Vocationalisation of Higher Education

Education is an organised process, aimed to pass on a body of knowledge/skill and develop character to make students qualified and competent to perform certain jobs in a desired manner. The education is classified into school education & higher education; professional & non-professional education and vocational education & academic education. All forms of education have relevance in the realm of socio-economic development, therefore, it would be wrong to overemphasise or under emphasise on any form of education. But in the past there was greater emphasis towards academic and technical education. However, with the sectoral transformation of economies where secondary and territory sectors have overtaken the primary sector, the need for skilled labour has increased which in turn has led to the significance of vocational and technical education.  Traditionally vocational education was non-academic in nature and was totally related to a specific trade, occupation or vocation  and was mainly concerned with preparing students for a specific trades, or crafts or as a technician.  Over a period of time, it has become academic as well but involves less academic learning and is mainly focussed on manual or practical activities and training.

The history of vocational education in India dates back to 1964 when Kothari Commission concluded that many jobs do not require university education but such jobs can be performed by the higher secondary school students after being  properly trained for such jobs. Although the focus on vocational education in India continued since long  but during the last 7-8 years there has been greater push from the government towards this form of education. Many initiates at the government level were taken to widen the coverage of vocational education in the country. In 2014, GOI formed the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship with the responsibility to coordinate skill development efforts across the country, building vocational & technical training framework, building new skills and innovative thinking etc. In 2015, the first Skill Development Mission was launched by GOI to provide an institutional framework to rapidly implement and scale-up skill development efforts across the country. It seeks to provide institutional capacity to train a minimum of 300 million people by the year 2022.

Even though there has been much stress on the vocational education during the last 7-8 years, India still lags behind most of the developed countries. Realising the slow progress in vocational education compared to the western world, NEP-2020 emphasised on the urgent need for reimagining the vocational education by exploring the reasons for not gaining much success in achieving the set targets. The primary reasons cited for this dismal performance includes:

  • vocational education has in the past focused largely on Grade 11–12 and on dropouts in Grade 8 and upwards.
  • Students passing out from Grades 11–12 with vocational subjects often did not have well-defined pathways to continue with their chosen vocations in higher education.
  • The admission criteria for general higher education were not designed to provide openings to students who had vocational education qualifications, leaving them at a disadvantage relative to their compatriots from ‘mainstream’ or ‘academic’ education.
  • The vocational education is perceived to be inferior to mainstream education and meant largely for students who are unable to cope with the latter which to a great extent has affected the choices students make.

Given the above perceived bottlenecks, New Policy aims to overcome the social status hierarchy associated with vocational education and offers integration of vocational education programmes into mainstream education. Beginning with vocational exposure at early ages in middle and secondary school, quality vocational education will be integrated smoothly into higher education. The policy aims that every child learns at least one vocation and is exposed to several more. The new policy noted that by 2025, at least 50% of learners through the school and higher education system shall have exposure to vocational education, for which a clear action plan with targets and timelines will be developed. Vocational education will be integrated in the educational offerings of all secondary schools in a phased manner over the next decade. Towards this goal, secondary schools will also collaborate with ITIs, polytechnics, local industry, etc. Skill labs will also be set-up in the schools in a ‘Hub and Spoke Model’ which will allow other schools to use the facility.

NEP-2020 requires higher education institutions to offer vocational education either on their own or in partnership with industry and NGOs. As per the new policy, the B.Voc. degrees introduced in 2013 will continue to exist, but vocational courses will also be available to students enrolled in all other Bachelor’s degree programmes, including the 4-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s programmes. Vocational courses were in the offing in the colleges under a  sponsored scheme of UGC which remained in operation for few decades. Besides, under Choice Based Credit System, students at undergraduate level are offered skill courses with  a huge basket of courses. It is also that the number of colleges have started offering certificate skill courses under various schemes of the GOI. But the question is “have such initiatives towards vocational education at higher education level really yielded the desired dividends? Although there has been no study so far to know the end results of these initiatives yet, there are clear indications that these initiatives have grossly failed either in skilling the students in real sense or helping them to get suitable jobs on the basis of such courses. What are the reasons for such failures need to be explored, otherwise the initiates offered in NEP-2020 are likely to meet the same fate.

The reason for such failures is twofold; one, the skill courses have been framed in a manner that many of them were not truly skill courses and also the course contents of many of such courses are found to be more of academic in nature than truly skill oriented. Second, these courses are being taught by the faculty who have no practical exposure thus, their pedagogy generally remains mainly academic rather than practical and experiential, thus defeats whatever little or more skill orientation such courses are carrying. To make vocationalisation of higher education really useful particularly in J&K, which is unique in many respects, in the first instance, there is a need to do “Skill Mapping” based on “Local Opportunities”. The Skill Sector Councils (SSCs) have identified sector-wise skill courses with qualification paths and national occupation standards, but such skill courses are nation specific rather than area specific. Therefore, there is a need to constitute an expert committee to undertake a detailed ‘Skill Mapping” for each distinct geographical area to identify the skill courses to be focused at different levels of the education area-wise. The work already done by the SSCs can be taken as an important input by the committees for “Skill Mapping” of a given geographical area taking into account the local opportunities.  In the Union Territory of J&K, job opportunities for skilled persons are generally limited for obvious reasons, therefore, while doing skill mapping, the committee should also consider the skills that are in high demand nationally and internationally, particularly in the gulf region. Equally important for the expert committee would be to identify the skills which can be aligned with the higher education either as embedded courses or standalone courses and the skills that can be exclusively acquired at ITIs, polytechnics and other technical institutions.

Equally important would be to design the course curriculum and teaching pedagogy in a manner that truly results into imparting the skill sets required in real life situations. Therefore, the committee in consultation with industry experts and academia should frame course contents for the skill courses to be adopted by higher educational institutions. The soft skill courses are more appropriate to be aligned with the higher education but to conduct such courses, mainly practitioners should be involved to educate and train the students. It would be more appropriate for HEIs to start certificate skill courses in association with the industry partners which should be aligned with the degree programmes in a manner that the students are able to get bachelors degree along with the certificate skill course. Apprenticeship with the local industries should form an important part of the course curriculum of skill courses offered in a standalone basis or in an embedded form with the Bachelors degree programme. It would be also appropriate for HEIs to award certificate for skill courses along with the bachelors degree which will enable them to claim an expertise in the skills acquired while seeking a job.

Kashmir has been famous throughout the world as much for its craftsmanship skills as for its physical charm and natural beauty. The craftsmanship skills continued passing on from generation to generation  but this age old industry of the state, which was enjoying prestige and unique place in the market, has lost lot of its sheen for varied reasons. But the most worrying aspect has been that the new generation is reluctant from taking-up these traditional vocations. There have been concerted efforts from the govt. to regain the past glory of this historical treasure. These efforts can be supplemented further through vocational education by encouraging the educated youth to get involved in this treasure trove by using modern means and methods of business. HEIs would need to design such courses on handicrafts in a manner that will educate the enterprising youth about the various crafts, their entrepreneurial potential and help them in taking these crafts to a different level of design development and marketing practices.

A well established fact is that the success in initiating new policies and programmes depends on three things viz;  How realistically the new programmes/policies have been conceived and planned; How these have been implemented in letter & spirit and post- implementation whether a proper and thorough assessment has been made to know how far the desired results have been achieved. In our country, many policies and programmes fail to yield desired results due to faulty implementation wittingly or unwittingly. It is also that many a times we continue to pursue with wrongly conceived policies and programmes because we never bother to assess whether the policies have been successful in achieving the intended results. As a result, we continue to pump scarce financial resources without achieving due dividends At times the assessment of policies & programmes is done just to complete the process without any honest intent. One of the fundamental principles of good governance is to continuously assess the progress of the policies and programmes in terms of intended outcomes so as to know that how far the intended goals have been achieved. Therefore, it will be of utmost importance for the policy makers to have a third party assessment of the vocational education policies and programmes which would enable to align and realign our efforts to achieve intended outcomes.

Author is Former Registrar & Currently Professor in the Dept. of Commerce, University of Kashmir.