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Go on, get a vocation!
Sunday, 21 January 2018 04:17

One of the biggest tragedies in Indian higher education is the partition in the cerebral cortex of Indian parents when they think of their kids’ educational activity; they send their kids to vocational institutes for jobs/skills and send them to colleges for the social signaling value of a degree. While this partition has deep roots and complex causes, most of this tragedy is a child of a vicious separation of vocational training and higher education.

Employability and education are horizontals but the government is organised vertically. But change may be on the way; the ministry of HRD announced last week that the National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF) will go live from the 2012-13 academic sessions in polytechnics, engineering colleges and other colleges under the university system. NVEQF is a descriptive framework that provides a common reference for linking various qualifications to translate various qualifications from schools, vocational training, technical education, colleges and universities. NVEQF has many upsides but two are most important; multiple on and off ramps and vertical mobility between certificates, diplomas and degrees.

The multiple entry and exit ramps are an important and overdue innovation; the current higher education system largely serves kids between the 18-23 years of age who pass their Class 12 exams. But every year as many as 100 lakh of the 260 lakh kids who take the Class 10 exam fail. And 80 lakh of the 160 lakh kids who take the Class 12 exam every year fail. Of the 80 lakh who pass Class 12, only 50 lakh enter higher education. The current higher education system obviously does not have much flexibility or solutions for the 210 lakh kids who made it to Class 10 but didn’t go to higher education and chose work or non-degree education. But the bigger dilemma is faced by students who dropped out before Class 10 or people who entered the workforce early and want to re-enter the higher education system. Our estimate is this NVEQF could change the lives of about 30% of the workforce—420 million “education outsiders”—by creating flexibility.

One of the biggest myths in skills has been an irrational social stigma about vocational training. This stigma is hardly irrational; most vocational training in India has traditionally not led to a job nor did it offer any possibilities of vertical mobility into the higher education system. Skill programmes with high employment outcomes hardly suffer the stigma. But the optics and uptake of non-degree programmes—certificates or diplomas—would substantially improve if students had the option of using them as an opening balance to enter or re-enter the higher education system. Experience shows that only 30% of the students may actually exercise the option of vertical mobility over their lives but this option has real value. NVEQF will also allow more effective integration of vocational skills into school education though I personally believe that fixing schools may be a better idea than vocationalising them because Class 10 is already the new Class 8 but that is another article. NVEQF will create vertical mobility between certificates, diplomas and degrees by enabling credit transfer and recognition of prior learning. So the social signaling value of a degree—80% of matrimonial ads require one—will now be available. But more than a substantial bump up of overall social signaling value, NVEQF will allow institutions and individuals to craft a more seamless blending of practical skills with theoretical knowledge.

Realizing the true upside of NVEQF requires navigating intersections that have sunk many policy moves; the intersection across central ministries and the intersection between a central government who sets strategy and state governments who control delivery systems and execution. The relationship with the National Council of Vocational Training needs to be ironed out because increasing the employability is surely an objective of NVEQF. This employability requires active involvement of employers and I submit that the sector skill councils of NSDC would be a better trustee of NVEQF that the currently proposed AICTE. If the AICTE mandate is an interim arrangement until Sector Skill Councils are able then it is fine, but history shows that jurisdiction shifts—particularly in education—are hard to unravel even though original intentions envisaged an expiry date.

NVEQF has the potential to be one of the biggest innovations in Indian higher education regulation over the last decade. But as with any complex policy innovation, the idea is only the end of the beginning. The complexity of operationalising credit transfer and equivalence, recognition of prior learning, credit for on-the-job training, etc, have the potential to overwhelm any framework.

NVEQF is an idea whose time has come but the antibiotic reaction from stakeholders outside the ministry of HRD—state governments, traditional academics, senates of universities, and the ministry of labour—have begun. These are strong-willed organisations that have different ideas about jurisdiction and may have the power to slow down if not block NVEQF. As Stephen Hawking said, the biggest obstruction to progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. We must try to get everybody on the same page but, if that does not happen, somebody must decide the page. If there was ever an issue that deserved issuing a fatwa in Indian education, NVEQF is it.

The author is chairman, Teamlease Services


Posted: Tuesday, Feb 14, 2012 at 0311 hrs IST