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Higher Educational Reforms for Enhancing

Youth Employment Opportunity in India

Tirthajyoti Sarkar
Ph.D. student, University of Illinois at Chicago

Citizenship: Indian

2007 CIPE International Essay Competition
Essay category: Educational Reform and Employment Opportunities

Noteworthy point is that. These young people. today’s youth find themselves in an era. Most critical issues for youth development are poverty. are more intrinsically tied-up with and can have stronger influence on the youth employment opportunities than ever before.1 billion and the world is very close to reach the peak of historically highest youth population (Lam. as expected from a complete education. stemmed from waves of cultural and economic globalization. health practices. Educational reforms. The complex inter-relation between educational policies. 2003). pedagogical methodologies and job/labor market dynamics. currently young people between ages 15-24 constitute 18 percent of world’s population at 1. which has 540 million people under the age of 25 and nearly 200 million between 15-25 years of age. which are worth analyzing for identifying decisive pathways for the development of today’s youth. education. juvenile delinquency etc (World Youth Report. In recent years . face unprecedented challenges in their capacity to access public resources and family resources. Introduction According to the projection of the United Nations Population Division. social responsibilities and good citizenship. gender biases. especially in developing countries. across the globe. where higher education system has not been able to realize sufficient ‘value addition’ in terms of enhancing the employability in the new age labor market. Even more pertinent issue is that. presents us with many interesting facets. The tale of ‘incredible India’ A significant portion of the world’s total youth population lives in India. “higher education is no longer a luxury. therefore. where for the first time in the modern civilization. purely economic value of higher education has reached an unprecedented proportion. while numbers and analyses show that the standard and accessibility of elementary and primary education have improved for most of the developing countries for the last two decades yet that success story has not led to a consequential fruition. especially in developing countries. therefore. in terms of enhancing the employment opportunity or poverty reduction through self-reliance for today’s youth. According to UNESCO. it is essential to national. 2007). where the population density and growth is also highest. employment. who are going to be the primary labor force of tomorrow’s world. Demand of skilled workers in the knowledge economy has created hindrance for a large portion of world youth. social and economic development”.

the share of unemployment increases as the average educational level goes up (Agarwal. 2007). 52% in UK. 11. • Largest percentage of unemployed population in India is educated youth.(primarily after the liberalization of economy around 1991) the growth story of India has been colored with the shade of a near-fantasy tale. • Gross enrollment percentage of youth in higher education is 7%.1% in all Asia. (Source: World Youth Report.3% in all developing countries (Agarwal. Almost 95% of newly created jobs are still in unorganized sectors. science-educated skilled labor force’ around your morning breakfast. • 84. . ‘booming IT sector’. • 44 million of Indian youth is under-nourished (again. evening tea. and weekend party? I am not surprised that you have. I just wonder whether you also have heard about some lesser known facts which are summarized as following. launch recess. 45% in Japan. highest in the world) which is 23% of the total youth population (Source: World Youth Report. 2003).5 million (highest in the world) young people lives under ‘extreme poverty line’ (less than US $1 per day) in India. That is 44. Most intriguingly. in stark contrast to the OECD countries. Have you heard the buzzwords with regard to India ‘burgeoning young middle-class population’. 90 India 80 Nigeria Congo 70 60 50 Vietnam 40 China Pakistan Ethiopia Bangladesh 30 Mexico 20 Brazil Indonesia 10 0 # of youth in extreme poverty (mn) Percentage of total youth population Figure 1: Number and percentage of youth under extreme poverty line. 2003). 2007).2 % of total youth population. even 10. or ‘vast pool of English speaking. • Organized job sector is appallingly low at less than 5-6%. as compared to 92% in US.

after the liberalization process started. industrial houses. Kalam presented a vision of 2020 India as a developed nation. 40 Percentage of unemployment 35 More than 30 12 years 9-10 years 25 6-8 years 20 1-5 years 11-12 years 15 10 0 years 5 0 Male Female Total Figure 3: Unemployment percentage variation with education level in India. society. However. and education would be easily accessible to a billion plus population. In a recent address to the Singapore intelligentsia. literacy rates are going up. government. 100 USA Canada 90 Australia Gross enrolment ration in 80 South Korea higher education 70 Developed 60 nations UK Japan 50 40 30 Developing Less World developed nations 20 Asia China India nations Africa 10 0 Figure 2: Gross enrolment ratio in higher education in various countries.J.P. Indian economy is growing fast. policy makers. Undoubtedly. today’s youth has the tremendous responsibility of transforming that vision into reality. energy. food. But there are still atrocious gaps between the reality and those noble goals. where quality healthcare. water. A. As the primary work force of ‘tomorrow’s India’. Indian president Dr. employment opportunities are increasing. educational institutions also have reciprocating responsibilities of empowering the youth population towards . elementary education has spread to masses.

is the higher unemployment rate among high-educated youth and young people in urban areas. a potato farmer.J. for last five generations. however.2%) as compared to industry (17. Clearly. Probably.their full potential. which is actually a common trend for most of the nations in the world. and the inter-relation with employment market is of paramount importance. Most likely. For example. the lingering question: “Does it eradicate the poverty or alleviate the millions of poor farmers or agricultural service workers across the country from poor living conditions?” In his Vision 2020 plan.8%) or Brazil (11. A. There is apparently nothing wrong with this model.2%) than European Union (9. Educational reform For proposing a pathway of meaningful educational reform. their implications. Probably. According to a 2004-2005 statistics (Agarwal. The alarming trend for India. in a remote village of India. the same reason can be cited for explaining the incidence of the lowest unemployment rate among young people without any formal education or with bare minimum elementary education. then drop out. The rate of unemployment among youth is quite larger than the overall national unemployment rate. nonetheless happy with his ability to read notices and bills (written in regional language) and do basic arithmetic necessary for rudimentary book-keeping. however. and join him in the agricultural occupation. Keeping pace with the demand of globalized economy with shifting focus on knowledge-workers and skilled manpower . developed and developing countries alike. The lower youth unemployment in rural areas can be explained in terms of the largest labor share in agriculture (59. 2007). India has overall lower unemployment rate (9.2%) or services (23.8%).5%). is not unemployed. Educational reform and employment opportunity creation are two extremely important and closely inter-related aspects of that empowering process.P. That is a creditable achievement considering the burgeoning population and limited industrialization in the country. The catch is. Kalam has rightly emphasized the need to increasing the share of manufacturing and services and further lowering the share of agricultural sector towards the national GDP and labor force participation rate.5%). Dr. his children will go to elementary or primary school at the best. farming is his family occupation which is likely to remain so (at least in his opinion) for the next few generations to come. the aspirations of half a billion youth for a better living standard and higher income jobs cannot be engineered by agricultural sector which accounts for 54% labor market but only 22% of GDP contribution. China (9. identification of the nature of the existing policies.

1% of GDP in overall education (as compared to 3.1 respectively.’ Directly in the field of employment. Enrolment ratios in the school start dropping sharply after the primary education level. but even the handful of students. For example.5 and 19. its secondary and tertiary enrolment ratios are 72. Vast majority of resources and focus was marshaled at general .5 and 11. which inculcates those necessary ‘employment skills. For India. expansion of higher education was.3% for India). as compared to 53. Agarwal mentions in his essay – “… Post-independence and till about 1980. with few exceptions. which make it to the post-secondary level. 300 Unemployed per 1000 person 250 200 150 Rural Urban 100 50 0 10-14 15-19 20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 Age group Figure 4: Number of unemployed people per 1000 for various age groups in India (Ray and Chand). driven employment structure. the apparent problem seems to be the improper structuring and absence of goal- oriented missions in higher education policies. the ‘human capital theory’ asserts that investments in higher education and training enhance the degree of employability of youth by adding practical value to their repertoire of job skills. For comparison. cannot get exposure to necessary skill enhancement pedagogy and instruction. even China spends 2. Specifically. driven by the colonial mentality”. Historically.8 for India. the post-secondary higher education is a largely neglected sector in terms of radical modernization and growth potential. India’s youth needs to be empowered with such a value-based education. accompanied by a monotonically increasing share of primary education sector and an uneven pie for the higher education. we see a generally upward trend for the overall education budget over time.

Indian education system has been plagued by overdose of bureaucracy and centralized control. Resource allocation level went down and pressed by the limited financial constriction the focus of the government shifted towards other priorities. During the expansion era of higher education.worldbank. arts. inevitably resulted in huge unemployment rates among highly educated youth and the growth engine lost its steam significantly. www. coupled with a restrictive regime of closed-market economy.Figure 5: Comparative chart of India and China’s performance indices in education and employment. or vocational training. leaving inefficient pedagogical machinery for educating a burgeoning mass of youth. The IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) and IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) were structured following the best private engineering and management educational enterprises of the west and consequently they bred the bunch of entrepreneurs and self-motivated youths who went to become successful industry leaders. medical. without any feedback from industries. and commerce without much impetus in specialized technical. or wealth-creators. The aimless expansion of higher education. The unfortunate fact is that the student body in these elite institutes represents a micro-fraction of the society and cannot (and should not) influence the employment dynamics for the larger Indian youth in any meaningful way. the number of degree-level colleges and their enrolment increased by significant amount (4152 in 1980-81 to 9906 in 1999-00) along with only a modest increase (206 to 349) in .org/kam) education of science. There were few exceptions to this general norm however. (World Bank Cross-country Comparison Chart Tool. in India and abroad. Apart from the absence of goal-oriented approach.

more than 50. public enterprise has been the primary supporter of educational institutes with state government bearing almost 80-90% financial burden and central government accounting for the rest (Geetha Rani. focused training in highly sought after specializations and vocational streams. unorganized sector. Numerous private enterprises ventured into the sector primarily responding to the demand from the industry.) are coming up in large numbers. 2001). This created a huge burden on individual universities and slowed down their overall growth rate and seriously hindered any dynamic quality enhancement potential. have rendered the entire process of educational reform inflexible and non- adaptive with regard to the demand from practical job market. presentation. lack of any autonomous decision-making power on the part of the colleges and their rigid affiliation to a parent university restricts them from implementing any dynamic change in pedagogical methods. and often development opportunity in soft skills such as personal communication. The affiliation mechanism and the rigid regulatory framework. to which they are all affiliated. 2001). Here also IITs and IIMs serve as the example as the only institutes with complete self-governance and autonomous decision- making authority which flourished to become lone centers of excellence enjoying the freedom from the iron grip of regulatory regime. After reviewing the approaches. high labor involvement in low-productivity agricultural services. pharmacy. job market responsiveness. which have been largely neglected in formal education sector. Currently. Furthermore. However. Traditionally in India. limitations. fashion design and creative arts. Huge expansion of information technology (IT) and IT enabled services (ITES) fueled further growth of private institutions for training the required pool of skilled workers. More recently. and structures of traditional and emerging educational systems. let us take a brief look at labor market dynamics and employment structures. and team work. evaluation systems or self-supporting mechanisms for resource generation. training materials. Indian labor market has been marked by the dominance of informal.the number of universities (Geetha Rani. although created to ascertain uniformity in educational quality. They offered flexible and adaptive curricula. a radical transformation in the arena of key players for educational service sector began to take place after 1980-81. etc. private institutes catering to the need of other rapidly expanding and promising non-IT sectors (for example hospitality. and largely poor working .000 such institutes span across the country supplying a significant portion of IT manpower.

2007) in India (0.22). The dominance of informal.54). conditions.2% in services. Largest job Emerging job- market of India market for India Unskilled labor/ Skilled labor/ Informal sector Organized sector ‰ Vocational education ‰ Soft-skill development ‰ Goal-oriented approach ‰ Job-responsiveness Figure 6: An integrated approach for introducing educational reforms considering both organized and unorganized job markets in India.39) or Russia (0. There are some continual changes with slowly increasing labor participation rate in services and decreasing share of agriculture with industry labor share remaining almost constant. India is slated to face a skill shortage in that sector due to low enrolment rate in higher education and absence of employability skills among the educated youth. As per 2001 census. The critical issue is. On the positive side. if correct policies are implemented and basic skills are imparted in right manner. however. This has a far reaching implication in terms of absolute numbers of job creation because of lower labor intake of service sector as compared to industry. even that low ratio can translate to a formidable force. Japan (0.2% in industry and 21. due to the sheer size of the labor population (and the expanding base of future labor population i. 61. However.39) which prohibits the growth of new skill- intensive and skill-specific job markets in the expanding knowledge-based economy.15) as compared to USA (0. UK (0.6% labor force is engaged in agriculture as compared to 17.e. India’s growth (in GDP terms or in labor participation terms) has followed a non-conventional trajectory of shifting the growth engine directly from agriculture to services almost bypassing the labor-intensive industrial or manufacturing sector. unorganized sector is likely to continue in near future although organized sector adds . the low ratio of skilled to unskilled labor (Agarwal. current youth). growth in services particularly enhances the employment opportunity for high educated youth (with at least a post-secondary degree) and in reality.

short-term developments. And undoubtedly. given the low gross enrolment ratio and the capacity limitation of the higher education system. and inter-personnel skill development: Emphasis on essential behavioral. and entrepreneurial skills in classroom education is almost missing in India while these ‘soft skills’ continue to get the highest priority on the list of employers. b) training young students in inter-personnel communication . This will facilitate implementing adaptive curricula. which can held back rapid. will reduce. But. Simple but highly effective measures could be a) teaching students about basic economic principles. Higher de-centralization of education governance and deregulation: This is a major step towards granting more autonomy to the degree-granting colleges and diploma-granting technical institutions allowing them to operate in an environment of more academic freedom. bulk of the high- educated youth (graduates and above) are currently employed or continue to seek jobs in the organized job sector.much higher value per unit workforce input to the overall economy. national. but also addresses the responsibility of providing informal and vocational education to youth with less formal education to help them achieve self-reliance and financial freedom. Let us now discuss the propositions for the necessary educational reforms to empowering Indian youth with right employment skills and knowledge to participate in the local. Therefore. slow-acting education system. informal sector will continue to be the employment base for the largest share of upcoming young labor force. and specific goal-oriented rapid changes within the pedagogical process as and when necessary. right policies have to be implemented which not only focuses on the high end skill development of formally educated youth. and global economy in a meaningful manner. constitutional laws. flexible evaluation system. propositions may often be in the borderline between pure educational policies and labor market responsive measures or a blend of these two. and social decrees and encouraging them to question the validity and applicability of the same. acquirement of these skills helps an individual not only in job sector but also to be successful in social interactions and to practice good citizenship. communication. due to strong coupling between the holistic education and job market dynamics. communication. Moreover. As mentioned before. The specifics are as following. The burden on the central universities will lessen as well as propagation of inertia from the decades-old. Enhanced focus on entrepreneurial.

Locally and nationally integrated framework of informal learning and vocational training: To reduce the administrative and logistical cost of the large number of informal/ vocational education centers. 2006) found that television is an overwhelmingly important source of information for Indian youth (and also for adults). socially or logistically disadvantaged areas or families (who has a high likelihood of being unable to avail formal education). c) encouraging and rewarding students for independent thinking and problem-solving attitude and discouraging rote-learning tendency. where geographically feasible.. greater emphasis on informal education should be placed. etc). Distance education (in the form of E-learning. group-based simple project demonstration. basic usage of computers and electronic media and accessories. Creation of feedback loop-based structure within formal education for enhanced job market responsiveness: Upgradation and adaptation of pedagogical techniques and tools must take into account the feedback from the employment sector as to the needs of specific skills that are expected of the young students. Recently. postal correspondence courses) can be a useful tool to educate youth in remote rural locations. distance. should be encouraged to optimally spend the public resources for educating the youth. group discussion on their favorite topic. an integrated networked body of teachers and administrators may be set up. Mutual collaboration and knowledge exchange would automatically promote healthy competition enhancing the standard and shape their goal-centric education approach. Exchange program of students and instructors. Polytechnic institutes and craftsman training centers should be set up in greater numbers and existing ones should be upgraded with requisite material support. This powerful and ubiquitous media can be utilized to create an information network which educate youth about career opportunities and modalities (for example information about public service job examinations. Although exhaustive overhaul of the formal textbook curricula may be slow and impractical (given limited resource allocation for the educational sector) semi- formal methods can be employed for greater interaction and transparency between industry and . etc. and vocational education: For empowering youth from economically.through idea presentation. Increased public spending on informal. a study by National Council for Applied Economic Research (Shukla. self- financed small business initiative loan. group and personal essay contests. educational loan.

medical transcription and tele-medicine. c) arranging industrial internship for students to exposure to hands-on job experience. University system College system Informal/vocational Industry/ Job education market Figure 7: University. college. formal/informal educational enterprises: Traditionally in India private or informal education institutes have been held in significantly lower esteem than their public counterparts. informal/vocational education institutes and their inter-relation with industry/job market. creative arts and multimedia design. Increased cross-talk between public-private. d) building an environment of mutual trust and confidence between the academia and targeted industry houses for greater fluidity of information exchange and seamless induction of student body into the job sector. Yet in recent years it is almost exclusively the private institutes who have provided much necessary job-oriented education in much publicized sectors like IT and ITES as well as not-so-much-hyped but highly promising non-formal sectors such as hospitality management and tourism. b) regular guest lecture by industry leaders and possible interaction session with students. fashion design and management. These include but are not limited to a) assimilation of the input from industry into the textbook revision process. event planning and disaster . academia.

management.0% (probably the author could not compute the fractional percentage)! Even a moderate increase in . To provide financial resources for these reforms a combined effort is much needed where public expenditure is optimized. burden of excessive regulation on private investment into public institution is relaxed. Standardization of universal evaluation method will also give much confidence to the industrial employer in hiring a young graduate.3% respectively (Kapur. Integrated evaluation process (for example a common skill test across the country in a particular field leading to a certification) will help immensely the discrete bodies of the deregulated academia to self-evaluate their quality of instruction. the necessity of proper guidance to the student for helping him/her choosing right career need not be over-emphasized. This practice can be implemented in an integrated framework. A common platform between formal and informal education sector can create the perfect recipe to blend the strength of time-tested general education with the vigor and dynamism of new age specialized skill training. slow-moving formal public education machinery could not cope up with the need of the hour and their role was almost negligible except responding to the need in IT/ITES education. this integrated approach can be all the more effective to help discrete centers of education and learning to contribute in a holistic manner to the greater cause of youth development. The young mind.43% and 0. and career guidance initiatives: Public or private institutes alike. Quite expectedly.6% and 5. who had much trouble and confusion choosing between traditional. etc. In a deregulated academia. involving multiple institutions to set up an umbrella body for advising students on multi-disciplinary career perspectives. These numbers for India are 0. and self-financing measures are encouraged and given high priority. This process should begin at the pre-selection phase of a professional course and should continue throughout. 2004). evaluation. The shares of sales and services and endowment in USA higher education public expenditure are 22. Integrated counseling. has a right to know the purpose of that very education in a practical world scenario and counseling could be that window through which he/she sees the educational exercise in its fuller perspective. socially-acceptable general education and job-centric specialized training. which is being educated. But total absence of pathways between public and private institutes resulted in a ‘binary decision scenario’ for Indian youth. This can give informal sector higher credibility and provide the public sector with much needed face of modernization.

Tuition fees in the public universities and colleges need to be re-structured with an upward revision to reduce dependency on government subsidy and establish internal fund for promoting ambitious developmental ventures.1 billion for getting undergraduate and business degrees abroad (not including graduate and advanced degree students who mostly get scholarship from the foreign university) while government laws and mandates did not allow even a tiny fraction of that money to be injected into Indian public universities in the form of endowments or tuition fees (Kapur. Indian students (or their parents) have spent almost $1. 1. Few specific suggestions are as following. given that currently more than 95% financial resources in higher education are spent in personnel salaries and not on infrastructural reforms. According to a recent estimate. which are eventually affiliated to the same public universities. Therefore. . these shares can potentially realize most of the reform measures. 2004). Medical service Construction Educational institute Academia-industry interaction Manufacturing IT & ITES Traditional and emerging job market Hospitality Pharmacy Event management Industry Fashion Advertising design Figure 8: A schematic showing the academia-industry interaction for developing India’s youth for traditional as well as emerging job markets. government policies and legal mandates need a major reformulation. Tuition fees in the public universities and colleges are ridiculously low although a large number of students and their parents are willing to pay high fee to private institutes.

youth is unquestionably the lifeblood of that society. Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls. healthcare. where 84 million youths do not get sufficient food for nutrition after a day’s hard work. But this diversity is at the essential core of this nation. and family resources. this nation has progressed through unimaginable diversity of language. social leaders have huge responsibility to empower these youth for self-sustainability. 4. for quality education. technocrats. Conclusion For India. politicians. Where words come out from the depth of truth. rapid deployment. This is also a country. but not impossible one. World’s largest democracy is still a treasure-trove of human resources. religion. culture. and business executives demonstrate highest level of excellence and commitment in diverse professional fields and command highest level of respect among peers and employers. “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. and less restrictive. Where knowledge is free. whose young scientists. Regulations and laws for private endowments and investments to public/ semi-public institutes must be made transparent. Consultancy projects with industrial houses and fee-based professional training courses or workshops should be given high priority. the issue of youth employment and associated educational reform is highly critical because of her extremely diverse scenario of youth development. Sales of patents. caste. It is a difficult task. She can handle this one too. Government. relaxed. creed. 2. honest policy formulation. research reports. and integrated effort can gift Indian youth a nation. Sincere analysis of the situation. 3. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit. lawmakers. This is a country. For more than four thousands years. Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action…” . all around the world. Half a billion young people in this country aspire for a better living standard. industrial houses. publications need to be pursued vigorously to generate fund. Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection. And. and socio-economic stratifications.

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