There can be no two opinions on the imperative to train college students in skills to enhance their employment prospects. The fact that such an arrangement is virtually non-existent is suggestive of the short shrift accorded to skills as part of the curriculum. And yet the Centre’s plan of action, as unveiled  by the HRD minister, indeed to make such training compulsory has no indication that it has been studiously thought through. The initiative ought to go beyond a cut-and-paste endeavour, at best a rough-and-ready exercise and at worst a superficial course correction that leaves a bevy of questions unanswered. Prakash Javadekar’s blueprint seems riveted to the time to be spent on learning skills, notably 1,000 hours during the under-graduate years… the ratio being 250 hours on training in what he calls “soft skills”, 250 hours on “information communication technology”, and 500 hours on two other skill courses.

For the benefit of the teachers and the taught, he ought to have been more explicit on so critical an introduction, not least on whether the overarching entity called the University Grants Commision and the campus authorities have been taken into confidence. Or, as seems likely, is it a purely bureaucratic imprimatur on the affiliated colleges? There is little doubt that students will benefit if the plan is properly executed. That said, the agenda needs to go beyond words; the concept of “soft skills”, for example, remains fogbound. Also to be clarified is whether the time to be devoted to the proposed job-oriented courses will undercut the pursuit of under-graduate studies, both honours and general, as feared by the academic circuit.

Nor for that matter is it clear whether the training programme will cover students of both categories or will be restricted to the general stream. The date of introduction has also been left delightfully vague. The conclusion is therefore  inescapable that as of now, it is a half-baked scheme that, at least theoretically, is intended to influence the choice of careers. If paved with noble intent, the scheme will have to countenance the red herrings across the trail in the absence of incisive planning. It is hard not to wonder whether the appropriate faculties will be in place.

For neither the students nor the teachers nor the university officials have as yet been consulted. The plan is said to have been  spelt out in the salubrious ambience of Mussoorie. Arguably, vocational training is best imparted in professional institutions, such as recognised polytechnics  rather than colleges that impart instruction in conventional courses ~ humanities, science, and commerce. This makes it imperative for professional institutions, focussed on training in skills, to be suitably expanded.