Saturday, December 02, 2006

Higher Ed in India

I'm very familiar with the excellent scientists and engineers produced by the IIT's (Indian Institutes of Technology). I know much less about the rest of the system. In countries like China, Taiwan and Korea, there has been an explosion in recent years in numbers of private colleges and universities. One hopes that these institutions are driven by market forces, and teach the skills that will lead to good employment prospects.

NYTimes: The job market for Indian college graduates is split sharply in two. With a robust handshake, a placeless accent and a confident walk, you can get a $300-a-month job with Citibank or Microsoft. With a limp handshake and a thick accent, you might peddle credit cards door to door for $2 a day.

India was once divided chiefly by caste. Today, new criteria are creating a different divide: skills. Those with marketable skills are sought by a new economy of call centers and software houses; those without are ensnared in old, drudgelike jobs.

Unlike birthright, which determines caste, the skills in question are teachable: the ability to communicate crisply in clear English, to work with teams and deliver presentations, to use search engines like Google, to tear apart theories rather than memorize them.

But the chance to learn such skills is still a prerogative reserved, for the most part, for the modern equivalent of India’s upper castes — the few thousand students who graduate each year from academies like the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian Institutes of Technology. Their alumni, mostly engineers, walk the hallways of Wall Street and Silicon Valley and are stewards for some of the largest companies.

In the shadow of those marquee institutions, most of the 11 million students in India’s 18,000 colleges and universities receive starkly inferior training, heavy on obedience and light on useful job skills.

Students, executives and educators say this two-tier education system is locking millions of people into the bottom berths of the economy, depriving the country of talent and students of the chance to improve their lot. For those who succeed, what counts is the right skills.

“It’s almost literally a matter of life and death for them,” said Kiran Karnik, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies, a trade body that represents many leading employers. “The same person from the same institution with the same grades, but not having these skills, will either not get employed at all or will probably get a job in a shop or something.”

India is that rare country where it seems to get harder to find a job the more educated you are. In the 2001 census, college graduates had higher unemployment — 17 percent — than middle or high school graduates.

But as graduates complain about a lack of jobs, companies across India see a lack of skilled applicants. The contradiction is explained, experts say, by the poor quality of undergraduate education. India’s thousands of colleges are swallowing millions of new students every year, only to turn out degree holders whom no one wants to hire.

A study published by the software trade group last year concluded that only 10 percent of graduates with nonspecialized degrees were considered employable by leading companies, compared with 25 percent of engineers.


Anonymous said...

apart from the IITs & IIMs there are other central goverment funded institutions like the NITs(National Institute of Technology,formerly RECs) that are also highly selective(<5%) & produce excellent engg graduates.

Anonymous said...

Yes, RECs are also good.

Also, the quality of education and students is higher in schools in major metros(because of more competition). So you will notice most students in IITs , IIMs will be from one of the major metros.

Other than those, some universities like Delhi University also produces some decent graduates; they are not as selective as IITs, but in some fields in Sciences(especially Physics) and Economics are quite selective(based on grades on 12th central exam). I think Mumbai and Kolkatta also have some good colleges...

But universities in most other parts of the country are not good. For example, the problem in Chennai region is affirmative action; majority(yes!) of the seats are reserved for the lower castes; you have to score pretty high if you want to go to a univ. in Chennai area if you are from the higher caste.


Steve Hsu said...

Somehow the naive calculus is that the supply of smart people is unlimited in China and India, but it is shocking to see how inefficient the system is in training them...

It's good news for western white collar workers, though. At least for the moment.

Anonymous said...

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