With an average age of 29 years, India will be the world’s youngest nation in 2020. As per Economic Survey 2018-19, the share of working age population will increase from 50.5% in 2011 to 59% in 2041, thereby adding about 14 crore to the workforce in 20 years.
The big, bold “national” reforms like GST, Digital India, IBC, etc have resulted in India’s ranking in Ease of Doing Business improve by 79 places to 63rd in 2019, a record for a major economy. However, development of Indian youth is holding us back when it comes to India’s ranking on UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) or WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index.
The draft New Education Policy (NEP 2019) is one of the most comprehensive efforts India has seen, to review the state of education. Having said so, is the policy bold enough for us to capitalise on the youngest nation tag? Some bold ideas for development of human capital can include the following.
First, One Nation, One Education Board. Can NEP 2019 really achieve desired outcomes at secondary and higher secondary levels if we continue with existing structure of 60+ state, autonomous and central education boards with varied curriculum and delivery methodologies? Shouldn’t we define one secondary and senior secondary board structure for India? Given that more than 2 crore students take Class XII exam every year a unified secondary school curriculum based on skills, entrepreneurial mindset and inter-disciplinary learnings can seed the key attributes in our youth at the school level.
Second, unification of ministries of skills and human resource development. National Skill Development Policy estimates only 5% of Indian workforce having gone through formal skill training, extremely low when compared to South Korea (96%) and Germany (75%). The need of the hour is to unify the two relevant ministries to integrate skills as a core pillar of education. We already have Germany and Australia as examples where students can earn skill-based credits equivalent to the academic system at school or college level.
Third, if all higher education (HE) institutions are national assets producing knowledge and human resources for the nation, does it make sense to continue categorising HE institutions as central or state institutions? If all are going to be governed by central regulators like UGC, AICTE, MCI, BCI, etc shouldn’t private HE institutions be allowed to operate across India under one licence? Besides reducing proliferation of suboptimal institutions, this will also bring in educational best practices. Further, bilateral knowledge agreements on the lines of bilateral trade agreements should be aggressively pursued including setting up of branch campuses, portability of credits, exchange of students and faculty, thereby bringing much need internationalisation and foreign students to India.
Fourth, India is consistently improving its ranking on Global Innovation Index and currently stands at 52nd place. While suggestion of National Research Foundation and inclusion of research under CSR are welcome steps, excluding private HE institutions from such initiatives is counterproductive as private HE institutions currently support more than 70% of total HE enrolments in India. On the same lines, should HE institutions raising overseas research funding be subject to FCRA regulations as overseas funding for R&D projects can help bridge the low investments in R&D, aggregating to just 0.8% of GDP in India (compared to 2% in China).
Fifth, India’s GER of 26% in higher education implies that for every student who enrols in a HE institution, there are three such students who couldn’t enrol. Online or distance education is a cost-effective mode to provide access to such students, numbering 1 crore every year, to complete higher education while pursuing other occupations. The current regulations allow only NAAC A+ accredited institutions to offer such education. The competencies and skill sets required for online and distance education are completely different from conventional education and NAAC ratings, hence, don’t represent the relevant competencies. Policies should enable participation of HE institutions with relevant infrastructure for online and distance education, and focus on outcomes.
There is an urgent need to prepare an employable workforce for the coming decades, for an Asean-like ‘economic miracle’ which can create a ‘virtuous cycle’ of increased savings, higher investment in human resources, higher productivity and higher growth rates. Benjamin Franklin articulated this very well, when he said “investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.