2/100: India's Coming Job Crisis & Education
I am not arguing that internationally ranked universities is the way to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem and I am indeed acutely aware of the perverse incentives ranking systems create. But, instilling a government defined ranking has the worst of both the worlds: It creates perverse incentives (more so if you consider how corrupt the Indian education regulatory bodies have been) but it does not create true benchmarks, only inward-looking ones. Add to this the fact that most State Governments in India have stepped back from Higher Education altogether, and have indiscriminately allowed mostly corrupt businesses to set up private universities (against a large contribution to the coffers of various ruling parties), the whole climate of education has declined precipitously with a host of officially sanctioned Diploma mills, which students are forced to turn to because there is not much alternative (the alternative is not going to college). In context, the idea that the Government policy can create an environment of Entrepreneurship, that would create a large number of well-paying jobs, without a dynamic, forward-looking, world class education system, seems absurd at best.
The other big thing that the Government has done to avert the job crisis is to set up an extensive programme for skills training. Though this has been, so far, many overlapping initiatives running in various directions, and poorly implemented. But, even its key premise - that young people in India needs technical skills - is flawed, because India already produces the largest number of technically qualified manpower and most of them remain unemployed. Besides, the attempt to create a separate 'skills training infrastructure' is a colossal waste of public money, and while India's colleges remain poorly funded, such parallel efforts make no sense other than another way of channelling money to politically connected (I did ask the question - why does the funding body, NSDC, fund new training providers to set up infrastructure, while the public colleges sit with idle capacity and poor infrastructure - to many well-placed individuals, but never got a satisfactory answer). While globally distinctions between Education and Skills are being questioned and eliminated, India has found a way to institutionalise it. In that sense, the Government's various efforts to intervene in skills has been entirely counterproductive.
From my vantage point, the impending jobs crisis - which will surely result in a political crisis some years down the line - needs fundamental and interconnected solutions, to build physical and social infrastructure, urgent action on regional developmental disparity (which always creates bottlenecks in distribution of opportunities and therefore, create unemployment) and a national action plan for education, side by side with the policy measures of the Government. The key may lie in reforming India's general education system, and the colleges that offer them. And, it is not just colleges: The schools and High Schools must be equipped to imbibe the skills part that the government is so keen on, and make efforts to erase the age-old dislike of practical work. It is an wonderful entrepreneurial opportunity for people like me, working to erase the distinction between education and skills, and professional education and 'liberal arts', as India needs more people who can think and act at the same time, at all levels. And, this has global significance: As India is set to supply a quarter of the global workforce in the coming years, the educational experiments of the next decades should happen in India. This I see as my own big thing to do in life.