Dr. S S Mantha, an eminent academician and an able administrator, was the Chairman, of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), starting 05th January 2012 till 4th January 2015. Having joined AICTE in March 2009 as its Vice Chairman, he has been at the forefront of bringing in some radical changes for transparency and accountability in its administration. On completion of the tenure at AICTE he worked as Professor of Robotics, CAD/CAM and AI in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at VJTI, Mumbai and superannuated on 31st May 2016.
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?
The gaps are probably in the areas of skills that one possess. So therefore my understanding would be, at undergraduate level, the student should have good subject skills- domain skills, that's extremely important. Having said that he should have good reasoning skills, analytical skills and athematic skills, then of course the interpersonal skills and good communication skills. Now when you get into post graduation, you are getting into specialization. Whereas undergraduate education is generally. The post graduate education becomes specific. There are specializations in which you are getting into at the post graduate level. So again, the domain skills that you are looking at the postgraduate level is extremely important. The other skills that one acquires during the undergraduate level is honed to be little better at the post graduate level.
Depending on the employment that the student must be looking for, in the sector, he will most certainly need training. So if the industry experts think that all the training also needs to be imparted at college level, it is not possible. For example an IT industry hiring undergraduate or postgraduate will have different requirement or let's say the manufacturing skills that are required in aerospace or automation will be quite different. And therefore a lot of on the job training is a must, whereas there is a gap between the number of graduates being produced looking for jobs to the available number of jobs. There seems to be a problem area. So every industry would probably look at the best and they would also probably get the best from that the lot they eventually testing. That is again because of heavy automation that has come into sectors like manufacturing, IT or retail sector. Now companies are preferring undergraduates, training them a little and then putting them on the job. Of course, a postgraduate with a little better domain knowledge and skills will demand more salary and a better fit into the employment. Now when you look at all these factors, you realize that the employment markets must evolve to absorb these kinds of changes. Whereas the employment sector has itself been changing into different forms and in different dimension. The available. student force seems to be not up to the level, industries might come back and say that we have been changing at such a fast pace and the university education is very stagnant, this is unfair statement to make, according to me. No university in this world will guarantee a job, because the university's job is not to guarantee a job but to create a citizen who has good domain skills, good understanding of the environment, good life skills and all the other hands on skills that can help him land a job. Today parent’s or student’s paradigm has completely changed, they choose an institution for getting a placement, not to, which is not the right way of looking at it. A certain amount of mapping must be done with the industry in order to understand the requirements, and modifying the curriculum accordingly is fine, but to expect everything to happen within the four walls of the University, so that there is a ready-made product available for hire is not possible. First, every year there must be a committee meeting, where academicians must review the relevance of the courses that are being taught are industry relevant or not. Trainings for students and teachers must be conducted in line with the industry requirement, they must also look into the fact that, what kind of new courses are required and make appropriate changes in the curriculum. Second, promote innovation at College level, for example, the drone that you see today is something that has come out of start-up kind of labs. As an institution, you should provide as many facilities as possible for students to learn on their own. Let them experiment on the ideas and fabricate new. Make sure, that the teacher just do a little bit of hand holding and provide some theme based projects to the students, and let the students explore. Third, Universities must look beyond classroom teaching. There are several third party online content providers like Coursera, Schoolguru, Udemy (there are around 60 such providers), they provide domain specific content, some of them provide content aggregated from different sources, the best part is you have access to best faculty- best content from all across the globe, one of such courses must be introduce in the University and blend seamlessly into the curriculum More all the curriculum middle of the flexibility is a matter of the autonomy is available these people must. Introduce a clean store one such course, let the student take up an online test as conducted by the parent company , this will give students, the right kind of exposure. For example, Coursera has a collection of content from different universities, content from some of the best faculty, this will expose their students to world class teaching-learning experience. There are many experiments happening like flipped classrooms etc, but these basic ideas must germinate into every classroom every university. And finally the university must create an environment where the students can interact with their peers outside their institution, today hardly any interaction happens.Every University must conduct and participate in technical seminars, same goes with the faculty too. They must be exposed to industry updates and working. Believe me, this will allow new ideas to come in.
Question: Learning by Doing and Earning while learning are two powerful concepts. Do you believe than on job training in the form of apprenticeships can help students become more employable?
I just spoke about experiential learning and fabrication labs, which are a part of Learning by doing. If you look closely, in several sectors even today, things happen through learning by doing. For example, sectors like construction, automobile, and even entertainment. If you look at the entertainment sector, you will find that there are several skills that are required before the screen and several that are require behind the screen. Now electronics and entertainment are nicely merging together. Infact, one drives the other, and there has been a lot of development that has taken place within the electronic sector but actually functions for entertainment industry. So the requirement within the entertainment industry drives the electronics to come out with different ideas and innovations. Performing arts, for example, is a skill required for the front side of the screen, there are several kinds of skills like essentially operating the equipment, understanding the lighting, the stages, setup- relationship between the stage and audience.
Today if you go to an event, there you will see cameras being operated by boom. Boom operation is also a skill and it requires a lot of training otherwise it can cause damage to the event. Now are there schools that teach this skill? Probably not. So this is learnt by on the job training. People do odd jobs and over a period of time they become experts. In earlier days, the directors, assistant directors, they used to learn by doing. Coming out from there, we need to introduce that into our curriculum- where you provide necessary facilities and let them learn by doing. Now if you look at the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER), at primary level it is around 98%, at secondary level it is 64% and at higher secondary level it further drops down to 24%. The question is why does it happen? Number One, they don’t have money to sail through the education. Number Two, they have to support their families and themselves. The result is, they can’t get into a college or regular education. In this scenario, there are several people who get into jobs because they have to earn, and in their spare time they involve in learning through means like- online, evening and night classes. So in some ways, this is earing while learning. However, this has become a necessity. There are several reasons to it. First is economic. Second is people are not happy with the kind of education happening today, they are not interested in learning accounting, business- the standard curriculum. They have ideas of learning photography, music and so on- these courses are not readily available and wherever it is available, it is very expensive. For example, Whistling Woods International, they have such courses but it is really out of reach for general middle class students, so the question is how many people can afford. So they earn and then invest in learning.
"No university in this world will guarantee a job, because the university's job is not to guarantee a job but to create a citizen who has good domain skills, good understanding of the environment, good life skills and all the other hands on skills that can help him land a job", said Dr. Mantha while speaking on the topic related to Student Employability. A survey conducted by Wheelbox in 2018 reported that overall employability in India, across courses, has risen to 45.6% this year, from 40% a year ago. Dr. S. S. Mantha, former chairman AICTE speaks about the ways that will help improve employability rates. While talking to Rana Jyoti, Associate Editor India Education Forum, he speaks How employability of students has a direct correlation with skill upgradation. Also, he focuses on the fundamental changes that a University should go to bring a sea change in the Quality of Graduates and Postgraduates produced.