Very often, India presents a study in contrasts, especially when it comes to education. It has one of the world’s largest educational systems with 1.4 million schools, 35,500 colleges and 600 universities; over half its population is under 30 years of age, and each year, 10 million people join the workforce. Yet research has shown that only 35% of college graduates are employable, and only one in four is employed in the formal sector. If this trend continues, the skills gap—people with skills that businesses do not require, and jobs for which the right fit is not available—is likely to hit 75% soon.
Against this backdrop, Skill India and Digital India, the marquee initiatives by the government, hold special significance, and it is here that UK’s experience with education comes in handy. We, at the UK India Business Council (UKIBC), believe that collaboration between India and the UK for education and skills is imperative and should be the cornerstone of the modern economic relationship, especially with India placing a strong emphasis on skills and education. Both the countries would benefit from the wide-ranging partnership in exchange of trade, education, culture and other ties.
The education sector of India and the UK has venerable and long-standing links with many substantive partnerships in place between the universities of both the countries. These have taken a number of forms—UK universities have been involved in the conception and development of several Indian higher educational institutions and there are long-standing research and development partnerships under way. The concern is to build on these existing linkages to enable both countries to meet the demands of the globalised world of the 21st century.
The Times Higher Education ranks 10 institutions of the UK among the top 100 for 2014-15. The country as a premier study destination has long been recognised by Indians, for whom the UK is the second most popular choice for overseas study after the US. These students are highly skilled, possess an international outlook and, hence, have a major role to play in India’s economic success story. This will further strengthen the decade’s long collaboration between the two countries.
UK-based companies have an intimate understanding of the talent and skill sets in India. Combining UK’s experience in higher quality education with India’s IT-savvy, the UK-India partnership can add significant value to the Skill India mission; leveraging Digital India in the delivery of the goals of the Skill India mission will take us several steps closer to the marquee initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi: Make in India.
There is an opportunity to use information technology solutions to address the challenges of skilling young people, aspiring to or joining the workforce. For those looking for access to learning, digital technology and the internet, the UK provides interesting opportunities—through open universities and distance education. People with jobs can acquire the right skills for the right job. At least part of the answer is clear: E-learning can play a major role in plugging the skills gap faster.
Through UK-India collaboration we can develop tailored solutions to address the skills gap in India. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been instrumental in jettisoning parts of the traditional education system. UK institutions have pioneered online and blended learning and are active in the delivery of MOOCs. India is a thriving market for MOOCs. It’s a partnership that both can benefit from.
The recently announced ‘Educate in India’ brand where the PM presented India as Asia’s education hub is another opportunity where the UK and India can address the gaps in India’s education space. UK-based providers have considerable experience in identifying what works and what doesn’t in e-learning. While the hurdles for foreign institutions setting up campuses in India remain high, other forms of collaboration such as joint degrees, R&D and faculty exchange represent significant opportunities. The excellent academic capabilities and assessments methodologies make the UK an attractive partnering proposition for India.
To showcase the long history of connectedness and affinity that both the countries share, UKIBC is organising the India-UK Business Convention in New Delhi this September. David Cameron’s claim that Britain can be India’s “partner of choice” and Modi’s statement that India and the UK are an “unbeatable combination” will be the foundation of this convention.
The author is Group CEO, UK India Business Council