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Will An Exit Exam Help The 18.6 Million Unemployed Graduates In India?

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Recently, in a report by the New Indian Express, there was news about the possibility of Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) being made a compulsory ‘exit exam.’ If enforced, students pursuing technical courses in the academic year 2019-2020 would have to write this exam and clear it in order to get their degree certificate. This resolution passed by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) would have to be followed by all technical institutions across the country.

It is possible this decision was taken due to the alarming concern of the rising number of unemployed engineering graduates in the country.

As per the news report, an official source at the AICTE has stated that, ‘The degree certificate will be awarded to students only after they clear the exit examination,’ He further added that, ‘There are over seven lakh students who graduate from around 3,000 engineering institutions across the country every year.’

But later, on November 4 2018, R. Subrahmanyam, the Secretary of Higher Education in the Government of India, took to Twitter and said, ‘This is to clarify that the news published in The New Indian Express that “GATE exam is being made compulsory for all engineering students” is incorrect.’

While reading this, the alarming rate at which unemployment is increasing hit me; it prompted me to research and look into the state of employability of professional graduates across the country. The statistics are proof of how the employability in India is in shambles. It is unnerving to say the least.

This piece will trace whether conducting an exit exam is a feasible option to solve the problem of unemployability across three fields of professional education – engineering, business administration and law.

A Bird’s Eye View Of Employment In India

When a student enrolls in an institution, he studies more to a get a job than the degree, obviously the degree being the key to that coveted job. This expectation is a part of the return of investment that a student places in the institution. Yet, if statistics are to be believed, the picture of employment and employability is different in India.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), in a report, has projected unemployment in India at 18.6 million for 2018, higher than the 18.3 million in 2017. The World Bank (WB), in a report, has warned India that a nation of 1.32 billion people must create 8.1 million jobs a year to maintain its employment rate.

More than the employment rate, it is the employability of the graduates which seems to be the problem.

The State of the ‘Bhed Chaal’ Of Engineering Graduates

Let us look at some statistics considering the employability factor of engineering graduates.

As per data on 60,000 graduates across India, an employability solutions company found that around 47% of Indian graduates are unemployable. A McKinsey report, found out that only a quarter of Indian engineers are employable. Keeping in mind the Indian demographic, this is an alarming statistic.

Youth Ki Awaaz spoke to Dr. Joseph John, a professor from the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Bombay who emphasised the alarming nature of the problem saying that ‘Employability of engineering graduates is a complicated problem, with very little hope of improvement in the near future without serious action.’

A study by the company Aspiring Minds raised many questions when they claimed that 95% of engineers in the country were not fit for software development jobs.

On Whom Does The Onus Of Employability Lie?

With the skill gap widening, industries have the responsibility to make graduates employable. They are the ones who claim to be focusing on the skill development and learnability of the graduates. Many big companies in India have created leaning technology and learning centres for fresh graduates to be trained under. The onus of moulding the graduates has thus, shifted from universities and colleges to the industries.

Companies like Infosys train fresh graduate recruits for six months before putting them on the job. However, in most cases nowadays, firms don’t have the kind of time and resources to train freshers for long durations, before they take up their full fledged responsibilities.

When the industry claims to not have enough time to train recruits, they put the entire responsibility on universities. Unrealistically, they expect quality students to pass out from these universities to join big companies.

A professor from the Mechanical Engineering Department from Chennai says, ‘Technically the job of universities is to provide knowledge on a particular field, say mechanical or electronic engineering. Generating a labour force for the industry is not the job of the university. Companies may like to think that universities exist for them. I disagree.’

Adding to this he also spoke about the freedom of the field a student would like to pursue. ‘A student can become an entrepreneur or researcher or anything. Universities provide knowledge and whichever specific field he chooses to work, that workplace must provide him the necessary skills or fine-tuning. Universities need not and should not generate labour force for the industry. In that sense when someone comes to a college/university for recruitment, they must come looking for a knowledgeable person whom they can train and employ not a trained employee.’

Sub-Standard Curriculum

As per the Aspiring Minds report, only 4.77 % candidates could frame a logical programme – which is a bare minimum requirement for any programming job.

Over 36,000 engineering students from IT related branches from more than 500 colleges took Automata – a Machine Learning based assessment of software development skills – and it was found that more than 60% could not even write code that compiles. Only a meagre 1.4 % could write a functionally correct and efficient code.

For a mechanical design engineer and a civil engineer the employability percentage was a dreadful low of 5.55% and 6.48% respectively. A further low was for a chemical engineer role which was a 1.64%. The highest employability percentage was for electronic engineers at 7.07%.

As per reports, it was understood that the underlying problem lies in the sub-standard education provided by the engineering institutions across India. Other than the IITs, NITs and other high-ranked technology institutes, majority of the remaining institutions are unable to provide suitable education for different kinds of jobs in the market.

Supporting this derivation, Jerry Cherian, a third year mechanical engineering student from Bharati Vidyapeeth University said, ‘The overall curriculum, it vastly depends from college to college. Barring the IITs and a few NITs the curriculum is aimed only at scoring and very less on skill development. The problem lies in the disparity between the theoretical knowledge (book knowledge) and its implementation (practical aspect).’

Andrew Martin, a third year Electronics Engineering student, from SSN College, Chennai disagreed to placing the whole burden of the same on the curriculum. ‘Though the curriculum is not fully equipping, that sort of thing is not expected from the institutions as well. The job of the institution (in terms of employability) is to train the student’s mind to approach a project/problem in an efficient manner. While curriculum has a role to play in this, it would be unfair to put the whole burden on the curriculum. There are a lot of other factors that contribute to the growth of the student’s mind like the faculty’s teaching method, internships, etc.’ he said.

Echoing the same, Professor Joseph John of IIT Bombay said, ‘If you look at the syllabus of any University or Engineering Institute, the syllabus and course work would be just the same as in the IITs or the NITs. The engineering curriculum is more or less as per the AICTE guidelines. In my opinion the problems are too many – poor teaching and laboratory facilities, poor learning skills, easier means of scoring high marks without adequate knowledge, etc.’

He further added, ‘The curriculum changes would be a patch work, just like putting a band aid on a serious wound. As of now there is nothing seriously wrong with the curriculum, but are they followed and taught properly? After doing a course can the students answer basic conceptual questions set by someone else? Answers to most of the above questions will be a “No.”’

Youth Ki Awaaz also spoke to an engineering professional, Praneeth, who shared his experience from when he was in college. ‘In my college days it was compulsory for us to have 3 months industrial internship. This helped me to understand the practical challenges in an industrial project and industrial work culture and high need for innovation. This practice gives students a better understanding of applying their technical knowledge and thus equipping the students for future projects in India or international ones.’

Is The Exit Exam A Solution?

Considering the poor statistics, it is a close call whether the GATE exam will prove to be a solution or will it be another problem for engineering students.

Though the AICTE has prescribed specific norms for the effectuating technical education in India, there is no specific measure to gauge whether it is happening to fulfill the desired levels of technical understandings or not.
GATE, another screening test conducted by AICTE, can be a measure to understand where the students of various universities and colleges stand before one measuring yard. Of course, it has its own limitations, however, such a measurement with a common yardstick can improve the system as a whole.

Universities and colleges write with pride, “Accredited to AICTE;” however, the graduates of such institutions often may not exhibit a general proficiency band. The GATE exam might help in achieving that.

Upon being asked their views on the GATE exam being made compulsory, professors had distinct views from those of students and freshly recruited professionals.

A professor from an engineering college in Chennai in the electronics department is of the view that, ‘GATE, might help students enhance their basics in engineering. It can help students clear government exams and things like that, and get jobs, but I doubt if it will be helpful with changing industry demands.’

Another professor from IIT Bombay believes that the exam would ensure ‘a good level of quality and competence.’

On the other hand, a professor from the mechanical engineering department was of a different view. ‘Universities are authorized by the government to design curriculum, conduct exams and award degrees. Universities are competent enough to execute them. If government thinks that the graduates produced by universities are incompetent, then they must run the entire programme. Already things like NEET and centralized employments have questions. Exit exams will join that category. Introducing exam over exam and exam of exams is not to produce quality engineers but for social engineering. It is to ensure social stratification.’

What was observed was that the students and professionals shared the same view that GATE would just further add to the theoretical knowledge, rather than contributing to skill development.

Was Liberalisation The Key To The Employability Of MBA Graduates?

More than tens of thousands of management graduates pass out from over 5500 business schools in the country. According to a study by ASSOCHAM, only 7% of them are employable. Just as is the case of Engineering and IITs, similarly, other than the IIMs very few management institutes in India, provide very high quality education which in turn guarantees employment.

As per data by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) in 2016-17, more than half of the MBA graduates were not getting hired in campus placements. Only 47% of the MBA’s were placed. This was not including graduates from the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs).

Youth Ki Awaaz spoke to Dr. Georgy Kurien, the Associate Dean of the Institute of Management, Christ University.

He did not agree with the statistics of employable MBA graduates. ‘The Institute of Management trains 1500 MBA students and 750 students graduate every year. This probably would be the largest numbers in India. Out of 750 graduating students, around 640 students gets campus placements. This is around 85% placement. The rest of the students include those who return to their family business, going for higher studies, returning to previous employers and some not opting for placements due to personal reasons. This indicates that almost all students who wants placements get placed. Most of the students join us because they want a good career immediately after MBA and they do get it. The entire cost of MBA (tuition fees+accommodation+food+other expenses) gets reimbursed within one year of their employment because of their pay/salary. So the presumption that management graduates are not employable is not true as far as we are concerned, our graduates are very much employable and best of the business enterprises are recruiting our graduates year after year.’

That’s one side of it. But, students are spending whopping amounts of money on their management education, with the return of investment in term of employment remaining very low. Even those who manage to obtain placements, end up earning a meagre INR 8,000-10,000 per month.

The main problem lies in the poor quality of management education which is provided to the students and this in turn results in very low employability of the students.

A few problems in the management education that, hence, stand out are:

1) Poor Skill Based Education

Skill based education is lacking in many of the higher education fields in India and management education is no different. The focus is on theory and less on the practical that students suffer.

Shedding some light on this, Dr. Bakul Dholakia, Director General, IMI New Delhi, said, ‘Management education emphasises on pedagogies like using case studies, etc. instead of imparting the practical expertise attained from years of experience in the domain. Management institutes, not following current contextual mix of innovative pedagogical tools, create an immense disparity between the real and academic culture of business management.’

But, an MBA student from Christ University had something different to say. According to her, ‘The curriculum for the management course in my college encourages both theoretical and practical enforcement of knowledge. The theory part covers all important aspects of the functioning of the various industries and the companies within the same. It covers strategic theories, sustainable development and the essential steps required for it, operations of the company, understanding and managing human resources, etc. For the practical part the curriculum covers a summer internship programme. Here the students get a practical experience of everything covered in theories.’

Whether an internship genuinely give exposures to the practical side of things of a profession is another domain altogether, and something that is subjective and thus, difficult to measure.

2) Old School Syllabi

With the needs of today’s market being specialised yet varied, the gap between the needs of the market and the employees is very high. One of the most important factors of the same is due to dated school syllabus in management schools.

Dr. Dholakia shared his comment on the same, ‘While the face of the industry takes less than a year to evolve, the syllabus is not constantly updated in many cases, thereby widening the gap between what is learned and what is required in the current job market,’ he said.

Dr. Georgy Kurien disagrees, however and argues on the dynamicity of the curriculum.‘We update our curriculum very regularly; a course syllabus gets reviewed in every two to three years. Our syllabus and curriculum gets updated by getting it reviewed periodically through industry experts and academicians outside our institute. Recent developments, not included in syllabus is addressed through conducting special workshops, seminars, etc.’ he said.

Is The Exit Exam A Solution?

I posed the same question about an exit exam to MBA graduates. The Head of HR in a reputed company was of the view that, ‘MBA is not theoretical. It is basically a moulding thinking pattern. A mix of test not necessarily paper based can be introduced on a national level which can be set as a benchmark.’

Rule Of Law In Legal Education

Let us take into consideration another professional course, that of law – the state of affairs is more or less the same. As a law student, I can definitely say that, the curriculum that I study is outdated. With developments in the legal field occurring everyday, the dynamism of communities modifying and the changing levels of acceptance and breaking taboos in our society, the syllabus that is taught in our universities and colleges seems archaic. This creates a similar problem when law graduates seek employment.

While the law students that I spoke to leaned towards criticising their curriculum, some professors have a different view.

Tejaswini Kandi, a fourth year law student from Symbiosis Law School said, ‘The curriculum provided for us students is definitely not enough. Especially because law is organic and it keeps changing with every slight change in the national and international forum. For example, GST: most law syllabi only explain the basics however, the focus should be on practical applications the way institutes encourage their students to delve deeper into other subjects such as Comparative Constitutional Law.’

Though, on the same matter, Pradyumna Purohit, a professor from Jindal Global Law School at Mahatma Gandhi Center for Peace Studies, was of a different view. He said, ‘The curriculum does not equip an individual to take up graduate jobs. A good curriculum can equip a candidate to outperform at the job, but it has no relation to landing in for jobs or opportunity. The reason being that the philosophy and end goal of curriculum making is not for the job market. The framing of a curriculum is a strictly academic exercise. Sadly, this academic exercise in professional legal education is not yielding higher employment rates. Even the best of curriculum leads to mediocrity if the facilitator is not in sync with the objectives and expectations of students and  institution.’

He urged on bridging the gap between the two poles of theory and practice, but not at the cost of diminishing academic value. ‘They (curricula and placements) are two parallels but are different social subsystems. Hence, it is important that there ought to be a convergence for better job opportunities in legal sectors. The caveat for the said convergence ought not to be at the compromise of doctrinal values of academics. Unless this paradox of clinical utility and philosophical appetite is not removed or balanced, we all are on a collision course. A quantifiable assessment of the job market and curriculum is necessary before jumping to any substantial conclusions,’ he said.

The Practical Aspect

What both students and legal professionals seemed to agreed upon was that the way law graduates develop their skill, is mainly through internships. What the curriculum couldn’t provide is definitely compensated vis-a-vis internships.

Having said that, as Justice Rohinton Nariman is of the opinion that practical application has very little to do with education. He highlighted the importance of the manner of teaching saying, “It is not important what you teach, it is important how you teach what you teach.”

A stimulating curriculum and a good teacher act as supplements to each other. But yes, what is undeniable that a good curriculum marks the base for a class/batch of value.

Is The Exit Exam A Solution?

Professionals, students and faculty all agreed that exit exams were not a solution, especially in the Indian context. Pranav Bafna, a fourth year student from ILS Law College said, ‘Rather than making students sit through another exam, encouraging students to develop their legal aptitude through research work, legal aid participation and encouraging greater consumption of legal literature would be a more effective solution.’

Conclusion

At the end of the day, through the diverse and seemingly contradictory arguments, we start to see a pattern emerge. Everyone agrees that a change, almost a massive clean up, is required. A problem has been identified and solutions have been discussed. It is clear that an exit exam like any other exam, is single handedly not capable of bringing about a change.

Other factors like a revised curriculum, which is in line with contemporary principles and changing dynamics that exposes students to industrial and real world applications, and one which inculcates interest along with critical thinking as compared to rote learning, are also vital along with a change in the way these subjects are taught.

The change we need can only be brought by an active involvement of all stakeholders involved – the students, the teachers, the universities, and the employers themselves. Though the exit exam isn’t happening for now, it has definitely got us asking the right questions. And, asking the right questions is of more importance at this juncture, than an aimless search for answers.

Image source: Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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