Summary of UK India Business Council’s Higher Education Sector Policy Group Meeting

KEY ISSUES DISCUSSED

ENHANCING EMPLOYABILITY SKILLS OF INDIAN GRADUATES

The lack of employability of Indian graduates was highlighted to be a major problem – most Indian graduates are found to be ill-equipped for the job market, and require significant retraining. The University Grant Commission’s (UGC) recent mandate instructing domestic Higher Education Institutions (HEI) to ensure that students are adequately trained, find employment and engage more with local communities, is welcome but the group agreed that a fairer approach would be to make student development the joint responsibility of both Indian universities and industry. Ideally, universities should take the initial steps to make students employable and job ready by offering relevant courses and quality teaching, and then industry should come in to provide support by offering placements and further training.

With 600 million young people under the age of 25, and with a Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of less than 26%, it is in fact the collective responsibility of universities, the Indian government, and private organisations to equip graduates with the right job skills for a rapidly changing market. In addition, this is a process that needs to be embedded right from the start – right from first generation learners at the primary school level, all the way through to university. Not only that, it requires securing the buy-in of students’ families and involving them every step of the way to ensure that the student continues to pursue their education right until they graduate. This type of wider community and student-focused approach will yield long term benefits and is the only way to ensure that India’s demographic dividend becomes a reality.

The good news is that the new education policy has a focus on inclusivity, both gender and marginalised community, and increasing employability of students.

This challenge of upskilling Indian graduates presents an exciting opportunity for UK universities as they are well placed to offer consultancy to their Indian counterparts in areas such as curriculum development, teacher training, and research expertise.

WORKING TOWARDS REAL COLLABORATIVE PARTNERSHIPS WITH INDIAN HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS

• For genuine collaborative partnerships to develop between UK and Indian higher education providers, it is essential for both parties to engage in 2-way conversations and learn best practices from each other.

• Since different states are in charge of their own HE systems, it is also important for UK HEPs to customise their strategy to fit the requirements and rules of the individual state. A tailored state-centric plan would yield more positive outcomes than a standard ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Selecting the specific states to engage with would depend on several factors – 2 including the number of UK businesses, the presence of a strong British Deputy High Commission, the state’s political and social agendas, and the level of competitions, to name a few. For example, India’s leading central and state universities in the popular states already have MOUs with several international HE institutions, therefore UK HEPs would find it more valuable to focus on a lesser known, good quality Indian HEI in a state which offers easier operating procedures and less regulatory hurdles.

• Going forward, to ensure sustainable development of the Indian HE sector over the long term, there is a need for a new national collaborative framework between Indian states where domestic HEIs in different states join forces to share best practices and their strengths and put in place effective governance policies. This could lead to a broader and more impactful strategic partnership not just between the HEIs across India but also with the UK higher education stakeholders.

PRIORITY RECOMMENDATIONS SELECTED FROM THE UKIBC REPORT ON THE NEW INDIAN EDUCATION POLICY

While recognition of foreign qualifications is very important to most UK HEPs, this is an area where there is already an active and ongoing dialogue between both governments (the UK government has been lobbying this issue with the Indian government for the last ten years) so it was decided to focus on other issues which are more likely to yield a successful outcome. It is also worth pointing out that despite India’s ambition to internationalise, bilateral agreements around qualification and recognition have been stalled by other ancillary factors such as Brexit, the post-study work visa, freedom of movement and trade flows between India and the UK. For all these reasons, it was decided that it would be best to let this issue be resolved at the G2G level.

Therefore, the group agreed to focus on the following three key recommendations from the report:

1. Establishing a clear roadmap of guidelines for foreign universities to operate in India

2. Looking beyond the overall QS world ranking to identify universities with the specialisms to fit India’s requirements.

3. Harnessing technology to deliver solutions, with more support for distance learning and other flexible models of education.

In addition, the 4Es (excellence, equal access, expansion and employability) need to become an integral part of our wider narrative in this sector.

These three recommendations were found to be most crucial in addressing the needs of Indian students and enabling UK universities to effectively offer their research, training, and employability skills expertise through a consultancy approach.

Implementation of these three agenda items will, over time, have a cascading effect – by encouraging a more learner-centric approach through digital platforms such as Swayam, more and better research-intensive collaborations, and deeper academia and industry links.

It was decided that these three recommendations will form the cornerstone of the UK India Business Council’s higher education campaign plan for the next 6 months.


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