By Professor Vijoy Kant Das, Member, Bihar State University Service Commission
India has the unique demographic advantage of having 65% of its population in the working age group. While the number of graduates in our country is large, the crucial issue is their employability. Business and industry are disappointed with the graduates lacking the right kind of employability skills. The difficulty in filling up jobs, therefore, is 58% in India, which is much above the global standard of 38% (as in 2015). As per India Skills Report-2021 by CII, only 42.72% Arts graduates, 40.30% Commerce graduates and 30.34% Science graduates of the country are employable. Split into gender, 41.25% women were con-considered employable against 38.91% male. Employability surveys find in graduates, apart from lack of technical skills, poor communication,and language skills. Business and industry prefer operational expertise to sheer scientific and academic knowledge. National education policy 2020 is aware of this ground reality. Considering that merely 5% of Indian workforce receive formal vocational education as compared to 96%, 75% and 52% in Korea, Germany and US respectively, the National Education Policy (NEP) sets the target of 50% learners to be given exposure to vocational education by 2025.
The primary reason of low employability of students of mainstream courses is the poor quality of instruction received in institutes of higher education. As per All India survey on higher education (AISHE 2019-20), 79.41% of students pursuing mainstream graduate courses were enrolled in private affiliated colleges, which hardly follow the quality parameters of teaching and learning. Such institutes of higher education are not properly regulated by the affiliating universities and respective state governments. If employability of graduates is to be improved, ensuring quality teaching in these institutions is the first pre-requisite. To ensure this, NEP proposes to make ‘each affiliating university responsible for mentoring its affiliated colleges, so that they can develop their capabilities and achieve minimum benchmarks in academic and administrative matters.’ Quality of higher education also suffered owing to sudden proliferation in enrolment. Government intervention to cope with the rising pressure on higher education came a bit late. Enrolment in primary and middle schools witnessed tremendous increase with of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (2001) preceded by District Primary Education Programme (1994) and in secondary classes under the impact of Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (2009). Conscious efforts to raise enrolment of girls through incentives and facilities also yielded positive result. All these led to massive upsurge in admission in higher education. The higher education system was not prepared for this beforehand.
The major initiative for higher education came as late as 2013 with Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). Shortage of faculty, and low quality of those available, further dilute the standard of teaching. State governments and universities, who grant affiliation, must regulate private higher education institutions if we are to produce quality graduates. Affiliated colleges should be encouraged to get registered with UGC under section 2(f) and 12(b) and go for NAAC accreditation. If quality of higher education is to be augmented, we need to concentrate on private HEIs.
Job oriented courses are the panacea for the malaise of unemployability. The country’s civil society organizations are undertaking exceptional work in this area. Organizations like The/Nudge Foundation run the Future Perfect skilling program, through which they aim to skill 30,000 youth in job-oriented skills by the year 2022. Another civil society organization, Smile Foundation, runs Smile Twin E- learning Programme (STeP), an e-learning program that trains underprivileged youth, in skills required in the job market. So far, 47,000 youth have been trained through the program and 28,000 have been placed in over 200 companies through 95 operational projects across India.
Every college of the university should open Community College on its campus to runB.Voc. courses which aim at skilling, reskilling, and up-skilling. In 2018-19, total enrolment in B.Voc was only 33,263. This course needs to be popularized to improve employability of youth. Community colleges should be properly linked up with skilling authorities of the government. The courses to be chosen must be relevant to the job market. Community colleges should evolve a system of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and develop competency based modular courses for smooth transferability of recognized learning at the very start of the course. The course composition for B.Voc combines skill component and general education credits in a ratio of 3:2. B.Voc programme has multiple entry and exit options, like what NEP proposes for mainstream graduate courses. Anyone having passed higher secondary in conventional or vocational stream may get admission. The course structure of B.Voc is also similar to vocational courses in the mainstream. Barring the difference in pedagogy inasmuch as hands-on experiential learning has more weightage in this, all other features are similar to mainstream vocational courses. Hence, the policy makers should consider renaming B.Voc. as BA, B.Sc. or B.Com to redeem the student from the dilemma of choosing an ‘inferior’ or ‘superior’ course. The German, Austrian and Swiss models that allow healthy convergence of vocational and conventional streams with flexible framework inside, should also be considered. State governments are also taking strides in implementing NEP in the interest of enhancing the employability of students. Take the case of Madhya Pradesh. The Government of Madhya Pradesh has taken the lead in implementing the policy in letter and spirit. The Madhya Pradesh state administration has directed the private university regulatory commission to closely monitor the effective implementation of NEP and to focus on the quality of education and its delivery. The state administration has made it clear that attention must be paid to the improvement of existing courses, research, and innovation in the context of the NEP.
A sizeable number of students in conventional degree programs acquire reasonable academic or technical skill required by potential employers. But they still fail to satisfy their employers for want of sufficient life skills. This issue can be addressed by including in the graduate curricula the options of various life skills. The European Qualifications Framework has identified three categories of life skills- Cognitive Skill (analytical, critical, creative, reflective), Methodological Skills (decision-making, time management, problem-solving), and Social Skills (team work, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution). Besides these, there may be many other skills, which merit inclusion in CBCS curriculum of mainstream courses as compulsory papers under Skill Enhancement and Ability Enhancement segments. In addition to this, SWOT analysis on important parameters should be encouraged as tool of self-development.
Nearly 79% youth in the 18-23 age group, who are not enrolled in higher education, can be attracted to it if employability of graduate courses is improved. The higher education system of India is a sleeping giant which needs to be made a proactive, dynamic, and responsive sector capable of churning out good quality human resource by galvanizing it into action on the measures proposed hereinabove.