Oh, for quality education

The future beckons. The Indian economy is growing rapidly and Indian companies are establishing global reputations as innovators in diverse fields from information technology to biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. However, a World Bank study published last year pointed out that India’s demand for highly educated, skilled workers was already outstripping supply. While the country would need 2.3 million knowledge professionals by 2010, it could face a deficit of up to 0.5 million workers. Moreover, the number of professionals engaged in research and development per million population in India compares poorly not just with the developed nations but also with developing countries, notably China, Brazil, and Mexico. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly called for “a new revolution in modern education.” Inaugurating this year’s Indian Science Congress at Visakhapatnam, he emphasised the need for “a quantum jump in science education and research.” The Eleventh Five Year Plan, which he described as “a National Education Plan,” would see an unprecedented five-fold increase in spending on education in nominal terms. The government would fund the setting up of new central universities, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, IITs, IIMs as well as Indian Institutes of Information Technology. A mission for vocational training would be launched and the science and technology base in universities strengthened. There would be attractive scholarships for school students and for talented youth enrolling in B.Sc. and M.Sc. courses.

As a leading Indian scientist pointed out in an article in The Hindu recently, in terms of sheer numbers there is no dearth of technical manpower in the country. India has nearly nine million science graduates, two million post-graduates, and 100,000 people with Ph.D. qualifications. Every year, two million students enrol for science degrees and another 700,000 for engineering. But as the scientist noted, the IT giants are hiring thousands of graduates from abroad while two million science graduates are registered at the country’s employment exchanges. The World Bank study estimates that only 10 per cent to 25 per cent of general college graduates are ‘suitable’ for employment. The key issue is ensuring quality education. Over many years, colleges and universities have just not got the support they deserved to produce the right kind of human resource. The universities, in particular, instead of developing into vibrant centres of high-quality education and research able to attract both good faculty and students, have become largely moribund. Overcoming this malady must be given a higher national priority than setting up new institutions.