It’s been 15 years since India carved a niche as a global hub for outsourcing software services. Homegrown software companies and business process outsourcing firms have grown phenomenally and earned massive revenues and contracts since then. Today, though, the industry is at a crossroads and is fast losing sheen due to automation and digital disruptions. Against this backdrop, reskilling and upskilling has become crucial for the industry to remain competitive. India needs to urgently address this situation as national growth and employment opportunities for students who aim to join the white-collar workforce depend on it. The government has already begun commendable initiatives such as Digital India, Skill India and more, but the time is for it to further support industries and the education ecosystem by leading a nationwide campaign for skill development for the country’s future workforce. India has over 800 universities. Despite this high number, alarming facts remain:

Only 10% Indians are graduates;
Only 7% graduates are fit for core engineering, according to reports;
Only 3% engineering graduates have suitable skills for the software industry;
The gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education is just 24.5%.

By 2020, India will become the youngest nation in the world with 64% of the population employable. Today’s universities are simply not equipped to address the learning needs of this huge young workforce. The courses being taught are not in sync with modern job requirements and outdated curricula prevent Indian colleges from imparting quality education. This could lead to inadvertent unemployment or underemployment. The following policy recommendations can leverage skill development programmes to build future employability.

Skill-up to Scale-up

Building on successful government campaigns on insurance and mutual fund policies for tax breaks, similar campaigns can be replicated for upskilling and reskilling. Investing in learning new skills to be employable should be every worker’s primary responsibility and its impact will be visible through better jobs and higher salaries. The government should exempt up to Rs 30,000 from an individual’s taxable income that is spent towards skilling programmes. This will especially encourage online skill development programmes and imbibe a culture of continuous learning. Interestingly, the Singapore government allows citizens to claim full course fees through its ‘Course Fee Relief’ initiative.

Recognise Edtech Providers

Technology-driven learning has become as valuable as classroom learning due to accessibility and convenience. Skill development initiatives can easily reach millions of students even from remote regions. These service providers enable students to earn degrees and certifications. July 2017’s UGC guidelines for online learning in higher education was a great initiative, but more such guidelines favoring educational technology (edtech) companies should be released. UGC should establish a panel of industry leaders and academicians to accredit the best edtech providers that can transform Indian digitally. Edtech companies such as Simplilearn have been operating for almost a decade to provide measurable outcomes, prepare for digital disruption and obtain global certifications. With transparent accreditation, universities can offer online degrees and courses. This can enable students from smaller towns and even working professionals to learn, write exams and earn degrees virtually. Skill initiatives that prepare students for the industry should be valued over initiatives by tier-2 or tier-3 institutes that lack credibility, infrastructure, and quality teaching.

Collaborate With Edtech Firms

Online skill development requires time and technology to succeed. Simply enabling universities to offer online courses is not the solution. UGC guidelines allow colleges with five years of operating experience to provide online courses, but they cannot offer superior quality unless they partner with experts in online learning. So, the government should encourage such partnerships for:

Updated content;
Smart learning management systems;
Delivery of live classrooms;
Gamification, projects and case studies;
Student assessment on skill adoption.

Renowned universities such as Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, and LSE have globally partnered with edtech companies. In the US, South Africa, and Australia, online degrees are even considered on a par with offline degrees. There is no reason why India cannot adopt the same mindset.

Build Online Learning Ecosystem

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are regularly hosted on the government’s Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM) platform. However, low completion rates render these MOOCs ineffective. The government should extend SWAYAM and build a comprehensive learning platform for teaching assistants, trainers and content providers. Awareness campaigns about this platform must also be rolled out. By providing self-learning and virtual classrooms, this will boost interactivity and motivation for students. The platform can also assess a student’s development towards acquiring skills and grant them an attested degree upon completion.

Due to the gap between quality of education and job-market demands, upskilling is mandatory. With support from edtech firms, the Indian education system can radically revamp itself. The government, educational institutes, and edtech companies can provide affordable and high-quality education and programmes that are aligned with the current and future workforce requirements. The digital transformation space is rife with opportunity and, over the next few years, enterprises can take massive steps. This can be boosted by nurturing skill development initiatives to spur employment and transform India into a knowledge economy.

This article was first published on Financial Express.

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