July 28, 2020
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Doc, Ed Or Chef?

Engineering and medicine still rule. But many top-scorers are looking at areas like hotel management, media, fashion, healthcare. The definitive annual Outlook-Cfore college survey.

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Doc, Ed Or Chef?
Swapan Nayak
Doc, Ed Or Chef?

It's the month of June, and apart from the monsoons, this is the season of school results and college admissions. This year's class XII results have been excellent, with a record number of students scoring over 90 per cent. On the flip side, it implies that competition for entry into professional institutes will be intense. Many students will feel bad that they couldn't get admission into their preferred colleges. But all is not lost for them. The second annual Outlook-Cfore ranking of professional colleges will help them seek out other attractive options. It will enable them to choose another college that is as good as the one they couldn't get into. In addition, it will make them aware of other professions that offer great prospects in the near future.

Over the past two decades, several new trends have emerged in the professional education segment. One, although elite institutes like the IITs in engineering and AIIMS in medicine are ahead of the rest of the pack, they are slowly losing their exclusive sheen. A few private colleges are catching up with them fast. Privatisation is helping quality education, but only to an extent. There is still a huge gap between the good, bad, and inevitably, the ugly.

There are great variations amongst the different institutes within a sector too. Among engineering colleges, IIT Kharagpur represents one end of the spectrum. Its faculty of 500, all of them PhDs, has published about 1,400 papers in reputed journals in the last 12 months and hold 90 patents. With Rs 72 crore annual revenues, it tops the list in terms of income earned from consultancy and sponsored research. At the other end are colleges whose research output is non-existent. If we leave out the IITs and private institutes like the Birla Institutes of Technology and Science (BITS) in Pilani and Mesra, there are hardly any publications in foreign journals or patents or revenues through consultancy by college faculties. When it comes to placements, the IITs, BITS Pilani and the Delhi College of Engineering are far ahead. The maximum salary offered in these institutes for Indian jobs was Rs 24 lakh. While the average salary in top-ranked colleges was Rs 5-6 lakh per annum, the figure for others was Rs 2 lakh.

In medical colleges too, many of them don't meet the minimum specifications-- intellectual capital or infrastructure-- fixed by the Medical Council of India (MCI). At the same time, India has world-class institutes like AIIMS, with a permanent faculty strength of 543, which published 1,220 research papers last year. What's important is that the clinical exposure in AIIMS is unmatched, as its adjoining 1,803-bed hospital treats 3.5 million patients every year.

Another major trend is that many top-scoring students are deliberately opting for professional courses like healthcare, hotel management, fashion technology and mass communication. Experts are predicting a huge demand-supply gap in terms of manpower in these sectors. A recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers report estimates that the Rs 43,700-crore media and entertainment sector is poised for a cumulative growth of 18 per cent over the next five years and will be a Rs 1,00,000-crore market by 2011. The fashion industry is expected to grow over five times to Rs 1,000 crore over the next 5-10 years. Healthcare, already a Rs 1,00,000-crore sector, is growing at 13 per cent. Reforms and high growth rates have opened up new opportunities in many sunrise sectors. This is why we have ranked institutes in areas like law, fashion technology and mass communications. But this year's ranking is based on subjective perception-- we will consider objective parameters next year.

But the ranking of engineering and medical colleges is based on objective factors. So, the ranking of some institutes may not be in sync with their existing brand image. This survey gives the highest weightage, 60 per cent, to objective parameters, and only 40 per cent for the perceptual ones.

Among the objective data are research output of an institute, infrastructure and placements. Although for students, placement is probably the most important parameter, our methodology gives significant weightage to others like pedagogic systems and processes. If a faculty is loaded with teaching, not given incentives for research, not encouraged to attend seminars and conferences, it is unlikely to contribute to the intellectual capital of the institute.

Another trend relates to the changing attitudes of the students. In the 1980s, an engineer would opt for an MBA to augment his potential salary and status. Or a lawyer would go in for some sort of a specialisation, say intellectual property rights. But the reforms children think and behave differently. They are the new risk-takers, who have no qualms about not just jumping jobs, but even hopping across sectors. Even the corporate sector has changed its rigid mindset.

For instance, the survey found that several hotel management graduates were hired by other services segments like call centres, airlines, banks, multiplexes, shopping malls and cruise ships. A few MNCs recruited them for customer relations. Apart from hospitals, healthcare professionals were employed by NGOs, health insurance firms, third-party administrators and software companies which provide technical support to hospitals. And lawyers have been recruited by the corporate world in the era of strategic alliances, joint ventures, and mergers and acquisitions.

The fallout of these trends is the concerns about the quality of the institutes and their faculty. Of the over 100 universities that offer mass communication courses, most focus on journalism, which has led to an acute shortage of skills in managing critical functions like operations, advertisement sales and media planning. Most of the autonomous institutes-- mainly in the private sector--are substandard. Several institutes, says N. Bhaskar Rao of the Centre for Media studies, are 'shops', and their curriculum isn't tailored to meet the necessary requirements. In fashion technology, only the government-run institutes are the torch-bearers of quality.

Faculty crunch is largely due to lower payscales, which deters a majority of doctors or engineers from opting for teaching. Says Shakti Kumar Gupta, medical superintendent, AIIMS, "Though the calling for the faculty is not money, there is a great divide between the earnings of teachers and those who choose to practice in private hospitals. The offers in the private sector are too tempting to resist." One of his colleagues who left AIIMS and joined a private hospital earns about Rs 3.5 crore a year, or 50 times the remuneration of a senior faculty in AIIMS.

That is bad news for the colleges, but a great one for students. The new-age economy has arrived, with its own set of challenges, and choices. Whether you become an engineer, doctor, lawyer, or fashion designer, use the available information, give priority to your aptitude and interest, listen to your inner voice, and make your move. It'll be the right one.

(The author is head of Cfore, a market research firm)

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