February 21, 2020
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‘We Are Making Higher Education More Skill-Centric’

UGC chairman D.P Singh tells Outlook why most youths aren't job-ready, and what steps has the statutory body taken to improve the quality of higher education.

‘We Are Making Higher Education More Skill-Centric’
Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari
‘We Are Making Higher Education More Skill-Centric’

Out from college, most youths aren’t job-ready or strong in entrepreneurial skills. University Grants Commission chairman D.P. Singh tells Lola Nayar about the steps taken by the statutory body to improve the qua­lity of higher education institutions and make them more vocation-oriented. Excerpts:

At a lecture meet recently in Chennai, Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy had voiced concerns about a talent crunch in the country imp­acting youth and in turn entrepreneurship. What is the UGC proposing to promote innovation and entrepreneurship?

The issue Murthy points out is very important, especially at this juncture. Yes, we should prepare our students more to improve their employability, particularly help them turn entrepreneurs. When we talk about entrepreneurship, it involves niche competency, skills and behaviour, which require the learner or student to have risk-taking abilities, to know the job market and also the potential for employment. The person must also know his/her hidden potentials to be able to enter into new ventures—and not only make themselves employable, but also provide others jobs.

Is adequate thrust being given to promoting vocational education? Which are the vocational/professional courses finding most takers among students and employers?

Recently, the government has taken several initiati­ves. In line with that, the UGC has taken certain initiatives regarding skill orientation and vocational orientation to the whole higher education system. We have schemes like community colleges and, in the higher education institutions, the Deen Dayal Kaushal Vikas Kendra for promoting skill-based education. The UGC has already started the BVoc (Bachelor of Vocational) programme, which is totally vocational. We also have masters of vocational programme and also PhD programmes in vocational education. This is a line focused on vocational education that emphasises on development of skills and to make students more job-ready or improve their employability.

Another dimension is to make general higher education more skill-orientated. It means students of BA, BCom or BSc have the option to simultaneously pursue an add-on vocational course from among a bunch of such skill-oriented courses. If the student pursues any of these courses for one year, he or she will get a certificate. If it’s for two years, you get a diploma. After three years, you complete an advanced diploma along with the degree course. These additional vocational skills make the student more job-worthy.

Being recent initiatives we have to still gather data on the placement of these students. So far, the UGC has approved162 institutions for offering BVoc degrees. A total of 19,050 students have enrolled for vocational courses in 103 trades being offered. In addition, 199 institutions under the scheme of community colleges are running courses in 83 trades of various industrial sectors. We have approved the intake of 15,550 students for these courses. In addition, we have the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Centres for Knowledge Acquisition and Upgradation of Skilled Human Abilities and Livelihood or Kaushal. It’s a Government of India scheme under which the UGC has permitted 63 centres for advanced level of skilling and research this year. As far as the courses go, they vary from place to place with local factors: like, job potential in nearby areas playing an important role. So, institutions are given the discretion to select courses to offer students.

There was talk of granting degrees and not just certification or diplomas to students opting to pursue vocational training in ITIs depending on the duration of the course. Has there been any forward movement in this regard?

Yes, there has been some progress with regards to the ITIs, which offer skills at a lower level. The real movement, though, has been at a higher level, with degrees being offered at graduation, masters and doctoral levels. The UGC is in dialogue with the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship as well on how total higher education can be given a vocational orientation. In the shortest possible time, we hope to come up with workable solutions.

Studies over the years have highlighted that not even half the students who pass professional courses are job-ready. How is the UGC planning to improve standards of universities under its umbrella? News reports have mentioned that the UGC is planning to come out with a to-do list for varsities.

The UGC is a regulatory mechanism. We provide standards and guidelines on how to raise and maintain standards. That is our job, but the actual implementers are the higher-education institutes. I would appeal to them—whether universities or colleges—to run these courses because they are geared towards national development and ways to increase productivity as a nation. Ultimately, we need to provide our students with skills, and equip them in a way that they are able to not only get jobs, but are also able to provide quality services and products through their knowledge and skills. As I told you, we are in interaction with the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship to give a more vocational orientation to higher education. We hope to execute these programmes in a more focused manner.

Is there going to be any review of the performance of these universities?

We always do that. Whatever scheme the UGC or the government launches, we do their periodical review, as we provide them funds. So, after a period of time, we ask the institutions to give us report on what they have achieved in terms of targets and how those targets are going to help the potential employers also in terms of employability, in terms of skills and the various requirements of the industry.

Any institution that is given autonomy brings along with it accountability, sense of responsibility and belonging. The aim is to see they perform well through a total process of teaching.

Various colleges and universities have complained about lack of freedom in designing courses and curri­cula. What is the UGC’s views on autonomy? Does it improve learning outcomes and selection of courses and syllabus design?

Autonomy has to be understood well. Any institution that is given autonomy brings along with it accountability and a larger sense of responsibility besides a sense of belonging. Autonomy doesn’t mean freedom. It means facilitating the institution to design their own courses, select them, go for innovative teaching and learning processes. There is a full set of academic freedom. The purpose of autonomy is to help institutions of higher learning to perform well, to bring in quality and excellence through the total process of teaching and educational governance.

The UGC has come out with two regulations that are very important, as they will have far-reaching impact. One is rela­ted to the graded autonomy. Now, the universities have been categorised into three categories. The high-performing ones are being given a set of facilitations in terms of autonomy, allowing them to decide several things on their own according to the grading. The category three among universities and colleges are those that have potential; so the UGC role will be more of regulatory. The whole purpose is to encourage a more competitive environment in terms of performance and help them showcase it in the future.

The second regulation is related to giving autonomous status to the colleges to help them perform better and to be able to address certain governance-related issues at their level.

How do government institutions compare with the private ones, particularly the corporate-run? How far does availability of funding affect the outcomes of institutions?

In the last decade, several good universities, particularly the private, are taking interest in education, functioning and showing results. On the basis of that they get certain benefit, too. Their performance is reflected in the increased involvement of students. The way they develop their institution’s profile is helping them attract talent—also in terms of students and faculty, and also retain them. It has been proved that investment in quality and excellence by private players also pays in the long run.

As very few of our institutions rank among the top 200 or 500 global universities, the ministry of HRD has come out with a scheme (Institutions of Eminence) that will identify 10 public-funded universities (central or state) and as many private. The government, through the UGC, plans to allocate Rs 1,000 crore for five years to each of the 10 public-funded varsities to be identified by an expert panel. These universities will have full functional autonomy. The sole objective of this scheme is to enhance the quality and standard of the universities/institutions to be on par with the world’s best universities.

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