Dr. Prakash Pradhan is an academician who was positioned as Registrar of University of Mumbai in 1999. He was the administrative head of the University with over 3000 employees, overseeing the working of 29 University departments, monitoring of fulfillment of statutory obligations by 340 affiliated colleges, liasioning with Ministry of Education, Government of Maharashtra, UGC, Ministry of HRD, Government of India.
Question:Higher education, by most learners, is seen as a pathway that leads them to their careers. However, the reality seems different. What do you think is causing this gap?
First of all, let me put it this way, in a developing country like India it is natural that youngsters think about degrees in order to achieve a gainful career. In the initial stage he might not think of career as such, to begin with is, to get employment which can develop into a career of his choice at a later stage. And as far as the gap is concerned, yes, it does exist. There has to be some structural reforms in the entire structure of India Higher Education, the problem is because of the dynamic requirements of the industry which are continuously changing over a period of time. Today technology is being integrated in almost every career and this makes it essential for the universities and colleges to design their course content in tune with integrated technology. Infact all the career options across the field, right from commerce and finance to banking to management, engineering technology, medicine, even education, there is a distinct change as far as the integration of technology is concerned. Somehow our Universities have not kept pace with the changing requirements of the industry, that is the main reason for the gap that exists. But let me be very clear that people who make a difference now have realised this and there is an effort to lessen this particular gap.
Question:Do you believe that employability of students has direct correlation with skill upgradation? If yes, then what steps should universities take in this direction?
Obviously there is a direct link between the skill set of the University passout students and the expectation of the employers or rather industry requirement. Many recent surveys have shown that the freshers coming out of the University system, there is a distinct gap in the employability of the students. in terms of employers' expectations. Many surveys have shown that the majority of our students across the boards.technology, finance or commerce, the skill set of these freshers don't match, with the requirement of the industry. Well the only way out is that there has to be more interaction between industry and academia, which at the present is at the minimum level, with few exceptions of course. There are few institutes that have this kind of interaction but majority of across the board, there is a minimum level of such interactions. So what is important is a continuous positive dialogue between university and industry. This is the only way forward to bridge the gap. You asked about the skill set, with technology in the picture, it has become essential to keep upgrading skills almost on a continuous basis. It is only after that that youngsters who are now entering into the job market will stay into the system. The university will have to give students the opportunity to upgrade their skill sets, maybe within the system or outside the system.
Question:How can Universities collaborate with the industry for improving the employability of the students, and how can this be started?
Well, to begin with, Universities will have to think of radical structural changes in terms of design of the programme, course content, duration and the frequency of the revision of the syllabus to ensure that the content is relevant to the industry at that particular point of time. To initiate this, according to me, any educational institute will have to include more number of corporate experts in the academic council or board of directors to design the programme. I am of the opinion that the industry representation in these boards would be atleast 50 percent so that the academicians and the industry represent in equal ratio, and there would be an interaction between academia and industry at the board of study level.Also, the revision of the syllabus has to be more frequent rather than being a once in a blue moon affair, like once in 5 years or once in 3 years. many Universities have realised this, now the frequency has come to maybe once every 2 years, but again what is happening is , in the name of revision of syllabi, redistribution of the subject and chapters are shifted from one semester to the other. The need at the present for the employability of a particular programme is, the industry suggestions have to be incorporated in the structure of the course and practical orientation of the students to the industry requirements. at present most of our programmes are designed from a theory point of view, might be, in engineering programmes there is some amount of practical approach in the being, but there is a need of increasing the practical content as compared to the theory background, and an online support to enhance their theoretical background should be provided so that they can spend more time in the practical part of the syllabus which will give them an edge, over what is existing at present, and industry will also look forward to students who have actual practical experience, or the conceptual understanding of the subject based on the practical use of the particular topic or subject as such.
Question:How can a University create an enabling architecture inside the University to bring about this fundamental change? What type of competencies will be needed to be built amongst the existing faculty members?
More than the Universities reframing their approach, the industry will have to rethink about their involvement in the University matters for the enhancement of the employability of the students. As I told you earlier, both industry and University will have to come together in order to pave the way not just for the students but also for the existing faculty to have exposure to the industrial situations or the corporate culture, in this particular case the industry should be ready to absorb these teachers into their system for a short period of time so that they can understand the actual needs and requirements of the industry. thereby, passing that information to the students, and this is the initial part, and this would bring in the change that is actually desired. Now the frequency of such exposure of faculty or rather training by the industry experts would directly affect the students and their employability level. According to me, this is the prime cause concern that there is a lack of opportunity given to existing faculty to understand or experience the corporate culture and the industrial functioning. Over the time with more awareness and industry extending support, teachers must be ready to participate, for mutual benefits, these teachers will have to change their mindset and participate with full enthusiasm, also they might have to spare time during vacations or weekends, between semesters, so the University will have to solve this issue, then only we will be able to be abreast of time and prepare our students accordingly. This is more so in the field of technology and engineering where there are rapid changes, even commerce as a field is dynamic, it too changes frequently So it is important for the faculty to be trained on a continuous basis or on a regular basis. This according to me would be the primary step that University has to take.
Question:Learning by doing and earning while learning are two powerful concepts. Do you believe that on job training in the form of apprenticeships can help students become more employable?
According to me, both these concepts Learning by doing and earning while learning are very very essential for enhancing the employability quotient amongst the students. There is no way out for Universities in future to but involve these concepts or rather integrate these in the structure of degree level programmes. The so called on job training which is commonly referred to as internship or apprenticeship is the best method to get the fresher oriented to the requirement of the industry or market thereby making him ready to go on the field from day one.This will need a structural change in the form of the duration of the course. There are certain programmes that exist where a degree is awarded at the end of the successful completion of internship or apprenticeship programme. For example, most of the programmes in the medical field, the student is awarded degree only after he completes a certain amount of time in the actual field. According to me in all degree level programmes, we must include exposure to the students to the industry requirement or the corporate environment at least once in a year. So thereby, part of the semester should be designed for such interactions, but somehow only the university initiate will not be successful, industry will also have to come forward to absorb students into their system. well, the problem in this case is that industry has to accommodate large number of students which are there in the Indian Education System, industry has to make some arrangement to accommodate the students over the years, for this there has to be a mutual understanding between policy makers and industry experts.By doing this both parties will be benefited, and it will lead us towards a progressive nation.
"To initiate change and improve employability of students, according to me,an educational institute will have to include more number of corporate experts in the academic council or board of directors to design the programme. I am of the opinion that the industry representation in these boards should be atleast 50 percent so that the academicians and the industry represent in equal ratio, and there would be an interaction between academia and industry at the board of study level.", said Dr. Prakash Pradhan while speaking to Rana Jyoti, Associate Editor, India Education Forum on the present status of student employability in Indian Higher Education.Dr. Prakash Pradhan, Former Registrar University of Mumbai speaks how the implementation of concepts like Learning by Doing and earning while learning can change the entire game.He believes that not just students but teachers too need to be exposed to corporate culture so that can prepare students to become employable.