India's B-schools need a reality check. They're not the only ones

If you thought getting into one of India's top management institutes would fully prepare you tackle the ever-expanding world of Indian business, think again.

According to a report in The Economic Times, some of the top management institutions in the country, including Indian School of Business and the Indian Institutes of Management, had to revise their syllabus to mute criticism that their courses didn't train graduates well enough to handle real-life business.

Most Indian companies, however, remain dissatisfied: they thought the courses still contained too much class-based training, too little practical training and failed to adapt to changing business conditions. A lack of research is also hampering the quality of the training, the newspaper added.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Until now, universities that churned out typical arts/commerce/science graduates by the lakhs used to be the ones accused of being totally irrelevant to market needs. Frighteningly, that problem is creeping into India's premier institutions.

It's shocking, but inevitable. India is one of the world's top markets for education by value, but is plagued by a severe lack of teachers and good-quality institutions.

In a recent report, the New York Times pointed out that the country is grappling with a severe shortage of well-trained teachers at higher educational institutes. Quoting a government report published last year, it said that 40 percent of existing faculty positions remain vacant across the country. If the shortfall is calculated using the class size recommended by the government, this figure jumps to 54 percent, the report added.

Part of the problem is that the government, in a bid to expand access to higher education, increased the number of institutes without putting in place the supporting infrastructure.

The newspaper gave the example of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), whose campuses went to 15 from 7. As a result, the number of students at IITs jumped to nearly 7,000 from 4,000.

 Indias B-schools need a reality check. Theyre not the only ones

Part of the problem is that the government, in a bid to expand access to higher education, increased the number of institutes without putting in place the supporting infrastructure.AFP

"Where there should be 700 faculty members, or one for every 10 students, there are only 450," M Balakrishnan, deputy director in charge of faculty at IIT Delhi told the newspaper.

A dire shortage of PhDs, delays in recruitment and lack of incentives have contributed to the inability of institutes of higher learning to attract and nurture talent, the newspaper noted. Inevitably, a shortage of talent affects the quality and quantity of research.

What is an education for?

It's not just premier higher education institutes that are riddled with problems.

At the primary/secondary school education level, the quality of public schools is so bad that even low-income families now increasingly prefer to send their children to private institutes, according to a recent Anand Rathi report on the education sector.

The state of Indian education can, arguably, be assessed by the fact that a recent global test for assessing learning standards across nations placed India almost at the bottom of 74 countries.

As a Firstpost commentary noted, "No one can still deny there is a deep crisis in the ability of the existing education system to produce child learning. India's education system is undermining India's legitimate aspirations to be at the global forefront as a prosperous economy, as a global great power, as an emulated polity, and as a fair and just society."

India is expected to boast the largest workforce in the world by 2025, but given the current state of the education system, will that turn out to be a blessing or a curse?

A whole generation of Indians is being let down by the education system. As Priyamvada Natarajan, a Yale professor, wrote in The Hindustan Times, "...we need to radically rethink what an education is for, all the way from school level to higher education.

"What is missing in our school and university system is the fostering of critical thinking. Critical thinking derives from more active learning, questioning and thinking as we learn from unstructured learning experiences."

Until we incorporate such changes, India's great demographic dividend - the edge that we were supposed to acquire over China because of our youthful population - looks likely to be squandered, and our brightest and best asset will go to waste.

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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 06:13:54 IST