Q. How is your journey from a civil engineer to an Edtech Advisor?
Exciting to say the least- Have been fortunate to have studied under some of the best academicians and teachers at some of the best schools and institutes in Delhi and Bangalore. Joining the corporate world and interviewing other recent graduates for employment made me realise that a lot needs to be done in transforming the higher education sector – and thus Edtech became a sector of choice as a consultant.
Q. Leading the Education SectorAdvisory team at EY, what are the major challenges you see in terms of global academic curriculum and its Indian counterpart?
Best Global curriculum focus on building an inquisitive culture that focuses on people to think and appreciate various social and economic circumstances, unfortunately for a large part of the Indian education system – the curriculum is not updated to the needs of the industry or the learner. Most Indian graduates – almost 85% of all- study in the bachelor’s stream in the humanities and science – with curriculums and faculty who have absolutely no industry experience, and thus there is no practical alignment of the education to what the economy needs. While some of the new universities are trying to address this gap with Indianisation of global curriculum – a majority of old universities still lag behind.
Q. What’s your take the effect of no deal BRExit on higher education in India?
There are 2 aspects to it:
- Student Mobility: Students who would want to study in the UK – this number would increase substantially as the UK universities would like to gain more international students to fill in the gap by EU zone students.
- Research Funding: The funding that UK universities used to get from EU (like the horizon or the Erasmus program) may be jeopardised, and there would be a need for enhanced collaboration by the research focused universities in the UK. We have seen some of the Indian HEI reaching out to the UK universities, and tying up, and this trend seems to enhance further. Thus a no-deal Brexit would improve Indian higher education’s exposure and integration with the UK universities.
Q. Recent AICTE rule of evaluating teachers based on student’s feedback, how much do you think it will work in India?
It surely is a good idea – however, the major challenge with the Indian higher education system is not with ideation – but with the implementation. The proof is in the pudding and the rigour of implementation would really define if this is a progressive idea or does this only remain a paper exercise.
If you see, a lot of universities, especially in the private sector, already have student feedback mechanism however, what we have seen is that there is almost never any action taken on the feedback. On the other hand, the results are lead to mistrust between the student and the faculty. Let’s hope these regulations get implemented in the earnest and a transparent manner in terms of what gets measured, periodicity of measurement and the closure of the feedback.
Do you think corporate companies accept candidates who have completed the degree from companies like Khan Academy, Coursera and Udacity?
These online portals do not offer degrees – but a completion certificate. Most companies in India still keep the minimum criteria as a university degree or diploma to shortlist – and these online certifications become differentiators at a later stage of candidate evaluation. Globally this is changing – for example, EY and PwC in the UK now do not ask for a university completion certificate – they ask for specific skillsets which could be obtained from a university or an online portal.
Q. What kind of policy redesigning needed in India in terms of approving new specialization courses without checking the industry demands?
We need to have a strong demand – supply matching at a regional level at least. India is a large country and there is a lot of regional diversity in terms of industry demand – for example – south and NCR regions have a huge demand of IT/ITeS sector jobs, while Mumbai has a large BFSI industry demand.
However, the big challenge remains the quality of demand data – there has been the talk of developing a Labour Market Information system (LMIS) by the government for almost a decade now – but there has been no action on the ground. In the absence of clear data projections about what the industry needs – the approval process relies on gut feel and qualitative inputs – and this may further skew the seats in over supplied courses like engineering and dental students. The colleges also need to think- who would teach the program (do I have the right qualified faculty for the program), infrastructure (labs etc.), differentiating the curriculum, and who would provide the jobs to my graduates (industry voice).
We at EY undertake demand studies for new programs for a lot of universities -chalking out who are my target students, industry partners, faculty requirements and potential fee points.
Most private universities – almost 80% plus are purely a degree award machine with limited or no investments in teaching, good faculty or basic infrastructure
Q. Where do still lag in higher education and what steps EY is undertaking to overcome it in terms of CSR or any other policy reform with Govt?
In my view, there are three major challenges dragging the HE system in India –
- We need a more agile education system – new programs that are aligned to the realities of today based new age skills – data analytics, problem-solving and AI. As EY, we work with multiple new age education providers in market scans and new course development – including linkages with the industry and global academic networks. We have worked with some of the interesting technology providers who have developed innovative solutions for the HE providers that improve the learning experience at a fraction of conventional costs.
- We are a diverse country and we cannot have one size fit all education system – not every student needs the same kind of learning, not every university needs to be the same – EY with FICCI has developed a vision of differentiated higher education system – looking at a 3 pronged HE system – research-oriented institutes which focus on research, career focussed institutes – that prepare professional for the workforce and the base institutes – which provide good quality base education for the masses. If we don’t do this – we are building redundancies in the system and making the system inefficient. These institutes require different regulatory environments and very different FSR, rules around international collaborations, research funding and student application processes. Today, we expect the faculty in a college in a tier 3 city to do research – he/she is already overburdened with teaching responsibilities, may lack the right infrastructure for research like a library and online resources, and does not have the research mindset. We, as a regulator, should be happy if he/she is a good teacher and delivers the teaching workload properly.
- The third important factor is governance and funding of the sector – the government is the big elephant here. They provide most of the funding to the sector – but a large part of it is towards the public sector universities and colleges – and further, a large part goes into salary and pension costs. The lack of transparency in funding has led to shady governance systems in the sector – colleges charging capitation, flexible entry criteria and lack of investments in the teaching ecosystem. Most private universities – almost 80% plus (leaving out a few good ones) are purely a degree award machine with limited or no investments in teaching, good faculty or basic infrastructure. There is no industry and social integration – and still, they charge a hefty fee.
Q. Recently IBM chief Ginni Rometty commented, “Skill gaps affecting Indians’ prospects in tech jobs.” What’s your take on this?
This is not a new remark – there have been World Bank and aspiring minds reports that have highlighted the fact multiple times in the past as well. This seems to the lack of industry connected programs. The technical colleges teach students only in the classroom – as per a recent survey – less than 8% of all faculty members have any kind of industry experience. There were no investments in the quality of education and promoters of many colleges do not understand the need for soft infrastructure.
However, a huge market correction is in place now – engineering colleges are shutting down in droves – and mostly these are colleges which did not have the right ingredients of a quality higher education system – faculty, industry connect, governance and funding and with competition among colleges heating up. HEI would have to innovate and invest in improving outcomes hopefully we would have a more mature technical education system in place post this market correction by including things like critical thinking, problem-solving and soft skills in the education delivery system. Today, we work with a lot of universities and professional colleges to improve the quality of outcomes and graduate employability – and most of these have shown results. However – the biggest push for filling in the skill gaps is not from outside – it’s driven by the promoter group.
Your suggestion for newbies edtech startup?
The current education system in the country is woefully lacking innovation – Edtechstartups have the opportunity to fill in this void in a big way. Education and health are two sectors in India where people don’t think twice before paying a fee if they see the value. It’s important to focus on the innovations and solution than raising angel and PE funds – if you get the right traction in the space – funding is never an issue. But if your only USP is funding with a me-too product, then you would continue to look for funds to keep afloat. On the other hand, if you can develop a product with the right value proposition – parents and learners are willing to pay for the product and help you scale up.