Thursday, December 29, 2011

Will higher education see a sea change?

From news about abolishment of the Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Exam (IIT-JEE) to the pending Foreign Education Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2011 was touted to be the year of reforms in the education sector. So, when the sector ushers itself into 2012, the stakeholders see the new year as one requiring consolidation in several areas. Partly because most of the proposed reforms in 2011 fell by the wayside even as the Lokpal-Anna Hazare storm racked the Parliament paralysing the houses and postponing business in the monsoon and the winter sessions. Business Standard tells you how the new year would look like for the higher education sector in India.

Bill please!
A total of 11 Bills were pending in Parliament, including the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutional, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, the Education Tribunals Bill and the Institutes of Technology Amendment Bill. These Bills have been pending for the past year-an-a-half. According to experts, one of the impact that the Foreign Universities Bill will have once it is passed, would be on the quality of education in the country in 2012.

"Even the lower end institutes in the US, for example, are better than the mid-level institutes in India. As and when foreign universities are allowed to set up campuses in the country, it will improve quality because of competition and give students more options," said Gautam Puri, MD, CareerLauncher.

Just because the reforms have not come through does not, however, mean that business has stopped, say industry insiders. "Many private universities are now engaging more actively with foreign partners for content creation, for getting faculty and for joint degree programmes, which foreign partners also find more lucrative than setting up independent campuses," said Sandeep Aneja of Kaizen Private Equity.

Many windows, one door!
Many are of the opinion that the problem with the current system is that there are too many authorities with too much overlap. The Medical Council of India (MCI), the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) are always getting into turf tussles.

According to Gautam Puri, the regulation of the segment is fragmented and the focus is largely on the development of physical infrastructure in regulation rather than ensuring overall quality. This, say analysts, is where the need for an overall authority comes into the picture.

"Reforms and an overarching authority are essential because as of now the educational authorities have become licensing bodies. This needs to change, and a regulatory body should be put in place," said Narayanan Ramaswamy, head, education practice, KPMG. Ramaswamy also opined that even when these Bills were passed, the effect would not be immediate. The positive would be that the intent would become clear and things would be seen as moving in the right direction.

IIMs: Overseas bound?
Just when it seemed that faculty crunch had cut their wings, the IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management) Ahmedabad, Calcutta and Bangalore hinted at coming together in creating an international campus. On the sidelines of a joint IIM-A and IIM-C conference in October 2011, Samir Barua, Director of IIM-A, said that the IIMs were awaiting operational autonomy, which he expects should come through within a year, after adding that overseas campus in Singapore and Dubai could be considered. So if things fructify, the three premier IIMs may as well begin work on their overseas campus in 2012. The Ministry of HRD had in October 2009 given an in-principle approval for IIMs to set up campuses abroad.

AICTE's maiden management test
Come February, country's technical education regulator, AICTE, will launch its Common Management Admission Test or CMAT. The test, a point of discussion in the academic circle, has made B-schools unhappy much before its launch. Education Promotion Society of India (EPSI), an association of B-schools, is mulling legal action against AICTE.

Source: Business Standard, December 29, 2011

More students opting for higher education

Student enrolment in higher education has seen a sharp increase, a development that’s expected to hearten policymakers, educationists and industry in a country where companies have for long complained about the lack of a sufficiently deep talent pool. The national gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education, or the proportion of school graduates aged between 18 and 23 years entering college-level courses, rose from 12.5% in 2007-08 to 17.27% in 2009-10. At the start of the decade, only one in 10 students was opting for higher education after school. In 1980, India’s GER was 5%. GER is computed by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which oversees the functioning of universities and is tasked with maintaining standards in institutes of higher learning in the country.

The increase in GER could mean a rise in the supply of skilled personnel in India, where companies ranging from computer service providers to retailers have been confronting a shortage of skilled and “employable” personnel. Of the total workforce in the country, around 15% is skilled. For private educational institutes, the increased enrolment points to a higher revenue-earning opportunity. “As per our fresh calculation, the GER of the country is 17.27%. This means access to higher education is improving significantly,” said Ved Prakash, Chairman of UGC.

The number is also significant because the government had been targeting a GER of 16% only by the end of the 11th Five Year Plan (March 2012), a fact the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), another government body, underlines on its official website. However, the progress may be testing the limitations of a country that has also been struggling to fill teacher vacancies, at present estimated as high as 30-33%. Consequently, the institutes may not be able to absorb the growing number of students opting for higher education.

Prakash said that the fresh calculation is based on the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data published in 2011, which is again two years old. “If we have the latest data, then the GER, we feel, could be close to 20% now,” the UGC chairman said, forecasting that the enrolment ratio will be 25% by the end of 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17).

Though the national number is impressive, the state-level picture is likely to be uneven. While the calculation is yet to be made, a study by Ernst & Young and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) earlier this year showed Delhi leading the table of best-performing states with a GER of 31.9% in 2009-10, followed by Maharashtra, where the enrolment ratio was 25.9%. At the bottom were Tripura at 6.6% and Assam at 6.7%; Bihar had a GER of 8.5%, and West Bengal, 7.8%.

Industry executives are cautious about the latest data. Quantity without adequate quality will not serve the purpose, they said, because increased enrolment doesn’t necessarily translate into higher proficiency of the emerging workforce. “When the economy grows, attrition increases to the tune of 16-20%. It means, there is a shortage of human resources. Increasing the number is important, but unless there is quality, this shortfall will not be taken care of,” said R.C. Bhargava, Chairman of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, the country’s largest car maker. “The problem will not be solved unless quality goes up. Other than enrolment figures, it is also important to look at the quality of education.”

Prakash of UGC said that the main challenge is to “make education available to all”. As per UGC data, India has some 31,324 higher educational institutes, of which 611 are degree-awarding ones. Of this, 42 are central universities, 284 state universities, 129 deemed universities and 48 are so-called institutes of national importance. In 1950-51, India had 27 universities and just 578 colleges.

Sharda Prasad, Director General of Employment and Training (DGET) at the Union Ministry of Labour, said the NSSO data shows that many students preferred to pursue higher education instead of entering the job market in 2004-2009. “Some who dropped out of school wanted to finish schooling, some others pursued higher education. This has certainly helped the GER grow,” Prasad said.

M. Damodaran​, a former chief of the market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), said: “Quantity is important, but just talking about quantity without looking at quality is not comforting. I keep listening from companies that they don’t get quality human resources...many engineers are not employable. While numbers are important, I would like to see what is its quality,” said Damodaran, who is chairman of the board of governors at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Tiruchirappalli.

Still, the numbers show that access to higher education has increased, said Manish Sabharwal, chief executive officer at TeamLease Services Pvt. Ltd, a training and staffing firm. “Once we take care of the access and quantity, the quality will be taken care of,” he said. “Access will create demand for quality institutes and those not providing it will face closure. We have started seeing this as several institutes are now struggling to fill their entire seat capacity.”

Source: Mint, December 29, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

India fares poorly in global learning study

A global study of learning standards in 74 countries has ranked India all but at the bottom, sounding a wake-up call for the country’s education system. China came out on top. It was the first time that India participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), coordinated by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). India’s participation was in a pilot project, confined to schools from Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh.

The findings are significant because they come at a time when India is making a big push in education and improving the skills of its workforce. If the results from the two states hold good for the rest of the country, India’s long-term competitiveness may be in question.

Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh traditionally rank high on human development parameters and are considered to be among India’s more progressive states. The India Human Development Report 2011, prepared by the Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR), categorized them as “median” states, putting them significantly ahead of the national average. IAMR is an autonomous arm of the Planning Commission.

For literacy, Himachal Pradesh ranked 4 and Tamil Nadu 11 in the National Family Health Survey released in 2007. Yet, in the PISA study, Tamil Nadu ranked 72 and Himachal Pradesh 73, just ahead of Kyrgyzstan in mathematics and overall reading skills. The eastern Chinese metropolis of Shanghai topped the PISA rankings in all three categories — overall reading skills, mathematical and scientific literacy.

PISA is an international study that began in 2000. It aims to assess education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in participating economies. To be sure, there are some reservations about the findings of the study. Such comparisons may not be fair as they are not between equals, says Manish Sabharwal, chief executive officer of human resources training and placement firm Teamlease Services Pvt. Ltd. Yet, he argued, it does serve as a timely warning. “Industries are already facing a problem because of poor quality (of graduates),” Sabharwal said. “What we need to do is repair and prepare. Repair by imparting skill training and prepare by improving the school system, which is the main gateway.”

In Tamil Nadu, only 17% of students were estimated to possess proficiency in reading that is at or above the baseline needed to be effective and productive in life. In Himachal Pradesh, this level is 11%. “This compares to 81% of students performing at or above the baseline level in reading in the OECD countries, on an average,” said the study. In other words, only a little over one in six students in Tamil Nadu and nearly one in 10 students in Himachal Pradesh are performing at the OECD average. A similar trend was observed in mathematical and scientific literacy, too.

Anurag Behar, chief executive officer of the Azim Premji Foundation, said the study’s findings were alarming.
This is because the PISA study found that only 12% of students in Himachal Pradesh and 15% in Tamil Nadu were proficient in mathematics against an OECD average of 75%; when it came to scientific literacy among students of class X, the proficiency level in Tamil Nadu was 16% and in Himachal, 11%, as against an OECD average proficiency of 82%. In Malaysia, 56% of students were proficient in reading and 41% in mathematics. Similarly, in the United Arab Emirates, the mathematics proficiency levels was estimated at 49% and for reading, 60%. Like India, both countries participated for the first time.

Behar says there is a need for a complete change of India’s teacher education system and a shift from rote learning-driven school education to understanding-driven curricula. “We also need to reduce the policy-implemenation gap,” he said.

Tamil Nadu education minster C.V.Shanmugam declined to comment on the study’s findings, asserting that the state’s education system is good. “In the last five years, 56,000 teachers were recruited... In which state do they give students laptops?” he said, referring to chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s free laptop scheme for students that was part of her campaign for elections that brought her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam​ party back to power in May. “We give incentives for students attending higher secondary. We give Rs. 1,500 (a year) to class X students, Rs. 1,500 to class XI and Rs. 2,000 to class XII. We give Rs. 5,000 if they clear class XII. So steps are being taken to improve the existing system,” he claimed.

Himachal Pradesh education minister Ishwar Dass Dhiman defended his state’s education system. In elementary schools, the enrolment has reached 99.3%, for instance, he said. “If they have taken samples from the interior areas of our state, then we cannot say anything. We are now hiring better qualified teachers to improve the teaching of students.”

Pramath Sinha, an education entrepreneur and former dean of the Indian School of Business​, Hyderabad, said he knew about the deficiencies of India’s education system but was still shocked to find India so low in the PISA rankings. “I belive our lack of urgency will take away the demographic dividend that we could have reaped,” Sinha said.

Not everyone agrees. The study may not be based on an apple-to-apple comparison, says Vipul Prakash, managing director of Elixir Consulting, a recruitment process outsourcing firm. “If you look at the entire people entering the workforce, you may find lack of quality. But if you take the top 10% then they are perhaps the best in the world. This 10% is quite a large number which is giving India a competitive upper hand.”

Source: Mint, December 20, 2011

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