UGC, AICTE, wake up, it’s a new world out there

There is a flood of news these days on the rise of technology corporates’ income attributable to the increase of business in digital, cloud and big data. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) announced that its Q4 net profit rose 4.5%, and revenue from digital services grew 43%. Infosys also reported a 2.4% up in its Q4 net profit ending FY18 and the company has forecast its dollar revenue to grow at 7-9% in FY19. Salil Parekh, CEO and MD of the company, has asserted that the company would execute its whole strategy around Artificial Intelligence, automation and re-skilling employees. The Big5 (Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Alphabet) crossed $3 trillion in aggregate market cap, marking a new threshold for technology companies.

All this may be just news for some, but for others, it’s valuable input for their business. Investors work on it for their investment plans; competitors strategise for the future based on these trends; governments eye this development to compute taxes and global conglomerates take such news as data for their mergers and acquisition plans. Everybody seems to learn and benefit from such news, except education authorities in India such as UGC, AICTE. Why can’t they think about these trends and translate them into benefits for our students in higher education, especially technical and management education?

Except IIMs and other statutory institutions in India, 95% of our higher education institutions (including autonomous and stand-alone institutions) have been directly or indirectly regulated and monitored by UGC and AICTE, under siege of the Ministry of HRD.

The model curriculum, which is devised by UGC and AICTE guides, by and large, the board of studies of universities, academic councils of autonomous and stand-alone institutions. What is the quality of the model curriculum? How often it is updated? Does that model curriculum ensure updated learning and make students industry-ready?

The condition is still worse for affiliated colleges of universities, including engineering and management institutions, which are compelled to follow the curriculum prescribed by the university, hardly reviewed for over a decade.

How much does the news about TCS, Infosys and the Big5 matter to UGC and AICTE? The drastic changes in business models have sparked a need to immediately revamp the curriculum of engineering and management institutions. To rise to this occasion, these bodies have no option but to plan and develop curriculum in response to the magnitude of changes in business and the dynamics of digitalisation, cloud computing, AI and Big Data.

Given that engineering and management institutions in their individual capacities cannot interface with major corporates in curriculum planning and development, regulatory bodies should find a way, preferably through a large-scale interface with the industry, to develop and update curriculum at the national level and share and enforce the modified curriculum for execution at the institution level.

Furthermore, UGC and AICTE should whitewash the obsolete and non-relevant components of the syllabus so that students learn in-depth only that which is required for their careers. These digital and AI courses should be taught across all programmes as credit courses regardless of specialisation. Less than 5% of 5,500 B-Schools in the country provide students the opportunity to opt for business analytics as a major specialisation. The situation may be worse in engineering colleges where students graduate lacking in-depth knowledge of cloud computing and any understanding of AI.

The engineering and management institutions may not be able to offer digital courses for two major reasons: they may not have a scalable, comprehensive syllabus for digital courses and lack the infrastructure and talent to teach.

Collaborate with industry

The solution is simple: the relevant curriculum should be brought out by UGC/AICTE in collaboration with Fortune 500 companies and Indian conglomerates and the talent to teach can easily be acquired from the industries, provided the UGC/AICTE norms on qualifications for visiting faculty members is relaxed. Many IT and core engineering employees with just an under-graduate degree can do marvellous jobs. Unfortunately, the engineering and management institutions in small town and rural areas cannot take advantage of this.

We constantly hear the cynical but fair statement from the industry that many engineering and management graduates cannot be employed by companies.

Reports say that as many as 97% of graduating engineers want jobs either in software or core engineering but only 3% have suitable skills to be employed in software or product markets, only 7% can handle core engineering tasks.

The situation is not different for MBA graduates, either. As former president Pranab Mukherjee said, “if our educational situation is not reversed quickly, we will land ourselves in a scenario of having a large number of people with degrees but not enough manpower with proficiency to meet the emerging requirement of our industrial and other sectors.” It has been more than two years since he said that, but nothing has changed. How long do we have to wait for change to happen?

It is now inevitable and urgent to double the effort at all levels. It calls for employing innovative curriculum and pedagogy, offering new courses in AI and business analytics, identifying the right talent to teach, and working closely with the industry to achieve the targets of re-skilling engineering and management graduates and making them feel proud of their education. There is no time to waste — India’s graduates, and its future, depend on it.

(The writer is Dean of Academics, Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship, Bengaluru)

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UGC, AICTE, wake up, it’s a new world out there

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