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Report on seminar

'Higher Education: Affirmative Action and Skill Gaps'


Observer Research Foundation organized a seminar on 'Higher Education: Affirmative Action and Skill Gaps' on 21st Dec 2012 at the ORF Headquarters, New Delhi. Prof. Ashwani Kumar, Administrator-Academics and Prof. T. P. N., Singh, Advisor (R&D) were detailed to attend the seminar. The resource persons were:

1. Mr. Sunjoy Joshi – Director, ORF.

2. Prof. Jeemol Unni – Director, Institute of Rural Management – Anand (IRMA).

3. Prof. Rakesh Basant – Senior Faculty at IIM, Ahmedabad.

4. Shri Harsh Sethi – Consulting Editor at Seminar & Consultant at Business India Group.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for HRD was the Chief Guest and Key Note Speaker. Mr. Sourabh Johri, Programme Advisor welcomed the distinguished guests and members of audience.                                                   

Admitting that there is a "clear gap in the overall regulation of higher education", the Minister for State for Human Resource Develpment, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, said that the government is planning to establish an over-arching authority to set and coordinate standards in higher education. He said a draft bill to create a new over-arching authority to set standards in higher education is in the offing.

The Minister said there is a need to establish a body with statutory authority to prescribe academic standards, norms of accreditation and mechanisms of financing and governance of institutions. Such a body will enhance the endeavour to promote credible standards of higher education and research in the country, he said. The Minister said with no centralised policy or regime for foreign educational institutions in the country, some of the foreign institutions are resorting to various malpractices to attract students, especially in the smaller towns and cities.

The Minister warned that if we went wrong in this mission, it would lead to frustration among the bulging youth, which would be "calamitous" for the country. "The Maoists are a clear reflection of what happens when young men feel that they have no stake and no opportunities in society," he said.

Presenting the ORF-IIM-Ahmadabad study on affirmative action in education, Prof. Rakesh Basant suggested a new formula for reservations in education - based on the parental education. "Parental education can potentially be useful criterion for affirmative action, given the changing role of the caste," Prof. Basant said, emphasizing on the relevance of crossing the threshold of supply side criticality.

Presenting a study on skill gaps, Prof. Jeemol Unni, Director, IRMA, suggested a skill policy that encourages non-graduate technical and non-technical diploma/certificate holders into lower graduate intensity occupations would help to close the skill gap and reduce the pressure on graduate, reducing also the skill mismatch gap.

Post tea session was a panel discussion on Policy imperatives of reforms in higher education. The panel members were :

1. Shri. J. P. Rai – Executive Director at Prime Minister’s National Council on skill development.

2. Dr. Pramath Sinha – CEO of 9.9 media and former Director at McKinsey & Co.

3. Mr. Tobias Linden – Lead Education Specialist, the World Bank.

4. Mr. Harsh Sethi – Moderator.

Mr. Harsh Sethi stated that the country is having large number of young people who are getting opportunities for education and higher learning. It has been surveyed and found that many of them are fairly satisfied.

Shri. J.P. Rai quoted the report of McKinsey & Co. that 90 million people in India are not employable due to lack of higher learning. He quoted certain Institutes who have violated Govt. norms by flouting all rules and regulations. Indian School of Business, Hyderabad is one of them. He pondered that more and more legislation and excessive regulation may be choking the growth & development of learning centres. 3.8% of GDP is towards education sector and 30% of this is on higher learning. There is a need of functional Institutes to give literacy, numeracy and soft skills to students.

Mr. Pramath Sinha spoke on his experiences of opening management Institute at Mohali and New University at Haryana (Ashoka University). He averred that profit should not be made from formal education and ethics should be a part of the curricular. He requested the Govt. to make it easier for legitimate players to set up Institutes. Like telecom sector, there should be auction circles for education Institutions. He also wanted good loan facility and banking system for payment of education expenses by students.

Mr. Tobias Linden spoke on the science of education, role of the state Govt. and qualitative education.

UGC Chairman Dr. Ved Prakash outlined the Govt.’s role in granting permission for opening Institutes. He outlined three areas namely autonomy, penalty clause and research innovation. There are severely quality deficient Institutes and fragmented higher education in the Institutes.

Lastly question and answer session was conducted wherein questions pertaining to higher learning were asked and answered by the panel members. The meeting came to an end at 13:10 hrs.

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