India must invest in domain competency

Published: November 26, 2019 12:19:15 AM

Or risk being left behind

investment, india investmentIllustration: Rohnit Phore

By TV Mohandas Pai & Nisha Holla

Building domain expertise is crucial for a growing economy. Many verticals are critical for nation-building—science and technology, healthcare and medical professionals like doctors, finance, business administration, commerce, law, culture and history, education, and so on. The critical question is: Which domains is India building competence and capacity in?

In 2018-19, 3.74 crore students enrolled in higher education across the country. The accompanying graphic shows enrolment in top-five fields of study—Bachelor’s in Arts, Science, Commerce, Technology and Engineering, and Education—for the past five years, as also the number of graduates from the same. The breakup in enrolment across the top-five fields is 1.09 crore (BA and BA Hons), 52.6 lakh (BSc and BSc Hons), 40.3 lakh (BCom), 37.7 lakh (BTech and BE combined), and 12.2 lakh (BEd). MBBS students made up 2.7 lakh while the remaining fields made up 1.2 crore combined.

In 2018-19, a total of 90.9 lakh graduated from India’s higher education base, with 23.3 lakh (BA and BA Hons), 11.65 lakh (BSc and BSc Hons), 9.65 lakh (BCom), 8.2 lakh (BTech and BE combined), 5 lakh (BEd), and 51,000 (MBBS) graduates, while the remaining fields made up 32.5 lakh combined.

The most popular field in India, by far, is BA, followed by BSc with half the enrolment. However, enrolment in BA and BA (Hons) degrees is stagnating, indicating that as the diversity of subjects offered by India’s higher education base increases, India’s youth may be diverging from traditional pursuits of previous generations. India has produced 1.22 crore BA graduates from 2014-15 to 2018-19. Going by the gradual decline in enrolment, this may slowly start reducing.

Enrolment in BSc and BSc (Hons) degrees is growing at 3.24% CAGR. India has produced 53.5 lakh BSc graduates from 2014-15 to 2018-19. With enrolment rising at 3.24%, the country will produce more in the coming years—a great sign as scientific expertise is useful for our innovation engine. Care must be taken to build capacity in research opportunities for these graduates so they can continue applying their competencies after graduation.

The negative 2% CAGR in enrolment in BTech/BE courses is concerning. The number of graduates peaked at 8.85 lakh in 2016-17 and declined to 8.18 lakh in 2018-19. Technological development is one of the most critical drivers of socio-economic growth. An immediate focus is required to increase the number of engineering and technology graduates. A decline in capacity and enrolment might stem from poor quality colleges being shut down. India needs engineering institutions at scale, with research, laboratories and qualified teachers. Strategies to incentivise youngsters can include scholarships and platforms like Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL) to develop an innovation mindset in school students.

Enrolment in BCom is increasing at 1.6% CAGR, and we have produced 45.36 lakh graduates over five years. India is among the world’s most exciting financial development sandboxes, and specialists are essential. Now we must focus on introducing more graduates to out-of-the-box opportunities in fintech and other new frontiers.

Healthcare is a significant concern around the world. India, with its 130-crore-plus population, is building a comprehensive healthcare system; we need a critical mass of doctors for this. Enrolment in MBBS has grown from 1.7 lakh in 2014-15 to 2.7 lakh in 2018-19, at a promising 9.9% CAGR. There have been 1.9 lakh graduates in five years, most of whom are pursuing PG degrees. We have to increase the capacity of not only MBBS, but follow-on degrees as well.

BEd enrolment is growing at a fast pace, at 11.8% CAGR. However, the number of children enrolling in schools has stabilised, as analysed previously (FE, ‘Need urgent action to reap demographic dividend’; bit.ly/2qMa8Uz). MHRD data also indicates pupil-teacher ratios in schools are stable. Soon, the need to recruit teachers will mostly come from having to replace retiring staff. There is an urgent need for data-based forecasting; else, we may shortly find that we have excess qualified teachers.
Focus on specialisation
Specialisation enables productivity improvements in society, an increase in innovation, and the ability to produce a greater variety of products and services to meet our growing needs.

In 2018-19, 1.69 lakh students were enrolled in PhD programmes, while 39.8 lakh were enrolled in PG programmes. This amounts to 0.45% (PhD) and 10.6% (PG) of total enrolment. The breakup in select fields shows 6,000 PhDs and 27,800 PGs in agriculture, 5,400 PhDs and 4.5 lakh PGs in commerce, 6,200 PhDs and 2 lakh PGs in education, 41,900 PhDs and 1.82 lakh PGs in engineering and technology, 2,870 PhDs and 1.97 lakh PGs in IT and computers (in addition to computer engineers in the engineering and technology category), 7,400 PhDs and 1.59 lakh PGs in medical sciences, and 44,700 PhDs and 5.87 lakh PGs in sciences. A total of 40,813 PhDs and 15 lakh PG degrees were awarded. India needs more specialists to lead research and innovation efforts across several disciplines.

 

Agriculture innovation will be an essential factor in India’s reorganisation of sectoral workforces (FE, ‘Urbanise India to eliminate poverty’; bit.ly/2Dd13H5); ‘commerce’, in India’s financial infrastructure development strategies; ‘education’, in determining new ways to educate, upskill and enable continuous learning; ‘medical sciences’, as we re-engineer our healthcare delivery; ‘scientific and technological development’, and others. The low number in IT and computers is troubling; with the world’s advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, data analytics and others related to IT and computers, we need to be more aggressive in this field.

India must study domestic and global scenarios to understand the domains that will be valuable, going forward, and invest in building competencies there. China has set a great example in the realm of quantum computing and artificial intelligence. With in-depth investment strategies and incentives for their top talent, China is surpassing even the US in this field. If India doesn’t start investing in domain expertise, we risk being left behind in the new world.

Pai is chairman, Aarin Capital Partners, and Holla is technology fellow, C-CAMP

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