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Looking at a system in flux

Paushali Bhattacharya |

From whichever angle you look at the bigger picture, higher education has become a competitive enterprise. Too many students everywhere compete for too few places in universities and getting into the top institutions wherever has become more difficult, what with universities competing for status and ranking and even funding from government and/or private sources. Professor RSS Mani, founder-member of the Institute of Technology and Management group, involves himself in advising several blue chip companies and business schools in Mumbai and other metros and is no less committed to helping the economically backward attain formal education. He shares insight on the importance of the changing trends and how students will benefit. Excerpts:

What major changes have there been in the higher education sector over the past two decades?

First, with more and more aspirants opting for higher education, the number of women has multiplied. Second, there is a rising demand for Master&’s level courses in different areas of specialisation. Where once many students would have been satisfied with a graduation degree, they have now started looking at the post-graduation level in a big way. Third, there has been a tremendous demand for MBA studies. There is still a lot of prestige attached to completing an MBA and so vocational degrees are seen as only a means to getting a seat in a business school. Finally, the latest trend involves online technology and distance learning — the college is coming to the student instead of the other way round.

How would you corelate academic qualifications with actual salaries and job promotions?

Certain jobs demand certain specialisations and qualifications. A person with a special kind of skill will always be in demand and paid better whereas certain other jobs may not require such qualifications or specialisations. Then, it is sufficient to do a lower level degree but the payment is also on the lesser side. For example, a student with a diploma in electronics will end up doing only computer repairing. But a student with a BTech in computer engineering can migrate into designing because of a more robust concept and knowledge base. Hence, according to the hierarchy of salary and opportunities, students with higher level degrees will be benefitted. I believe a professional qualification plays a significant role in career progression and remuneration. In some cases there are brilliantly qualified people who are not able to deliver on the job and therefore don’t get the progression they desire. One also finds under-qualified people who are excellent at their jobs and hence, get faster promotions.

Why do top students of the country go abroad for higher education?

Top students in the country are travelling abroad because they find that life there is more systematic, the facilities and infrastructure available are far more superior, and the whole experience is much more comfortable than in India. At least, this is the basic premise. Here, one is inevitably stuck with all kinds of bureaucratic red tape, reservations, rampant corruption and shoddy facilities. So students are going abroad to live a much more comfortable life and not necessarily because the quality of education is much better than in India. The fundamental principal in education is if one wants to work in a particular country, one must do the terminal degree in that country. For instance, if one wants to work with an engineering company in Australia then it&’s better to study for an engineering degree in Australia. Qualifications are not usually valid across countries and at times are non-transferrable because each country has its own education system and norms. If a student wants to work as an engineer in India then there is no point of getting an engineering degree from Australia. Therefore, students travel abroad for a better lifestyle but not necessarily for better educational institutions.

How do private universities stack up in comparison with state-run ones?

While state-run universities have been in India for ages, the private ones have only come up over the last five or six years. The biggest advantages of a private university is the flexibility in developing course curricula, making subjects more industry relevant and the speed of decision making. State universities have been in existence for many years and therefore have built a strong reputation and brand name. Basically there can’t be comparisons as there are pros and cons to both. The challenge now is for state universities to learn from their private counterparts when it comes to the ability to innovate and come up with newer curricula. On the other hand, private universities have to learn to be consistent in the delivery of high quality education to large volumes of students and the capacity to exist for a long period of time from state universities. Though past experience in the few private universities have not been that successful in India, things are better now and some private universities are quite robust.

What&’s your take on tie-ups with international universities? Can they deliver quality akin to that in their native countries?

According to me, the delivery is not the same and studying in the parent university does have its own advantages. The primary plus points are the faculty and available academic resources there. The goal is to bring world class education in multiple locations by trying to stimulate a similar experience but the experience one gets in the parent location is certainly far more superior. Tie-ups can perhaps help to an extent when it comes to visiting faculty from the parent university or opportunities for student and faculty exchange programmes. Thus, it could be a good photocopy of the original but cannot ever substitute for the same experience there.

What&’s your take on the hire-and-fire policy that some companies practice?

I would say that if an employee is not able to deliver enough because he lacks capability and competence, one should train the person to improve. If it&’s a matter of attitude where an employee is not performing well, then an employer should counsel him/her and warn him/her about non-performance. Having said that, I would not like to keep an employee indefinitely if he/she fails to lend value to the organisation. But every employee should be given a chance to grow in the organisation and add skills to core competencies.