“The Principle is Buyer Beware,”

TR Shastri, Dean, ICICI Manipal Academy

The purpose of education has been discussed at length from time immemorial. In 1947, Martin Luther King wrote that education has both utilitarian and moral functions. The utilitarian function enables education continuing as an arm of the global economy. Higher education, though its purpose is still considered a contestable issue, should aim at equipping the learners to be practical and hence, ‘employable’. Different disciplines of education are expected to enable the students to graduate themselves seamlessly into appropriate branches of work life without any gestation period. However, there has been constant criticism from the industry that the present style of education does not meet that requirement and the user industry still needs to skill them upfront before putting them onto the workstation or shop floor. The general complaints of the industry include: the educational institutions concentrate on pure knowledge without emphasising on the applications, therefore, they do not build the requisite human skills and do not keep pace with the changes in the industry practices. The concept of industry-academia initiative to mould the outputs of education therefore assumes importance.

Some of the engineering colleges and management schools attempted to attune their course coverage to specific corporate requirement. While the academic institutions aimed at the commercially popular requirement of getting jobs for its students, the specific corporate had its requirements, and not the industry’s requirements in mind. Hence, such attempt was more college-corporate tie-up rather than industry-academia initiative. Since industry in general continued to find the new entrants inadequately equipped, some corporates started backward integration by setting up their own entry-level training academies where the aspirants partly unlearnt the theory and fully acquired skills and specific corporate practices. Such initiatives are observed in industries such as banking, software, engineering and air travel. The user corporates find this initiative highly rewarding.

“Corporates are now setting up higher learning centres, a step towards bringing out skilled workforce required by the industry”

The success of such individual attempts points out that what the education system presently produces is not fully what the industry wants. The isolated attempts by corporates aimed at repairing the preparedness of the candidates by infusing the specific skill sets. It was not an attempt to align the learning in the academy abinitio to what the industry wants. Thus, clearly, there is wastage of the initial academic learning due to its irrelevance and disuse. This is a colossal national wastage in view of the large numbers.

The challenge is how do we eliminate these unusable studies and instead build  specific usable skills. Next, how do we spread out this practice across the industry so that the benefit is received by all. Both the industry and the academia have to move more than half the way to bridge the gap. The legal principle is ‘Buyer Beware’. In other words, the industry should take proactive steps to get what it wants. Industry associations should interact with universities and education regulators to give inputs on what the expectations are. This should not be a one-time effort, but a continuous one to keep the academics updated. The academia should invite industry leaders, who may not necessarily be academically qualified, on the boards of studies and such governing committees which decide the curriculum. Some of the dogmatic principles in academies need revisit. For example, for arriving at credits which reflect the depth of coverage, faculty-led teaching hours have a greater weightage presently in the academic world, whereas, industry will consider self-learning or hands-on experience as more effective. Universities should agree to ‘academise’ such corporate learnings. Academies should calibrate skills development for certification. Movement of industry professionals to academic positions and vice-versa should be encouraged. Sufficiently experienced industry professionnals should be equally recognised like a doctorate holder for a professorial position. Deputation of educationists to industry initially for limited period will embolden them to occupy industry positions.

During the last several years, teaching position is no longer a low-paid job, which is a very positive step in this integration. Many corporates are setting up higher learning centres, a step towards bringing out skilled workforce required by the industry. The government has started supporting skills development financially which will go a long way in bridging the gap.