Saturday, October 17, 2009

Devesh Kapur on a goals-driven strategy for India's higher ed

On this Deepavali day, here's something to light up the debate on India's higher education priorities.

In his ToI column, Starting Point of Higher Education, Devesh Kapur focuses on "the lack of clarity in thinking about the fundamental underlying question: What are the goals of Indian higher education?". He then goes on to pose a bunch of questions in order to clarify where India's higher ed priorities should be.

The most discernible instrumental outcome of higher education is its links with and impact on labour markets. Let us say one of its key goals is to provide skills to a very large number of new entrants to the labour force. But then, should one invest in IITs or ITIs? Suppose we want to leverage the human capital resulting from investments in higher education to improve Indian health care. A supply chain of health care would require doctors, nurses and paramedics, pharmacists and lab technicians, hospital administrators and even accountants. If the goal then is better societal health outcomes, where should resources be directed? In India, investment in the human capital of nurses and paramedics might matter much more than specialist physicians, and in civil and environmental engineers who can ensure clean water and sanitation much more than the high-tech engineering behind MRIs. But what do we do? When we think of skills we are obsessed with IITs; when we think of health care we can scarcely think beyond doctors.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Do we really lack labor force? I think, unemployment is the major problem. Once we have the capacity to create sufficient work, we can then worry about how distribute it. Without such a goal, it will become a blame game.

  2. L said...

    There is unemployment, but there is also a huge shortage of doctors,teachers...we keep hearing about the schools without teachers, PHC without medical staff..So it's not lack of jobs-- it's just bad management.
    Our higher education does not equip students with any skill...neither practical skills nor intellectual skills.

  3. Anonymous said...

    In any third world country with a largely functionally illiterate and clueless society, there will simultaneously be unemployment and unfilled seats in almost any job requiring specific training. In fact, if you compare janitors in developed countries vs. in India, you will see the quality gap even in a job that is supposedly nowhere near high-tech. The only job in India without a qualification requirement is parenthood! Let me not hear you scapegoat "poor management" or "bad governance" again --- no genius, not even God can govern or manage a people that goes from 350M to 1.1B in 60 short years. Modern life is too complex to claim that these 660B new people "will generate the assets they themselves need to thrive"---clearly not! Per-capita calorie intake is now down to 1950 levels again (WB/UN data), and the water table in northern India is in terminal decline.