Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Apr 27, 2004
Industry & Economy
Role of businesses in education
AT a recent seminar, SNDT University's Vice-Chancellor Ms Rupa Shah pointed out that a graduate, when takes up a job, needs a further grinding of some three months before he is ready to take up his functions.
"Why can't we make him a finished product first?" By flipping the question around, why can't we ask instead: is the world of business and industry getting involved in helping the academia send out well prepared students?
From the perch of a college teacher, I appreciate the inadequacies of the system, dogged by unmet demand for seats, poor facilities including below par teaching in many institutions. Colleges are flooded by students whose intellectual capacities may not find fruition simply because facilities are lacking not enough journals, not enough classrooms, and not enough interested teachers. It often appears to be a system that is plodding on with no ray of hope because funding has become scarce.
Therefore, involvement of business and industry becomes pertinent to salvage a system that is going to waste. It is in the interest of these sectors to help improve and sustain the educational system that can constantly keep pace with the changing demands of time on the march. Or else, the country would have to be content with economic graduates who cannot analyse a State budget or a commerce student who cannot file his own Income-Tax returns when begins to earn.
Therefore, if businesses and industry do not want to set up full-fledged institutions themselves, they can find a valid and beneficial role for themselves in aiding a burdened and weakened educational system which is now more a formality than meet a well set out requirement of the society. Private sector investment, through the medium of political entrepreneurs and their so-called public trusts has been substantial but not all of them have come up to the expectations on the quality yardstick in the institutions they run for profit. Quality has not been the forte of many of these presumed non-profit endeavours, which are actually money-making entities. If the industry knows what it wants as quality manpower, it should get involved. And the involvement should be more than the typical `adoption' by the Rotary Clubs for an one-time event.
It is troubling to see students entering colleges to earn degrees, which have little to do with their ambitions limited by their circumstances. Should the system expand like it has, with numbers weighing it down instead of making it purposeful?
For instances, why should a youngster who wants to make a living, for whatever reasons, by waiting for tables at the McDonalds' seek a graduate degree when a school certificate with appropriate skills suffice? That can help deploy resources more usefully instead of making colleges `factories.' Business and industry should set the agenda because the existing system is caught up in itself to even introspect, leave alone seek changes. And when did we last hear of the so-called, much touted `vocational system'? Not in the past few years.
So far, it would appear industry and business' involvement has been limited to harvesting the best output from the educational institutions. Their involvement in keeping the quality of education, commendable as it is, is limited to the IIMs and IITs, and the manner in which the corporate honchos got into the act to protect the institutions from encroachment by the Human Resources Development Ministry is well known.
Their involvement, not merely in supervisory functions as being members of the governing bodies but in setting up or supplementing the efforts of existing institutions that are on the lower steps of the ladder would be useful.
Seldom, if at all, do we come across instances of Indian corporates setting up R&D units in universities or major colleges. They may perhaps be constrained by the rigmarole imposed on them by bureaucratic outlook and functioning of these institutions but could they look at the prospect of financing research relevant to their interests in these colleges?
There is so much to be done but there has to be a start somewhere. Funding events and festivals in colleges where the focus of activity is networking among students is only a PR effort, not touching upon the issue we are dealing with: preparing better students and benefiting from improvement in education.
In the entire spectrum of education facilities, from schools to institutions of higher and professional learning thankfully, at the top end, they do exist one missing element amidst the enormous number is quality. In a country, which does not spend enough on education the attention to the critical primary education in the public sector itself is appalling. There are horror stories emanating from the rural areas where students of a 4th standard cannot write his own name; such stories, more horrifyingly, also emanate from `evolved' Mumbai's municipal schools as well. These schools are now emptying out, indicating the quest for quality.
That quality, experience has shown, has not been built up yet by these institutions and at all levels, involvement from those who can spend is called for. Shouldn't computer and software companies worry about the future because if there is such illiteracy among students, how will they operate the computer keyboards?
Perhaps, donating blackboards, which are missing in schools, may make better sense as an investment than doling out computers to bridge the digital divide. That would be investment in building basic skills upon which the future can be built. If nothing else, enlightened self-interest should drive the corporate investment in the educational sector. Human resource, as for the country, is of tremendous value to them as well. Investment in education offers maximum returns in the long term.
Contribution can be in many ways. One can be in keeping the syllabi updated because the academia is cloistered and far removed from the current relevant issues, which again has because of abysmally low level of industry-academia interaction.
Another can be by deputing industry representatives to spend time and teach in colleges. The IITs do this by having their pick the best from industry who come in and teach as Adjunct Professors. A more relevant method would be fuller involvement by picking up ordinary institutions and turning them around so that we seed the country with more clones of IITs and IIMs, but in other disciplines.
A happy instance is the way the workers of Seimens adopted a school, gifted computers to it and trained the students in their use. If employees can do this, the scope for the corporates is big. The industry and businesses need to put on their thinking caps and come out with their own unique solutions.
Picture by Vivek Bendre
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