The Need For A New Strategy In Higher Education

by Karmayogi

Nations throughout the world have realised that education at all levels is very desirable for the betterment of society, and they are seriously pursuing the goal of universal education at lower and even higher levels. It is now widely recognised that education plays an essential role in development by improving the knowledge and skills of the population and creating a greater receptivity to new ideas and a greater willingness for change. This recognition has also given rise to an implicit belief that education is a means for the individual to raise his position in society, which translated into practical terms means that education is an avenue to better employment opportunities. Yet the fact remains that India today is faced with a growing number of educated unemployed who are not being absorbed by the job market even during this period of rapid social development. This was perhaps inevitable, but nevertheless it is undesirable.

The growth of society does not follow a smooth, even, predictable path. The expansion of employment opportunities for the educated and the output of new graduates to fill these new positions are parallel but only partially interrelated movements. In the short term it frequently happens that one of the two movements outstrips the other. When the spread of university education is faster than the rate of social growth which generates white collar jobs, educated unemployment is the result. When the rate of growth is faster, the surplus of unemployed graduates may be quickly absorbed and change into a shortage. In the early 1920's and late 1940's jobs were readily available in India, and employers had to hunt for qualified graduates. In the 1930's jobs became scarce due to the worldwide depression. Again in the 1970's qualified workers were in surplus; however this time it was not because of a reduction in total employment due to the depression but rather because the number of qualified applicants had grown faster than the number of new jobs.

After Independence the country launched itself on the path of rapid planned development. One of the cornerstones of the development strategy was to educate the entire population as rapidly as possible. But this strategy contained a fundamental flaw. For having initiated the process of planned development which was new to the entire world, the planners failed to realise that the traditional western system of education, oriented toward abstract knowledge and traditional subjects unrelated to the rapidly changing social conditions in the country, was not designed or suited to foster or support the development process. A new or modified system was needed that would impart to the student a practical knowledge of the development process as well as the right outlook and attitude so that he may personally benefit from the enormous opportunities which development offers and also contribute meaningfully to the wider progress of the nation.

Conditions which have generated the present reservoir of educated unemployed are far different than conditions in the 1930's. Today the nation is not undergoing any depression. Rather there is a very positive climate of expansion and development in every field of activity, public and private. The present social climate abounds in work potentials, but not white collar Jobs which the university graduate very much prefers. What is needed is a change in the graduate's social attitude to work. If he opens his eyes and decides to make his life worthwhile, he finds a near infinite potential for self-employment out of which he can carve a niche which will raise him far higher than he could reach through a salaried job.

The country has entered a new phase. Every walk of life is undergoing radical change. In every village and town there are twice or thrice as many shops as before. Bus routes have multiplied. Road mileage has vastly increased. Industrial estates are sprouting up in places where even industrial establishments were previously absent. Fields produce more. Factories are expanding in number and size. The country produces infinitely more goods today. Government departments have expanded and dozens of new government departments have been created. Hundreds of national and state level public corporations have been established. Life is more productive, many times more. Cities are growing at an alarming rate to the point of bursting at the seams. There is no field where newer technology and newer products have not been introduced.

This being the present national climate, there is no apparent reason why educated unemployment should continue to increase at alarming rates. The rapid growth of society should naturally absorb all the new talents which the educational system produces. Yet in practice this is far from true. Unemployment is real and the proportion is high. The reason for this growth of unemployment during a period of economic boom lies in the social attitudes and educational equipment of the graduate.

The preference for sedentary occupations and the aversion to physical labour is a pervasive social attitude originating in feudal times, and is far more marked in backward societies and backward sections of the population. As society develops, this attitude more and more gives way to a work ethic in which manual and mental work are regarded as equally important, and the social prestige which formerly accrued to the least active man now goes to the one who accomplishes the most. This can be most vividly illustrated in western countries where even top business executives can be seen inspecting a shipment of merchandise or a factory production line, still a very rare sight in India. Today the average American washes his own car, cleans his own house, does his own laundry and it never occurs to him that he may be considered lower in anyone's estimation.

This social aversion to physical exertion gives rise to the graduate's preference for white collar jobs regardless of the level of remuneration. In contrast American graduates and even Ph.D.'s lined up for street cleaning jobs in San Francisco a few years ago when pay scales for this occupation crossed $18,000 (Rs.1.6 lakhs) a year.

But there are signs of a gradual change in attitude. In the 1930's no graduate, even an agricultural graduate, would come near a tractor, much less drive it. Driving was the job of the driver, and as such it was frowned upon by the educated. Today one can see graduates not only driving tractors on their farms, but proud of it too. Today the engineer may not hesitate to examine a broken machine and try to repair it, a task he considered beneath his dignity in former days. The present day entrepreneur is proud of working at his factory on equal terms with his staff, whereas earlier the entrepreneur prided in never visiting his factory or even knowing exactly where it was! Similar small changes can be seen in all fields. These changes are very welcome, but by themselves they are not enough to solve the problem of unemployment.

Higher education today is in many ways still the same as the European gentleman's education of 200 years ago with its emphasis on pure knowledge of history or mathematics. The only job-oriented education is technical education of all descriptions at all levels. General education remains largely unrelated to work and perhaps even to life.

Our thesis is that what technical education is doing to technical employment in the field of technical life, general education can do to general employment in national life. When general education is reoriented to meet the wider needs of national development and graduates acquire a progressive attitude relating to life meaningfully, the present scarcity of jobs will be converted into a scarcity of graduates to fill vacant positions.

A period of expansive national life does require an increasing number of more educated, more technically qualified men. In the USA today there is a severe shortage of engineers to fill all the vacant positions, despite the large number of engineering colleges and the growing influx of foreign trained engineers. A similar situation could prevail in India too, if only the educational system and the graduate were in tune with the expansive temper of the nation.

Presently work opportunities are languishing unutilised for want of properly educated and qualified men. The graduate by his education is related to examinations and not to life. Our aim is to release the student from the examination-oriented, non-life-oriented education and give him a life-centred, work-oriented education. This change is possible in the present climate. In the process the white collar social attitude which is now a bar will also change and the graduate will learn to take to work with a sense of dignity. Gradually self-employment will come to be regarded as far more prestigious and dignified than a salaried job.

The possibility of completely eradicating educated unemployment is contrary to apparent fact. But such a radical change has at least one striking precedent in this country. In the early 1960's there was a severe shortage of food. World experts predicted doom for India and other developing nations. Two successive drought years brought the country to the point of famine which was only averted by a massive import of food grains, 10 million tons in 1966 alone.

The truth was that India had enough lands to produce all the food she required and much more. There were also enough scientists trained for the wider purpose of greater food production and they possessed enough new technology for the task. But the fact was one of severe shortage with famine threatening around the corner.

A nation which was agriculturally rich, technically sound, and politically determined was faced with the quite contrary condition of famine. Several ingredients crucial to success were wanting. Technical personnel in charge of implementing new programmes in the field lacked enthusiasm for the task. The government accorded lesser status and remuneration to the agricultural scientists, the very group which must necessarily take the lead in introducing a modern agricultural technology. The political determination of the government was not linked to the vast potentials of the land and the people for lack of highly motivated personnel, a clear policy, a coordinated strategy, and an organised institutional effort connecting production and distribution. These missing links were identified and supplied by the vision of C.Subramaniam. As a result the danger of famine was averted, today there is a small exportable surplus of food grains, and there is serious talk of India one day becoming a major grain exporter.

The present unemployment situation bears a parallel with the famine situation of the 1960's. The national life is astir. The government is determined to find work for all. Every walk of life is vibrating with energy. Vast numbers of students are passing through the portals of colleges. The potentials for infinite work on the one side are matched by the reality of high unemployment on the other. What is needed to revise the situation?

As in the Green Revolution the farmer was persuaded to change his attitude and give up his resistance to new varieties of grain and intensive use of fertilizer, today's students must be educated to abandon their resistance to hard work and change their attitude toward self-employment. The farmer was motivated to change his attitude by the lure of greater yields. The student can be motivated by the infinite possibilities for vast personal profit. As the agricultural universities were set in motion to impart technical knowledge to the farmer, all the universities must be turned to the task of imparting knowledge of development to all the students. In agriculture new institutions like Food Corporation, Fertilizer Corporation, Seeds Corporation, Warehousing Corporation were created to bring about the needed change. Today there are 127 universities which could immediately address themselves to the task, if they change their attitude toward education.