With the largest young population in the world, India is sitting on a huge demographic dividend. However, for us to realize this dividend, we need to adequately equip, train and educate our population.
Our education systems have considerable catching up to do in this regard. Only 12% of our people go through higher education institutes vis-à-vis a world average of 26%, and that of developed countries being higher than 70%. At the same time, only about 5% of our workforce has had formal vocational training compared with 85% in South-East Asia.
The demographic dividend India enjoys can easily turn into a demographic disaster if we do not rapidly upgrade our education systems. In fact, the need of the hour is for a massive, transformational change in the Indian education system.
It is in this context that we need to evaluate collaborations, especially in their ability to catalyze change. The US emerges as a natural partner for collaboration in the field of education, since it arguably has the most developed education systems in the world. Out of the top 500 universities of the world, 160 are from the US, while India accounts for only two. The US also has strong vocational training systems and a developed public schooling system.
Historically, US institutions have made a considerable contribution to the Indian education system. Some of our best higher education institutes have been set up in collaboration with US institutes. Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, was set up in collaboration with the Harvard Business School; Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, was supported by the US, as also was BITS Pilani, which benefited from its collaboration with the MIT.
More recently, the Indian School of Business, which has achieved global recognition in a short time, was supported by two US business schools—Kellogg and Wharton. A study revealed that there are about 230 collaborative arrangements between Indian institutes and international institutes, out of which more than one-third are with US institutes.
While these collaborations have made considerable impact, they have been one-off and have been powered more by individuals than through a systematic effort which supports collaborations. For India to use collaboration as a tool to provide a thrust to its education system, I believe there are three key areas of potential collaboration with the US that need to be seriously explored.
First, collaborations in setting up new higher education institutes as well as upgrading the existing institutes. As per the Knowledge Commission’s report, India needs 1,500 more universities. At the same time, most existing institutions have outdated curricula, poor systems and the near absence of research. To improve the quality of higher education in the country, we need to create many more world-standard, centres of excellence.
The development of such institutes needs more than financial resources: It needs strong educational leadership, robust academic systems and processes as well as experienced and qualified faculty. US institutions are well positioned to provide support in these areas, and Indian public and private institutes need to seek their assistance in designing and launching new institutes and courses, as well as providing a fillip to research activities.
In the process, US institutions could also benefit by being able to conduct research in emerging markets, as well as creating an additional source of revenue through consulting and faculty sharing.
Secondly, there is tremendous scope for collaboration in the improvement in the public school system. India’s public schools are languishing with poor infrastructure and even poorer teaching. Surveys have repeatedly revealed the rot in public schooling, resulting in inferior outcomes.
As India embarks on a massive effort of providing free and compulsory education to all children till the age of 14 through the enablement of the Right to Education Act, it needs to develop pedagogical tools, assessment mechanisms and faculty development processes. The US, which has a rich experience in efforts to improve public school education, can provide Indian public institutions insights into the efficacy of various methods and techniques. Indian institutes can benefit from the tools already developed by US school systems. On the other hand, India, which is reputed for the quality of its maths and science curriculum, can assist US school systems in this area.
The third avenue for potential collaboration is in the use of technology. Technology in education is fast evolving, transforming the quality of classroom education and enabling distance education. The growth of the Internet and mobile telephony and the adoption of digital technology has the ability to transform education delivery.
US players have already made rapid progress in the area of developing IT tools for education as well as providing high quality online education. India, with its strong IT industry, can add tremendous value to furthering these developments. Collaboration in this area can be beneficial to both countries and lead to the development of game-changing tools and technologies, which vastly enhance educational access as well as the quality of outcomes.
The upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama presents a wonderful opportunity to provide a fillip to India-US collaboration in education. Both Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lay great emphasis on the education sector and believe in the contribution of the sector in driving national growth.
The human resource development minister’s visits to the US have also gone a long way in increasing the interest levels of US institutions to partner with Indian institutions. This interest can now be translated into tangible results by creating enabling frameworks, which facilitate partnerships and encourage collaborations.
It is my sincere hope that this presidential visit sets the stage for increased collaboration in education, realizing the potential of such collaborations and creating substantial benefits for both countries.
Bharat Gulia is a senior manager, education practice, at Ernst & Young. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org