How is India’s higher education system doing? Look no further than the following story.

Pune, 2014: Mukund Kapase recently joined an automobile company as an assembly-line worker after his dreams of joining the IT industry were repeatedly crushed. He was deemed “unemployable” by IT companies even after receiving several degrees. India’s higher education system has let Mukund and his family down. His story is echoed by millions of India’s youth graduating from colleges and universities across the country.

As the second son of a farmer in a village in Maharashtra, Mukund was the “chosen one” to attend the local college. His elder brother was “kept” in the village so he could take over his father’s farm. His two younger sisters dropped out after eighth grade. His parents did not want them to take a bus to a high school hours away from the village; there were too many instances of physical and emotional harassment to worry about, not to mention the lack of sanitary women-only restrooms. Mukund completed his twelfth grade at a high school where teachers rarely showed up. Mukund’s father paid for private tutoring so Mukund could pass the state board examinations to pursue a higher education.

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After passing the qualifying exams, Mukund enrolled in one of the state’s affiliated colleges. Like the majority of affiliated colleges in Maharashtra and the nation, the college was owned and operated by a politician and his family members. The faculty members were mediocre and poorly paid, the infrastructure was decrepit, and library and computer resources were practically nonexistent.

Unknown to his father, who had taken loans for Mukund’s higher education, there was no incentive for Mukund to attend classes at the college. Everyone passed and got their degrees. Reality struck when he did not get any job offers after completing his three-year degree program. On a friend’s recommendation, Mukund enrolled in a well-known one-year Information and Communication Technology (ICT) program. His father sold part of his land to finance this program. That did not help either, as no job offers came his way. Frustrated, he finally joined a manufacturing company as an assembly-line worker. Ashamed that he had not lived up to his father’s dream, Mukund hardly visits his village. He is saving all he can to pay off his father’s debts.

India’s higher education has come a long way since 1947. Based on 2013 and 2014 information, there were over 700 universities, 37,000 affiliated colleges, 11,400 stand-alone institutions, and several open- and distance-education universities. Online programs are catching on for students and for teachers’ training. In 2011, approximately 27.5 million students were enrolled in the system. Affiliated colleges accounted for approximately 74 percent of student enrollments, open- and distance-education 12 percent, stand-alone institutions 11 percent, and universities just over 2 percent. In the immediate years following independence, large numbers of outstanding faculty members joined the higher education system, especially the newly established institutions, such as the IITs and IIMs, and also led the atomic and space efforts. Compared to many developing nations and where we were in 1947, we have done remarkably well.

However, the higher education system has fallen short of India’s enormous potential—a country of 1.3 billion people and home to great thinkers, spiritual leaders, scientists, writers, and artists. India’s higher education system does not serve the needs and aspirations of its people.

Unfortunately, stories such as the Mehta or Kapase family are unfolding around India in alarming numbers.

Higher education system sits at a critical junction of society and nation. Well prepared professionals and a thriving research, innovation, and entrepreneurship ecosystem have the potential of unleashing the potential of 1.3 billion Indians, addressing India’s mega challenges, and making its environment and economy more vibrant and sustainable. With 20-26 million children born per year in India, which is equal to Australia’s population, it is an important and urgent issue. Transforming the system can unleash India’s vast potential and usher in its new Golden Age. A brighter India, with over one sixth of world’s population, is not just critical for India and its people; it is essential for the world.

This is an excerpt from Building Golden India: How to unleash India’s vast potential and transform its higher education system. NOW. The book can be purchased at: www.amazon.com/author/shailkumar For more information visitwww.shailkumar.com

Shail Kumar is Past-President of the IIT Foundation; co-founder of Pan IIT alumni movement in the USA; former administrator at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego; co-founder and CEO of two start-ups; and was an executive in several Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley-based corporations.

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