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Updated: February 2, 2010 14:37 IST

Interdisciplinary approach in higher education

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G.Thiruvasagam, vice-chancellor, University of Madras. Photo: K. Ananthan
G.Thiruvasagam, vice-chancellor, University of Madras. Photo: K. Ananthan

Producing employable graduates is the key to solving the massive unemployment issue, says G. Thiruvasagam, vice-chancellor, University of Madras.

Education plays an indispensable role in the social and economic development of people and the nation at large and institutions of higher education provide ample opportunity for creation, dissemination and application of knowledge.

India has made appreciable progress with regard to creation of infrastructure for education, with 221 state universities, 24 central universities, 11 private universities, 114 institutions deemed to be universities, 13 institutions of National importance and 5 institutions established under state legislations (as on 16 August 2007) enrolling lakhs of students annually. But according to the recent economic survey of India, the unemployment rate is monstrous to say the least. There are more than 6 crore well-educated youth who are unemployed.

Employers have complained that they are unable to find required talent. In their drive to become world class, owing to the pressure of competition as a result of globalization, Indian industry finds a serious shortage of skills. A leading software company's experience in this context is quite interesting: in 2005-2006, the company screened 14 lakh applications of graduates, tested 1,64,000 applicants, interviewed 48,700 candidates and appointed only 21,000 that too for the purpose of undergoing training.There are apparent limitations in the present regular colleges since they look only at the traditional and the theoretical.

The gap between institutional input and industrial requirements can be filled only by inculcating two capabilities in students. The first is task performance capability focused on acquiring skills required by employers. The second involves building conceptual performance which is not job-related but behaviour-related. These can be obtained not from the curriculum but by application of knowledge through skills. Skills and knowledge are the engines of economic growth and social development.

Therefore, the need of the hour for the regular colleges is to ensure knowledge construction by designing employable curricula, knowledge dissemination through effective teaching, knowledge use by application of knowledge and knowledge embodiment by making the student as a needed product.

The higher education system has isolated itself from the ground reality and grooming young students in an artificial atmosphere. Students of different disciplines consider it as a taboo to even go beyond the confines of their respective department.

The Yash Pal Committee report on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education laments that what we have currently is a steel box of a system within which there are smaller boxes with no interaction with the outside or with each other. The report emphasizes the need for interdisciplinary experiences and this should help students sustain themselves “when the demands of a particular job market change.” It would mean that students would be exposed to multiple subjects under the aegis of one university or college.

The choice-based credit system (CBCS) — a fast-evolving system of delivering degree and postgraduate programmes in universities and colleges — is facilitating the process. This system believes in developing vocational skills among students. The prospect of including corporate experts in the boards of studies and assimilating inputs from industry is also not ruled out. The additional degree programme also strikes the right note, as it provides options for the student from one stream to qualify for another category based on the requirements of the employers.

Besides knowledge, students should pick up transferable skills and it should be incorporated in the curriculum . There was a time when a person would remain in one profession for a lifetime. Now a U.S. survey has shown that on an average a person changes at least 10 professions in his lifetime. Instead of preparing a career for life, we have to prepare for a life of careers.

There is no gainsaying the fact that universities are becoming aware of the broader need for transferable skills in academic and non-academic environments. According to a survey by European University Association (EUA), social and communication skills, management, creative thinking, capacity of dealing with complex and multidisciplinary work and team work are the core skills a student must possess.

``Making graduates and postgraduates more employable'' is the new `mantra' of educational administrators. Though the think-tank of the higher education system has taken a small step in the right direction, we have a long way to go. And an interdisciplinary approach would be essential to its success.

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