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A new policy perspective: Time to explore careers other than academics
August 21, 2017
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Starting our journey to prepare, attain and demonstrate academic ability (whether we are meant for it or not is a separate question) since childhood, most of our parents at one point or the other had exploited us by waking up early in the morning in the name of “good for our future”, no matter whether our biological clock allows for it or not. But are we as a human race capable enough to anticipate future (forget about the better future) in the realm of the 21st century, where countries across the globe facing many challenges (or we can say chronic problems so enrooted in our embedded educational structure that we have gained immunity not to perceive them as a problem) like high drop-out rates, discriminatory higher education institution, suffering from job-curriculum mismatch problems (I would rather call degree factories), gender inequality, more-degrees but no-jobs (i.e. as per the UN estimates, in the next 15 years we will have more than ever young graduates but very few of them will have meaningful jobs in the sector they would prepare or aspire for), poor employment outcomes after college etc.

My question is, why are we slaved to the public education system backboned over “academic ability” that started its journey during first industrial revolution looking for apt candidates to fulfill the requirement of the factory system. Unfortunate it was that over the period of time, we forgot to value the professions which did not come with better employability and that can be observed in the hierarchy of our education system with science at the top with high perceived value and arts at the bottom of the pyramid.

Let’s for a moment forget about the other educational systems, our existing unidimensional educational structure is not capable of producing talent to fulfill the requirements of our economic sectors. In other words, less than 20 per cent of our engineers are employable as per industrial standards. The reason is they are trained in writing codes but not in other areas of work requirements. As per the recent data, parents are no more fascinated by “My son will become engineer/doctor”. Thanks to the failure of our education system which is not synced with the industrial requirements, innocent children would not suffer anymore. Moreover, the majority of the engineers of 2012 batch are still looking for jobs in the relevant area. Furthermore, one out of three young people in the labour force is unemployed where as more than 80 per cent of them work in the informal sector. As per the estimates, we had about 20 universities and fewer than 500 colleges in the whole country at the time of independence but in 2014-15, the numbers increased to 760 universities and more than 38,000 colleges catering to about 34 million students (Bardhan, 2017). Moreover, we did not have single university in the top 200 world institutions (instead we are more than happy criticizing the way the index is created to rank institutions and released our own national ranking system for colleges/institutions/universities, it is like losers are competing with each other to demonstrate who is the winner).

Given the reach of the higher education factories (works more like profitable business models than public goods), we will have “academic inflation” in the coming years where more young people with graduate and above degrees will be looking for jobs used to require higher secondary education twenty years back. In other words, we would all be preparing for the same set of jobs which our parents aspired for during their 20s based on their so called “academic ability (counting for mean years of education).

The recent crisis in the IT sector (as 6 lakhs jobs cut has been estimated in the next three years by major IT firms other than TCS) as well as exorbitant unemployment rates among young labour force has strengthened the argument of solely not relying on the academic institutions for the overall economic development of the country and prosperity at the micro level. We failed to create the portfolio of our young talent in different dimensions which were essential to reap the benefits of once in a lifetime opportunity i.e. “demographic dividend”.  In a country like India, where more than 12 million people are entering labour force every year, we have to make a balance between academic and non-academic career options.

For example, one of the non-academic career options is in the sports industry where we can channelize our young talent but the situation is very bleak as shown by the budget allocated to the sports activities and infrastructure. Moreover, spending on non-academic career options is considered as a cost rather than investment in India. India spends third of what UK spends on sports activities (i.e. $ 1.5 billion). The per capita spending is much lower as India has 400 million people in the age group of 15 to 35 years while the UK has only 18 million people. China too spends way more than any other country to remain competitive in the sports industry and earn sustainable income out of it. As per the economist’s estimates (2013), China spent more than $1 billion on national Olympic training infrastructure annually.

Not to denounce the capabilities of academic institutions but giving academic career as the only option to the majority of the young people, we will not be able to convert the pool of talent into successful careers and hence will not be able to earn sustainable livelihood out of it. In other words, alternative to the academic career option is desired given the capacity and inability of the existing educational institutions if at all we are determined to become the “WORLD GURU” in the universe. At the end, I would say any nation cannot grow unless it helps young people to identify what is best for them and train them to prepare for the future. As a nation, we have failed to accomplish this at the time we had that once in a lifetime opportunity to become super power in the world.

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