Why are so many young Indians unemployable and what's the way forward? A varsity boss explains

Research and industry voices have been drawing attention to a crisis in the Indian job market because of young graduates’ lack of skills. Rupamanjari Ghosh, vice-chancellor of Shiv Nadar University, spoke to Nandita Banerji about how to revitalise higher education, accelerate employability, and prepare for the future of work:

Why are so many young Indian graduates unemployable?
Business organisations today require fresh recruits who can hit the ground running. So training these graduates has to start inside higher education institutes. With the job market changing very fast in today’s world, many of the skills that were needed yesterday are not relevant today. Ongoing skill acquisition is critical for staying relevant in the industry, and to enable this, the key skill we need to impart to our students is that of critical thinking and creative problem-solving.

Universities may offer specialisations in tune with the needs of industries or research. But the very nature of higher education should be to drive rather than just respond to industry requirements. We have to understand that an engineer doesn’t just need to build a dam that is structurally and mechanically solid, he also needs to think of the environmental and economic impact. You cannot solve a problem if you don’t know the context of the problem.

How do you assess our higher education institutes?
The problem with higher education institutes in India is that they reward implementation, not original thinking. They focus on creating clones instead of original thinkers. Students in Indian institutions have traditionally studied subjects in silos as most of our higher education system does not allow for an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach to learning, which is often needed for real life problem-solving.

Students need to be generators of knowledge, not just consumers. India should aim for a net surplus of knowledge. Our system encourages passive learning by promoting a “degree college culture” where the learners are just bombarded with information that they are expected to memorise. Learning is not fun but has become a rote process.

How should the learning environment be improved?
Investment is required for resources and infrastructure. You can’t have shortcuts. Students need to participate in the learning to remember. Learning by doing has to exist, otherwise, after each exam, there is a delete button on what was learnt. Research should be encouraged, not just for PhD students and faculty, but also for undergraduate students.

The responsibility of learning is upon the student, but it is the task of the educators to facilitate that learning. Students need all the tools available to find their passion, which is rare, but if the student finds it, the chances of excelling are the highest. They need a flexibility during the learning process, along with supervision and mentoring, to be able to find that passion. The concept of university-wide electives can help with this. Choosing a combination of major and minor subjects can help with the exploration process.

Can a top-down approach work?
We need to start necessarily with a vision-oriented strategy, a top-down approach based on collective wisdom or national policies, and it has to merge with an inclusive, organic, bottom-up approach, which is stable.

We need to look at both the content and method of delivery in the degree programmes. There has been an over-emphasis on mastering the fundamentals and being safe but an under-emphasis on exploration-driven learning and learning from failures. The mode has to be student-centric, active or participatory so that they ‘learn by doing’. The most important element in this is quality faculty as facilitators of learning. To enable the faculty we of course need resources, and leadership has to be competent and professional.

What other tools do students need to be employable?
People spend a lot of time in packaging, though the content is more important. But communication is one tool you need to impart no matter what. You also need to be open to possibilities. Industry-ready should not be the only focus. If you are industry-ready today, you may be jobless tomorrow. You need to be prepared for critical and creative thinking. That is the skill you need to learn.

In what way will digitisation affect job prospects?
School, college and university knowledge can’t skirt the issue of livelihood. People are worried about ‘the future of work’ and how the digital world is going to take away jobs, from even the ‘smart’ ones. The livelihood issue that our country is facing, starting with the farmers, has to become a part of our education. We are producing graduates who cannot find jobs and livelihood today but are worrying about the future of work, which is based on a phobia for digitisation. This fear is also present with graduates who feel nervous that they will lose their jobs because of digitisation. But the goal of higher education cannot be to mimic robots. You have to find out what is essentially human that robots cannot do. We need to be ahead of the timestamp.


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