Friday, April 13, 2012

AICTE needs to be looked at positively: Chairman

S S Mantha is trying hard to clean up the image of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), an institution that had, at one point, become synonymous with corruption. Mantha, who took over as Chairman this January, has been advocating transparency and accountability. A professor of robotics for over 15 years and credited with bringing in e-Governance at AICTE, he discusses with Kalpana Pathak, his plans for technical education and says AICTE should be looked at positively. Edited excerpts:

Now that you are chairman, what plans do you have for technical education going forward?
Technical education is an area with a lot of potential. We want a lot of quality, at all levels, to be built into the system we have today. At one end you have a high level of performing students and at another level you have students at the bottom of the spectrum. It is difficult to match the two. The challenge is to build a system that addresses the concerns and aspirations of the entire spectrum. You need to improve the infrastructure, faculty, general ambience of education. It is important that industry participates beyond providing its experts for some lectures, and maybe a few projects.

So is AICTE doing something about involving industry?
We are coming up with a list of 50 institutions on a normative basis to promote research. They will provide 3,000 sq ft of their campus area to industries around the institute. This lead institute can form clusters with other institutes nearby and the area could be used as a research extension centre. So, not only teachers and students but industry, too, can partner and work. We will gather information on the specific tie-ups that institutes have with industry to promote research. Based on that we will classify institutions as maybe the first 20-30 and promote them actively with collaborations with the industry. We will start with the engineering sector and will extend the scheme to management.

Vocational education is also on your radar...
Recently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) also decided to give a Bachelor’s degree in vocational education. This initiative has huge potential. For instance, in 2008-09, of the 21.7 million students who appeared for the 10th standard exam, about 50 per cent passed. Similarly in the 12th standard about 15.7 million appeared and 7,900,000 passed. Of this, in conventional colleges, we could accommodate only about 5 million. That means 2.9 million students, even after passing 12th, have not been going to college for whatever reason — financial or otherwise. Added to this, parents would rather send their children to do a Bachelor’s in Arts than for vocational education and building skills. So, the problem is not only of social acceptance but also lack of interest. Thus, we have come up with a methodology in which you build skills and the general academics to create a credit-based approach towards vocationalising higher education.

How will that work?
We have created a national vocational qualification framework in which there are seven certificate levels beginning at the ninth standard. So you get a vocational certificate in the 10th standard, then at the 12th standard and then at 13, 14 and 15 leading to a Bachelor’s degree. Or conversely, you do ninth and 10th vocational and then get into a polytechnic and do 11, 12 and 13 and get a diploma...and so on. We have built multiple paths of exit and entry levels into vocational and normal education and vice versa. Here we are also allowing prior learning. So if someone has skills and has also done his 10th standard exam he can go to a skills knowledge provider, and get his skills assessed to get a certificate. We have tried to build as much flexibility into this system by bringing in a parallel system so we don’t disturb the existing system. This is an answer to some of the problems of graduates not being able to find jobs. We have identified 12 sectors such as IT, telecom, banking, tourism, automobile, finance, marketing, entertainment, construction and so on.

Will industry be a part of this? And will students be able to find jobs?
This whole process has been on for two years and we have formed sector-specific meetings. Industry sectors have created the content. The auto content has been created by companies like Mahindra & Mahindra and Ashok Leyland. In the telecom sector we are talking to Nokia. In the IT sector, Microsoft is on board. In fact, the whole training is to be provided by the industry and industry associates, so industry is very much on board.

Coming to technical education, there is a lot of excess seat capacity, how is AICTE dealing with that?
You have to understand that there is a huge private sector in place that also participates in setting up institutions. In engineering, architecture and pharmacy alone, 92 or 93 per cent of the institutions are in the private sector. There has been skewed growth. For instance, there are still about 200 districts where there is no technical education institution in place except polytechnics. So many students, given their aspirational needs, relocate and move to cities. Here there are two problem areas: one, institutes in the rural sector are unable to attract the best teachers or set up good infrastructure and, consequently, students and two, even within the cities, there are vacancies, though less.

There is another trend at work. In a given year, students perceive a particular branch to be of importance and rush there, creating vacancies in other branches. This is an aspirational and quality-related problem. Therefore, this will keep happening and no system in the world would ever have 100 per cent seats filled or occupied. If you look at the US, the top six or seven management institutes are all full, but in some of the better institutes, around 50 per cent of the seats are vacant. I expect in another year or so the entire sector will undergo a sea change and you will find more institutes will be needed.

You mean AICTE will sanction more seats?
If we look at the whole paradigm, in the engineering sector we have 1.5 million seats today and in the management sector we have 350,000 seats. In architecture, we have around 14,000 seats and in pharmacy 150,000 seats. We have another 1 million seats at the diploma or polytechnic level. Then you need a lot of infrastructure to be in place. For instance, we require about 600,000 teachers and we have just over 400,000 teachers. This is just the numbers we are talking about, not the quality. You look at the 50 per cent drop-out rate, which is about a 10 million students who are failing in the 10th standard and another 8,000,000 students who are failing in the 12th — so these students will probably come back to the system a little later. You have about 3 million students who have passed the 12th and are not doing anything. Now, if I assume that this 10.8 million students would come into the system, do we really have institutions to accommodate this capacity?

Are you trying to address the gross enrolment ratio (GER) here?
Nearly 20 million students today are just sitting outside the education system and not doing anything. Even if half of them wish to pursue higher education, will we be able to accommodate them? You need to operate at the input level and create systems in which more students come in — that is how your GER will increase and that is how your employability potentials will increase. If you have pegged a system at a certain level and operate at the same level, there will be vacancies. But nobody is trying to see why this level is pegged at a certain point that is giving you an 18 to 20 GER. For a large country that has 1 billion people, you can’t have a GER of 20 per cent. And if you increase the input into the system, suddenly you will find there are no vacancies. In fact, there is a much bigger market than we are taking about.

So how do you increase the input?
These are initiatives that need to be taken by state and central governments. I believe that setting up of a financial corporation by a state and central initiative is essential. They should give soft loans to students at the input level, identify them and push them into the education system, either formal or vocational. That would enable your economy, GER and employability to go up. Our school systems are doing pretty well, with about 96 to 97 per cent occupancy levels but the story is not the same after that. Many students today have to perforce work and fend for their families leading to high drop-out rates.

That means you will continue to allow new institutes to come up?
If an entrepreneur says I am willing to put in money and get the resources, including making land available, as a regulator I cannot stop him. As for quality, it’s up to the institutes to create it. But what is happening is that there is no methodology to come up with a realistic approach to engage industries with education. With expansion in education, you also want the market to expand on the output side. You want the industry to expand. You cannot keep saying the education sector is growing but others are stagnant.

So AICTE will not address the issue of excess capacity?
In the council, we have decided that two years from now, we will review the system because we cannot declare that no colleges will come up from tomorrow. If I want to build a college, I begin two years in advance to secure land and various permissions. So we will do it two years down the line. Besides, it’s not that I can come up with a policy saying that a particular course will be discontinued from tomorrow. It happens within the market, which is evolving. For instance, five years ago, we used to get any number of applications for the IT sector. No longer so.

B-schools say AICTE is forcing them to accept Common Management Aptitude Test (CMAT)?
We have not. The problem is today you have 20 management entrance exams plus with a host of institutions conducting their own examination. Every exam has a prospectus that costs a minimum Rs 5,000. How many students can afford this? Besides, how many exams can I give? So all we have said is every institution should accept a CMAT. We will be conducting this test twice every year. We want this test to set a benchmark.

Source: Business Standard, April 13, 2012

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