New Delhi: With the government all set to announce a national skill development policy, a four-tiered higher education system to promote skill development and research has been mooted by the Planning Commission.

A note, formulated after a brainstorming session between the Plan panel and a group of high profile non-resident Indians, or NRIs, including Victor Menezes, Rajat Gupta and Vinod Khosla, advocating the four-tier system of educational institutions as also their governance structure, has been circulated to ministries and participants concerned.

Global best practices: A file photo of Victor Menezes, chairman of the American India Foundation and former senior vice-chairman of Citigroup. He leads a group of NRIs advocating the four-tier system. Zack Secklee / Bloomberg

The note also recommended better partnership of Indian educational institutions with foreign universities and public-private partnership (PPP) in higher education as suggested in the meeting. The group was led by Menezes, chairman of the American India Foundation and former Citigroup Inc. senior vice-chairman. Others in the group included Gupta, chairman, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and venture capitalist Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures.

The suggested four-tiered structure recommends vocational training at the bottom of the pyramid where a large number of private colleges and state-run colleges can focus on churning out employable graduates whereas central universities being at the top can focus on research. “While central universities can focus on research, well established state-run universities can combine research and teaching, good colleges can focus primarily on quality teaching and the rest can aim at vocational training to develop skills," said Furqan Qamar, adviser, Planning Commission.

The note has also suggested putting in place a governance structure and success metrics for different tiers as also financial and functional autonomy for educational institutions.

Qamar added that the objective is to use education for achieving excellence through research as also inclusion through skill development. “Besides, Menezes and others evinced keen interest in enhancing quality education in India and getting in global best practices," said Qamar. There are 23 Central universities such as Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, and Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh, and around 17,000 colleges across India with an enrolment of 10 million students.

The suggestions are in line with recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission, or NKC, which proposed various measures to boost skill development and research in institutions of higher education.

NKC has also strongly advocated a PPP model for such initiatives. “We have always said that industry support is paramount to such initiatives. The policy aims to bridge the growing mismatch between the skills of a young population and the nature of jobs they would be required to fill, through short-term vocational courses at existing technical institutions run by the government, besides upgrading existing industrial training institutes and polytechnics," said a senior NKC member who did not want to be identified.

According to the latest National Sample Survey report, which is conducted at a microlevel through extensive field work, in 2004-05, only 2% of the population in the age group 15-29 years were reported to have received formal vocational training. Another 8% received non-formal vocational training, the report says.

The government currently has facilities to train only 2.5 million students a year but it hopes that 70 million jobs will be created in the 11th Plan (2007-12) leaving a huge gap in supply of trained manpower.

The government announced the creation of a national skill development mission in the Budget 2008-09 with private sector partnership. A national skill development policy is ready and is shortly expected to be put before the cabinet.