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Higher Education Rankings: Rural is off the rankings radar, Mukti Misra

THE Mukti photo
Amid all the attention that university rankings attract, their shortcomings are often overlooked. Not only are league tables of institutions based on indicators that take no account of the social and public-good aspects of education, they also perpetuate a global bias. Consider the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Its key assessments look at an institution’s teaching, international outlook, industry income, research output and volume of citations. Such parameters skew the rankings towards universities in the most developed countries.

The fundamental job of a university is teaching and learning. But must every institution focus on research to enhance its teaching and learning experience? Would it not be useful and important for at least some universities to produce “job-ready individuals” rather than “think-ready individuals”, or to produce some combination of “action leaders” and “thought leaders”?

India is a country of countries: each state is linguistically and culturally distinct. National institutions such as the University of Delhi and the Indian Institutes of Technology have students from almost all states, which means that their multiculturalism is on a par with that of leading global universities. Nevertheless, Indian institutions score negligible points on the international outlook parameter.

Rankings also fail to capture the high-impact and socially relevant work that is being done in India’s regional and community-oriented institutions to offer inclusive education and bridge tremendous social gaps by bringing together students from vastly different communities who otherwise could not afford higher education. At top-ranked universities, the cohort is much more homogeneous: students are typically all from the global upper strata.

Centurion University of Technology and Management, in the eastern state of Odisha (formerly Orissa), is an example of this wider university project. Here, school dropouts, vocational trainees, graduate engineers and PhD students all live and dine together; they use the same labs and play on the same sports teams. By fostering a truly inclusive experience, Centurion allows education to be the public good it should be.

Rankings distort public perceptions of the services delivered by a university. Thus many big companies donate to top-ranked universities to signal their own elite nature instead of helping institutions that serve a local community or region.

Despite its lack of financial support or rankings success, Centurion is determined to generate economic value for its region. Through relevant, appropriate education, employability training and industry ties, it strives each year to help 15,000 young people from marginalised communities into work, with a goal of 100,000 by 2022. Centurion has also created many social entrepreneurship initiatives. One, Gram Tarang Inclusive Development Services, has brought banking and financial services to 4 million of some of the most remote households in rural India.

In reflecting on one component of rankings success – citations – it strikes me that researchers worldwide should be citing Centurion’s work, rather than Centurion’s scholars citing other researchers. Alas, this does not happen; rankings continue to neglect real-world impact.

As a young institution, we are still redefining our community impact through education and refining how to maximise it. All we can hope is that the model for ranking higher education institutions continues to evolve with a similar sense of integrity. Institutions making a real difference to the problems of remote and rural regions must be acknowledged, even if they are not ranked. The parties involved in university rankings have organisational, social and individual responsibility for showcasing such invisible, unsung and voiceless institutes.

Author:
Mukti Mishra is president of Centurion University of Technology and Management, India.
Originally published at:
http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/opinion/rural-is-off-the-rankings-radar/2006779.article

Skill development coming of age in India, Dilip Chenoy, CEO & Managing Director of the National Skill Development Corporation

As 2012 draws to a close, it is a good time to introspect on how far India has progressed on the skills issue.

Admittedly, a number of positive developments have taken place since the start of the year, the most significant of which is a greater realization among many key stakeholders about the key role that skills-related training could play in India being able to leverage its favorable demographics.

The leadership of the Prime Minister’s National Council for Skill Development is enabling coordination and cooperation efforts among stake holders. A national target of skilling 80 million has been set for the next five years.

A lot of effort has gone in to ensure that skilling initiatives – irrespective of whether the delivery was through the government or private mechanisms – became more outcome-focused, with the emphasis on jobs and employability. For example, partner institutions of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), for instance, placed over 70 per cent of their students in decent, well-paying jobs following the completion of the training.

Capacity augmentation received a fillip with skilling centers opened across the length and breadth of the country, including in many remote and far-flung areas that had been largely left untouched in the past. Several Partners of NSDC embarked on the process of setting up large vocational training centers capable of skilling a million-plus people over a 10-year span. Special training programmes were introduced in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East to ensure that the people living in these parts could obtain the skill sets that would empower them to participate in and contribute to India’s growth.

The Indian Banks’ Association – the nodal association for banks operating in the country – based on discussion with the Office of the Advisor to the Prime Minister’s Council, came up with a model vocational loan scheme to serve as the basis for member banks to introduce vocational loan products in order to ease financial access to skills training centers, particularly for those at the bottom of the pyramid. Many private organizations, including NSDC Partners, also came up with innovative financing schemes with employers, in some cases, promising to reimburse the training costs after the trainees completed a certain minimum period of service.

A pilot project of the National Vocational Education Qualifications Framework (NVEQF) – that would ensure a seamless migration from a vocational to a formal education framework – was formally launched in 40 schools in Haryana, with plans to replicate it in other states of India. Four Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) formed by the NSDC are involved with the NVEQF pilot.

For all these positives, though, many of the underlying challenges to the creation of a skills culture in India continue to remain unresolved. Skills still don’t command a premium in India. Deep-rooted misconceptions that skills-related training is only intended for those who could not make it in the formal system have affected enrolments at vocational education facilities with admissions in these centers continuing to be seen by many as a last resort.

Leadership to transform this now lies with the employers to promote the skills cause in their own set-up. Enterprises need to accelerate  the practice of hiring skilled and certified employees at all levels and then create an attractive salary differential between skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor. Leadership is also needed to increase in-service skilling in the manufacturing sector which continues to be low.

The Government has introduced attractive fiscal benefits such as permitting a weighted deduction of 150% of expenses (not being expenditure in the nature of cost of any land or building) on expenditure incurred on skill development projects, and also exempting training partners of NSDC as well as some designated private sector skills training providers from service tax.

The Government has provided space for leadership and action by Industry. Industry has the unique opportunity to being the voice that would determine how trainings should be conducted, and the standards that should prevail, besides deciding how the assessments and certifications should happen. As part of the National Policy on Skill Development, 2009, industry can do all these things through setting up Sector Skill Councils.

Industry has to collaborate and lead the formation and operationalization of SSCs and moving fast on this. The SSCs approved by the NSDC need to accelerate the  buy-in from among their own membership for the concept of devising National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the top job roles in their respective domains.

Stakeholders are looking to Industry leaders to start taking ownership of driving the Sector Skill Councils and the NOS exercise in their respective domains through greater involvement with the SSCs, as without the occupational standards, the accrediting system, and certification in place, skill development would be reduced to just another futile exercise. The more actively we can lead, collaborate and execute, the more chances there would be of India being able to realize its vision of skilling and up skilling 500 million people by 2022.

(The author is CEO & Managing Director of the National Skill Development Corporation, a Public Private Partnership of the Government of India).

India and China: Pre Occupations with Skills Development. Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB

I recently attended two events related to skills development – the first one linked to the Asia Competitiveness Forum 2012 in New Delhi and the second, UNESCO World TVET Congress  in Shanghai.

India and the People’s Republic of China attract popular attention, and comparisons are common. As two giant economies with high rates of growth and potential for increasing influence in world markets, they offer much scope for discussions on policies and strategies.

The priorities for skills and training in the two countries have many similarities: both acknowledge that it is talent and high skill levels that will determine competitiveness in the times ahead, particularly talent for innovation. Both have an interest to move up the value chain to compete in higher value added manufacturing and services. Skills development is expected to be a key driver to facilitate their transformation from a low-end manufacturing to more sophisticated, service-oriented and innovative economies. Corporations in PRC aspire to move from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’. India announced 2010-2020 as the ‘decade of innovation’ that includes setting up innovation centres of excellence in different frontier areas.

Skills development is high on the agenda in national plan priorities for both countries – India has the target of creating a pool of 500 million skilled works by 2022. In PRC, the National Medium and Long Term Talent Development Plan for 2010-2020 puts emphasis on vocational training and employment promotion.  New and innovative public policy instruments are being directed towards TVET. In PRC, the development of vocational training parks such as the Tianjin Vocational Training Park is an example of a dedicated large scale facility to promote vocational training connected with the needs of enterprises. Allocating a third of the Shanghai urban tax to education, particularly TVET, helps to increase financing for the sector. The Government of India is setting up a credit guarantee fund to encourage students among weaker sections to go for higher technical and professional education. In 2011, 3.95 million TVET students received government aid in PRC. The World TVET Congress advocated a transformational role for TVET.

It was clear from the presentations that both India and PRC need TVET not only for higher order manufacturing and innovation (which is a high priority for avoiding the ‘middle income trap’), but also for social equity. The overwhelming share of informal labor markets in India poses a challenge to skills development. About 11 m small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country contribute to an estimated 7% of GDP, 40% of manufacturing output and 60% of exports. The Government of India is actively promoting the concept of clusters to support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME). In PRC, skills development for accelerating development in rural and impoverished areas has been a key priority through programs such as the Sunshine Program for rural labor transfer training. Both countries are actively encouraging the contribution from industry and the private sector. In India, the unique private-public partnership model of the National Skills Development Corporation follows a results-oriented approach to skill development and has the target of skills development of 150 million people by 2022 and assuring employment for 70% of those. PRC’s policies to encourage industry-school partnerships with students spending about a third of their training period in enterprises strengthens much needed employability.  Inequality is a critical issue that both countries need to grapple with – the gini coefficient has worsened in both counties.

Thus the three dimensional lens (economic, equity and transformative) attributed to TVET by the forthcoming world TVET report seems quite appropriate.

RIGHTS TO SKILLS, Manish Sabharwal. Chairman, Teamlease Services

Rights are not reducing poverty. Time to place skills and employment at the heart of policy It’s been raining “Rights” in Indian policy for the last few years; education, work, food, service, healthcare, and much else. This “diet coke” approach to poverty reduction – the sweetness without the calories – was always dangerous because of unknown side effects. Commenting in 1790 on the consequences of the French revolution, Edmund Burke said “They have found their punishment in their success; laws overturned, tribunals subverted, industry without vigor, commerce expiring, the revenue unpaid, yet the people impoverished and a state not relieved”. Not very differently, early results of this “policy revolution by fatwa” – MNREGS, Right to Education, Right to Food, Right to Service, etc –suggests that it has led to 15 interest rate hikes in 12 months, is destroying government finances, fuelling inflation, and encouraging civil society to subvert democracy. It also reminds us that policy entrepreneurship, like all entrepreneurship, is not exempt from the rule that big ideas without execution and resources are ineffective. Outlays don’t lead to outcomes because poetry is useless without plumbing. But there is an alternative for reducing poverty to this impatient state driven idealism; Skills and Jobs. Poverty reduction comes from an individual’s ability to access opportunities. Unfortunately unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment; 58% of India’s youth suffer from some skill deprivation. India’s skill crisis is a child of a fragmented regulatory regime (state vs. centre, 19 ministries vs. 2 human capital ministries), the dead-end view of vocational training (the lack of vertical mobility between certificates, diplomas and degrees), a broken apprenticeship regime (we only have 2.5 lac apprentices relative to 6 and 10 million in Germany and Japan), a weak job framework (the national occupation codes don’t create a shared thought world for employers and educators), no linking of financing to outcomes (we pay for training not jobs), no separation of financing from delivery (creating competition to government delivery by using government money for private delivery) and dysfunctional employment exchanges (1200 of them gave 3 lac jobs to the 4 crore people registered last year). The policy agenda around skills is not impossible or unknown. Employment Exchanges need to become public private partnership career centers that offer counseling, assessment, training, apprenticeships and job matching. The Apprenticeship Act of 1961 must be amended to view an apprenticeship as a classroom rather than a job and shift the regulatory thought world from push (employers under the threat of jail) to pull (make them volunteers). The National Vocational Educational Qualification Framework must be agreed by the states and the Ministries of Labour and HRD as the unifying open architecture tool for recognition of prior learning and vertical mobility between school leavers, certificates, diplomas and degrees. Delivery systems are in the hands of states and every state must create a skill mission or vocational training corporation tasked with building capacity and quality. States should also create asset banks to make existing government real estate available for skill delivery. All schools must teach English because English is like Windows; an operating system that creates geographic mobility and improves employment outcomes by 300%. Schools and Colleges must selectively embed vocational subjects – particularly soft skills – into their curriculum. The regulatory cholesterol around national distance education (mail order, e-learning and satellite) must be reviewed to offer flexible options for workers already in the workforce and the geographically disadvantaged. We must create a national network of community colleges offering two year associate degrees; these colleges, rooted in the local ecosystem, will serve the informal sector (92% of employment) This missing mezzanine layer – their two years programs are not normal degrees on a diet but vocational training on steroids – would bridge the gap between vocational education and training but make the system more inclusive. Finally, we must created skill vouchers that will allow financially disadvantaged students to get trained wherever they want at government expense. Such vouchers would shift the system to funding students rather institutions should be funded by money carved out of the MNREGS budget. Unlike the skill agenda, the job creation agenda is more complex and controversial. But few disagree about the shame in four employment statistics being exactly where they were in 1991; 92% informal employment, 12% manufacturing employment, 50% self-employment and 58% agricultural employment. Economists do not understand how job are created or why they cluster where they do. But the broad contours of fertile soil for job creation are obvious; a flexible labour market, skilled employees, robust infrastructure, and predictable legislation. A flexible labour market is important; most economists agree that our labour law regime is poisonous. India’s labour laws – our employment contracts are marriage without divorce – have created a labour aristocracy (only 8% of our labour force works in the organized sector) that perpetuates labour laws which cripple India’s ability to compete with China in organized manufacturing. The labour law issue is closely related to the skill issue because expanding formal employment is the key to third-party financing of skill development and expanding manufacturing employment is key to getting people off farms (58% of our people produce 18% of our GDP). It’s late but not too late to change the tragic reality that the two most important decisions a child in India makes is choosing their parents and pin code wisely. Mughal Emperor Jahangir told his gardener in Kashmir that if a tree takes 100 years to mature, that’s all the more reason to plant it as soon as possible. In other words, the best time to start changing our skill system and reforming labour laws was twenty years ago. The second best time is now. India’s new tryst with destiny – putting poverty in the museum it belongs – doesn’t need more “Rights” but more jobs and more skills. And creating jobs and skills doesn’t need new ideas but courage. Not more strategy but more execution. Any takers?