic session over the previous year.
o Around 20 per cent of the universities have the capacity to offer full degree programmes online.
o The number of students with work experience increased by 53 per cent between 2006-07 and 2007-08, indicating that higher education as a medium of updating skills is gaining among professionals.

As reported, in one decade, from 1998 to 2008, China’s university enrolment went up from 3.4 million to 20 million-an annual growth rate of 18%. This far outstripped university enrolment growth in India in the same period. But over the year, India has been adding a large number of private professional institutes. I get a feel of it while glancing through the pull outs on education every week almost in every national newspaper.

I quote from NR Narayana Murthy’s ‘A Better India, A Better World’.

India has the third largest higher education system in the world-after China and US- with 311 universities and 15000 colleges as on 2004. The number of degrees awarded by Indian educational institutes has grown by 70% between 1990 and 2004, and the number of engineering degrees awarded has grown by 90 percent. Of the 10.3 million students attending Indian universities, the students’ enrolment for the undergraduate levels is 88.9 percent. India produces 2.5 million graduates and 350,000 engineers every year. India’s pool of universities graduates alone is 1.5 times the size of China’s and twice as large as that of USA. However, the India’s pool of Ph.Ds is less than one-tenth of the size of the US pool. India’s annual output of Ph.Ds in the Computer Science (CS) area is around 25 while the output of Ph.Ds in CS in the USA exceeds 800 a year. Even China is estimated to produce more than 2,500 Ph.Ds every year in the CS area.

The new government must take education as priority and come out with all the reforms without much debate and delay to make India’s education and its universities compete with the globally best ones. It must start with making all the institutes of excellence totally autonomous and free from the clutches of political supervision of persons such as Murli Manohar Joshi or Arjun Singh. It must encourage and incentivize positive involvement and interactions between the industry and educational institutions.

As reported, in a recent global evaluation of Asian universities, only seven Indian universities have made it to the top 100 – five of which are the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Delhi University (DU) ranks 60 and is the first traditional Indian university on the list, while Pune University is ranked at 100. It is just a shame. All the universities and educational institutes must have the goal to participate in global ranking, as the industrial enterprises go for Deming Award. Every institute on its website must provide the details of talent pool, the research papers published, patents applied and granted, incubation activities, and prizes own in global competitions.

On one hand, more and more students must be encouraged to go for post graduate and Ph.D qualifications; on the other hand the quality of higher education demands a major improvement to make graduates employable. Interestingly, Indian IT sector can proactively and intensively get involved in this task. That can be the easiest and fastest way to attain the competitiveness with USA and China.

As many suggest, if India allows foreign investment and expertise into the higher education sector, it can easily become an attractive global education hub. Why should not the new government take a quick action on this issue?

The last Manmohan Singh government had added the quantity through various initiatives; let it concentrate to improve its quality to globally best level.

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