Higher Education and Employability: Concerns and Prospects

“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.” says Wilbur Wright (1867 –1912), inventor and pioneer of aviation. Knowledge and skills are two great assets that give ...

"It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill." says Wilbur Wright (1867 –1912), inventor and pioneer of aviation. Knowledge and skills are two great assets that give people more opportunities to realize their full potential, both personally and professionally. While knowledge refers to theoretical information acquired by a person on a subject, the skills refer to practical application of that knowledge. In today's world the chances to qualify for a good job depends upon both the knowledge and skills that one has obtained. The gains that come from acquiring knowledge and skills, is not just valuable to the individual but can also benefit the people around and the whole society. A good education system must be able to provide us knowledge, skills and employability.
We have been creating hype on the concept of industry-academia interface in seminars, conferences and at different forums and emphasizing closer partnership between the two for boosting research, enhancing employability of our youth and to meet the other challenges of a competitive world. In this direction, the primary role of an institution of higher learning is to generate and propagate knowledge and the role of the Industry is to support in this effort by helping them understand whether the knowledge they propagate is relevant and can be applied to real life situations. Then there is a need to restructure the curriculum in which the employers, industry executes and policymakers have to join with the academicians to understand each other's needs and competencies and fine-tune the curriculum and syllabi for students.
In many years of the concept of industry-academia interface, I have only heard the campus placements of candidates doing BE, MBA etc in which the  candidates focused on a single agenda of emoluments they are going to receive in the company, while as industry focused on their ranking in the campus. Apart from this, I don't understand industry–academia interface with regard to Kashmir. I always question myself what kind of knowledge we produce in our universities and where to apply that knowledge in our non-existent industries. There has been an initiative by some leading Indian companies joining hands with National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) for providing training and skills and enhancing the employability of unemployed youth. They are visiting our Universities and Colleges, conducting career awareness and counseling programs for skill development which can provide our youth training and helping them to find jobs.
Though these programs will act as a platform to bring the unemployed youth of Jammu and Kashmir in touch with the corporates seeking talented workforce, but according to reports only a few have obtained  jobs after training and that  these companies are not opening their offices in the Valley. The Low salary packages and poor placement offers have not impressed our youth at large. At the same time it is important to note that merely absorbing few or hundred people or imparting training to lakhs over a period of five years cannot solve our huge unemployment problem. Every year Kashmir University adds 20,000 graduates and 3000 postgraduate to the unemployment list of the valley. If we add the candidates who obtain degrees from other universities, the number becomes huge. Then there are candidates who have already obtained degrees, besides there are other large number of unemployed youth who are not graduates and are eagerly looking for jobs.
The UGC during Xth Plan decided to recast the vocationalisation program at undergraduate level. They proposed a scheme that offers career and market-oriented, skill enhancing add-on courses that have utility for job, self-employment and empowerment of the students. The objective of the scheme is to bridge the gap between the Industry and the academia and will run parallel to the conventional BA/ BSc/BCom Degree courses. At the end of the courses, the students would be awarded Certificate/Diploma/Advanced Diploma in an add-on orientation course along with the conventional degree in Science, Arts and Commerce. Though the scheme looks attractive, but in terms of infrastructure, proper course structure and suitable faculty to impart the skills, the scheme was poorly received. Moreover the College students who are already overburdened with the College academics cannot cope with the additional course and acquire what is really expected from them.
Though the Universities/Colleges can formulate their own need-based job-oriented courses based on the guidelines suggested by UGC, but are we able to revise or update even the syllabi for our graduate and postgraduate classes and make it really attractive and useful for our students to increase their employability? At least I don't think..! I have a very bad experience of going in the Board of Studies meeting last time in Kashmir University for forming a syllabus for BSc Ist year in Physics. I was fully prepared and had taken syllabi of Civil Service, Forest Service- Examinations and NET, etc for helping to arrange and carve out a purposeful syllabus for the students. But my suggestions did not go deep into the mind of then the HOD. Later they did not even send mail copies of the prepared syllabus for moderation for which they agreed to us in the meeting. Preparing syllabi in a hotchpotch manner will simply confuse students and create phobia with the subject and it will serve no purpose except making students disinterested with the subject.
Revising, redesigning and preparing a curriculum and syllabi is a very serious business because it virtually deals with the future of the students and we should continuously keep up with the ever-changing expectations of the society. We need to take extra efforts to identify and accommodate large number of job-oriented, skill-based, add-on, industry-oriented courses and other certificate and diploma courses which are socially-relevant in and outside Kashmir. These subjects should act as catalyst to the conventional subjects. Starting multi-disciplinary approach, adopting new pedagogical techniques, integrating technology, arranging guest faculty lectures, facilitating faculty development and exchange programs are the issues which we need to incorporate with the curriculum besides linking nearby polytechnics and technical training institutes to train College students pursuing graduation in traditional courses.
Today a common complaint among employers about College graduates is the lack of job-related skills in which the employers become more concerned about organizational skills and interpersonal proficiency.  It has been seen that the lack of focus on communicative English, poor computer skills and dearth of concept-based learning and soft skills are becoming major factors for rejection of candidates for various jobs. Soft skills influence how we interact with each other; enhance human relations to cooperate with people at work, both internally and externally. Today soft skills are the technical requirements of a job and have become more important than hard skills. The introduction of soft skills and language skills will certainly improve the employability of our students. Therefore we need to devise courses for job-oriented skills such as facing interviews and group discussions and train students in soft skills and integrate them in the curriculum.
Many industries in the country and abroad are not getting the adequate number of trained professional workers and on the other hand, lakhs of students graduating from Universities each year are roaming the streets jobless. Isn't this a tragedy? Thousands of our students are undergoing coaching's for various entrance exams in different states of India and we are not able to create such facilities here to earn employment and at the same time contribute to the good of a society. Some days back I had a discussion with one Economics Madam Professor about the unemployment problems in Kashmir. She was of the opinion that we must encourage our own people and pay our artisans, workers, laborers little more. Off course it is a very good idea to stop the drain of our wealth. But are we able to deliver excellent services in a reciprocal and justifiable manner. It is not possible for anybody to pay little more to a Kashmiri barber, for example, for a bad haircut when on the other hand we can have a good haircut with a Bihari barber for a lesser price? Therefore it is high time we strive for providing excellent services by which we can control our markets and increase the employability for all of us.
At a time when information technology has revolutionized the whole world, we don't have its industry in Kashmir. Although mobile phones and the Internet excess have drastically changed the modes of our communication, IT industries and parks are still unknown to us. Leaving aside the IT-related jobs even we don't have the provisions for IT education. The absence of an IT industry is a big void in this part of the world. The IT industry would certainly solve the unemployment problem in the Kashmir Valley to a great extent. It will not only fight unemployment but will provide a boost to the state economy which is largely backed by tourism and handicrafts. The educated but unemployed youth now numbering around 400,000, the development of the IT industry can be seen as a means of fighting unemployment in the region. The poor and underprivileged cannot afford the expense of educating themselves in IT outside Kashmir and then settling there for jobs.
It is true that job problems, economic insecurity and unfulfilled career ambitions has pushed our qualified youth towards aimlessness and frustration. Our youth today are at a crossroads of their lives and they are passing very tough times. The job opportunities available in Kashmir aren't enough for them and their future looks bleak, uncertain and vulnerable to lot of risks. But it is also true that the attitude of our youth towards the choice of the career is unrealistic and unproductive. Just after 10+2 or graduation they keep hankering after white collar jobs, which are very limited in number and shy away from blue-collar careers where they could guarantee more income. It is unfortunate that dependency on Govt jobs has created a psyche of life long social security in our minds. The rehbari-scheme employs, contractual lecturers and other ad hoc employs though get a paltry salary but they prefer it because they are hoping against hope to be permanent someday. The herd mentality of running after one profession or psyche of being secured in Govt jobs or the cast-based professions, I think this mindset has to change.
The youth need to roll up their sleeves for better job opportunities anywhere in the world. In the current globalized scenario the jobs are no longer confined to urban centers or within the country but are available across the globe. The only thing our youth need to do is to make themselves proficient and technically qualified in the goals of their lives. They need to be aware about the job requirements and desirability and work for their capacity building, skill upgradation and training for it. I will close my chapter with a saying that "A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune's inequality exhibits under this sun" 
(Author is Associate Professor & Head, Dept of Physics, Amar Singh College, Srinagar)
amin_malik_ku@hotmail.com

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