Dr Norbert Lobo
Associate Professor of Economics
St Aloysius College (Autonomous) Mangalore -3

Skills development and unemployment is a matter of core concern not just in India but worldwide and Industry – Institute partnerships are the key to realising India's vast potential in this area and achieving socially equitable and inclusive growth. It is an essential process for the transformation of the higher education system. Interaction between institutes and industries will have great bearing on the curriculum of higher education system. It will enable exposure of industrial atmosphere to students and help them to perform effectively during employment in industries. With the advent of globalization and opening up of Indian economy to outside world, competition among industries has become stiff. To attend to some of the issues and practical problems occurring in the industrial /  business environment and also to improve their quality standards, industries started looking up to various venues to achieve their goals, of which approaching educational institutions seems to be noteworthy. On the part of the educational institutions there is an urgent need to prepare students for jobs /careers in post –industrial knowledge based economy by exposing them to new technologies and methodologies and training them in new skills. These objectives can be achieved to a greater extent by initiating closer partnerships between industries and academic institutes.  Thus, the objective of any Industry – Institute partnership should be to bridge the gap between the industry and the institution. All the Stakeholders, namely: Institutions, Industry, Students and Society stand to gain as it can be a win-win partnership.
 
Challenges of Industry-Institution Partnership in Arts Courses

In the twenty-first century, India’s ability to produce and disseminate education will increasingly determine its economic competitiveness.  However, the only bottleneck can be 'not having enough people to do what we need to do’.  For instance, the McKinsey Global Institute survey reveals that only 10% of Arts graduates are “employable”. (Business Standard.com) A FICCI-CVoter Survey on the Employability Quotient of  the Under graduates in India (http://www.currentweek.net  )  further reveals this unsettling reality that new undergraduates are  woefully short of  soft skills and vocational training to take on the  responsibilities of corporate sector  management. The industry laments that the undergraduates in the general stream of Arts being turned out by the country’s educational institutions are just not up to the mark. The survey notes that the new undergraduates fall short of the expectations of the employers  with regard to reliability, integrity, self motivation amongst employees, self discipline, empathy  for other workers and management, willingness to learn, good written and oral communication and  basic computer skills.    
      
The arts courses ( B.A. degree)  comprising social science disciplines like history, sociology, political science, economics, geography and rural development and humanities disciplines like Kannada, English, Hindi and Sanskrit optionals, which had a glorious past in the history of general education in India has been witnessing rapid decline of student enrollment. In fact this first non-professional degree (viz., B.A. with three optionals) by itself is, unlike professional degrees, of not much value or societal attractiveness. It has failed to safe guard the aspirations of its takers, majority of whom are either first generation learners or students from backward socio-economic stratum of the society including Daliths and SC/ STs. For the students of backward socio-economic layer of the society, education is basically for living hence employability. Sadly the existing three major systems of arts courses have lost their relevance in this regard in the present day rapidly changing job environment.
 
The scarcely available empirical evidences and my own keen observation  made me to believe  that there isn’t many industry-institution partnerships taking place amongst the colleges or departments offering arts courses comprising social sciences like History, Sociology, Political Science, Economics, Geography and Rural Development and humanities like Kannada, English, Hindi and Sanskrit optionals . The immediate need is to improve the “supply-side” of arts (B.A.) courses with the objective of creating a “context for learning” so as to make its products employable.  Hence the need is to redefine the objectives, revamp the curriculum, restructure the course, redesign the methodology and rejuvenate the arts courses.

Out Dated Three Major System
        
Higher education should be looked upon by the society as a process of “ resource development” , where conceptual and skill development leads to rise in the competency level of the learner. Hence makes the learner employable.  “Employability” refers to a person's capability of gaining initial employment, maintaining employment, and obtaining new employment if required (Hillage and Pollard, 1998). It should be noted that “Employability not only depends on whether one is able to fulfill the requirements of specific jobs, but also on how one stands relative to others within a hierarchy of job seekers” (Brown and Hesketh, 2004). Employability is confluence of several skills, abilities, knowledge, competencies and capabilities that enable individuals to get employment and be successful in their professional careers. It helps them individually as well as institutionally. It also dwells at the skill sets, tool sets and mind set that is essential to execute tasks effectively and efficiently.  It is a state of being employed and accomplishing the given tasks with the skills, knowledge and abilities. Employability is thus depends on the knowledge, skills and attitude of the individuals.
  
It is pertinent to note that higher education ( B. A. Courses) even today is viewed as how it is useful to others least bothering to know its relevance to its takers. This has created a mismatch between the supply and demand for human resource in our economy.  For instance, President Pratibha Patil while addressing the golden jubilee celebrations of Delhi's Sri Venkateswara College opined that “There is some mismatch between the skills that our graduates possess and talents that are needed in the country, leading to a low employability. This needs to be corrected," (http://www.dnaindia.com). Similarly, speaking at the Plenary Session on ‘Capitalising on India’s Human Capital’ at the India Economic Summit ,  Hari S Bhartia, President of the Confederation of Indian Industry too opined that about 15-17 million people enter the job market every year  and with urbanisation and the rapidly changing job market, it is becoming increasingly important to link education with employability. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com) The writing on the wall is clear - innovate or perish - as there is a need to produce graduates who fit well with the requirements of companies of the day by helping them create value for their customers.
      
One of the painful admissions that the BA Course with three optionals followed in Mangalore University and rest of the universities in Karnataka State  is found wanting on "career value", is not contemporary enough and does not help students secure a specialization in any area. Moreover, due to compartmentalization and lack of flexibility students are forced to study a particular optional even if they do not posses any aptitude for that optional. There is either no or minimal scope for admitting right student for each course. We know that every student can be brought to the level of excellence if he/she is put to the right slot according to the genetic potential or inborn talents. Employers look for some basic qualities in first time job seekers such as effective communication skills in english, professional selling skills, pleasing body language, effective time management, a good know-how of computers, and a general smartness. Unfortunately arts students even today are going through the same education system as earlier and the outcomes, therefore, will not be different. Hence many arts and humanities courses are treated as “non-utility courses”.

Thus, the education system of Arts courses needs a second look with the objective of creating a “context for learning”. We need a framework for industry to create a context —industry needs to play a very important role in education. There is an urgent need for all the stake holders in higher education to realize that for the arts students majority of whom are first generation learners belonging to lower socio-economic layer of our society, higher education means employability , hence the redefined goal of arts courses is employability.  This calls for rejuvenation of arts courses because access without employability can only augment the problem of unemployment and unrest among the educated youth.

Rejuvenate the Arts Courses
     
A recent report published by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has estimated that India would face 'talent gap'- the lack of right skills for the job required - of more than 5 million by 2012, as existing educational institutions do not impart employable skills. Alternatively, the number of educated unemployed may rise due to a mismatch between knowledge and skills that are imparted by the educational institutions on the one hand and what is required by industry on the other. It is this second situation that puts the blame squarely on the education sector and that is, in fact, the phase through which we are passing in contemporary times. India is saddled with a situation where industry is lamenting skill shortage and at the same time we have educated youth complaining of non-availability of jobs.

Redefine the Objectives:

The basic objective of B.A. courses is to enhance the employability of the learners through appropriate skills. Employability skills refer to specific skills essential for employment. These are the critical tools and traits required to perform tasks at workplace. Employability skills should vary from discipline to discipline.


Revamp the Curriculum:
   
The desired curriculum should give freedom to a student to discontinue the course at any point of time and facilitate him or her to get a suitable job. Option must be provided to issue:

  • A ‘certificate’ at the end of first year during which he or she should have learnt the proficiency in  languages and communication – spoken and written (particularly in English) and computers along  with some basic soft skills like  adaptability,  positive values, leadership skills, interpersonal skills, integrity, right attitude, problem solving, decision making, team building skills and life-long learning.
  • A ‘diploma’ at the end of the second year during which period he or she should be given a training pertaining to the core and the related courses.
  • A ‘Degree’ at the end of the third year.

         
This will bring quality to arts degree courses and make it relevant and need based, provide greater flexibility to the students in their learning areas, help them acquire specific skills pertinent to their areas of study, inculcate responsibility and discipline among students, make the teacher innovative, competent and accountable and encourage industry-institution partnership and certainly attract meritorious students to the arts courses.

Restructure the Course:

The failure of the present B.A. degree system as it exists to meet the legitimate aspirations of the students, parents and the employers, lack of academic flexibility and mobility lack of practical content, little or no scope for industry – institution interaction, outdated and rigid curriculum are some of the immediate reasons demanding restructuring of Arts courses. In fact the ‘non- utility of arts courses’ and the need for “synchronization between knowledge and application" calls for professionalisation of degree courses in every stream.
 

The restructuring should be to fabricate employability skills of the individuals. Employability skills are all about the ability of individuals to exhibit their skills to the prospective employers and the ability to execute the tasks thereby achieving organizational goals and objectives. A restructured B.A. degree course shall aim to:

  • To develop language skills so as to inculcate self confidence and make the student comfortable with the medium of instruction and academic programme.
  • To develop an integrated personality to be able to face life independently.
  • To understand the social realities around oneself and to develop concern, compassion and commitment for one’s fellow beings.
  • To develop a broad area of knowledge and have in-depth knowledge of the major area of study.
  • To acquire proficiency in an area of subject and develop a skill.
  • To help the students either to pursue higher education or prepare to take up a career.


Conclusion:


Rejuvenating the B.A. Degree courses is all the more imperative in the post industrialized knowledge based economy. If India has to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend the higher education system particularly the one in existence in Karnataka State has to be restructured and rejuvenated at the earliest. Otherwise it will further accentuate the rich poor divide which is already has been deepened. If industry – institution partnership are to take place, first and foremost we need to redefine the objectives in terms of employability, revamp the curriculum to make relevant to the young men and women, restructure the course to facilitate a context for learning, redesign the methodology to imbibe employable skills and rejuvenate the arts courses reduce the ‘talent gap'- the lack of right skills for the job required for industry. Such a rejuvenated B.A Course will certainly enhance the ‘career value’ and help the students to obtain a specialization in an area of their choice. This will benefit to all the stake holders of higher education. Stake holders in higher education – government, administrators, managements, faculty, students, parents, and society at large have to accept the fact that the existing three major systems of arts courses have lost their relevance in the current job market. If not we may be the witness for the poignant end of arts and humanities courses, combinations and departments in our own institutions.

 

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