A few days back, I woke up to a shocking headlines in the newspapers which said that out of the nearly 400,000 beggars in India, 75000 are 12th pass-outs, while more than 3000 of them even have higher education degrees. As students, we are always complaining about the way education works in our country but few of us really bother to understand the problems facing it and even fewer care to suggest any solutions to the same. As someone who is pursuing foreign qualifications alongside Indian ones, I am in good position to compare the two, which is what I will try to do in the following article.
The statistic with respect to the beggars highlights two extremely important issues which often act as barriers for the young to live a decent life;one is unavailability of employment and the other is employ-ability. While the former finds it way into just about every conversation on politics and policy making in the country, the latter goes largely unnoticed, maybe because it is perceived to be a lot less contentious by our lawmakers and media alike. Quite clearly, that perception is a misconception and I will try to provide some arguments as to why exactly employ-ability is key in any system of education.
Since I am trying to make a mark in the accounting industry, I shall illustrate the differences between accountancy qualifications in India and those in the United Kingdom. In the UK, there are two statutory bodies, members of whom are entitled to audit the accounts of the companies; another statutory body which is set up to promote education in all areas of taxation and other one which promotes education in the areas of tax compliance and administration. Thus, if a student wants to pursue a career in auditing or tax or compliance, he/she has the option to specialize right from the onset. Besides, their curriculum is designed in line with internationally accepted best practices and as a result, qualifications offered by them are respected not just in the UK, but all around the world.
Since I am pursuing a full fledged accounting qualification alongside a specialization in International Tax and Transfer Pricing from the UK, I would be in good position in my career once I am able to clear the required exams. But before this, I was not able to clear even the first level of India’s premier accountancy qualification despite complete efforts. Although, I attribute my failure to my own incompetence, the statutory body responsible for the said qualification in India is often accused controlling the pass rates in order to ‘keep the qualification in demand.’ Notwithstanding my personal story, the Indian qualification is still considered to be a standard of excellence in the country because of the difficulty one faces in successfully clearing all the levels. While there is no doubt about the fact that the Indian qualification is extremely well-structured, I felt that it focused more on rote learning without sufficiently dealing with practical implementation and besides, once there is premium on clearing the exam, it can be said that the student often compromises on truly understanding the subject matter. Furthermore, there aren’t any credible institutions in India yet which provide specialized education in the areas of tax or compliance and it ultimately leads to a middle class commerce student often left with no choice but to pursue a qualification far exceeding his level of competence. What ultimately happens is that he is able to clear the exams after years of relentless hard work and suffering but even after that, he is not considered any better than a random business graduate, making the whole effort redundant.
The above illustration is representative of a larger problem in the education system in India which currently faces a spectacular lack of choice and the sheer worthlessness of the ones available. We need an education system which equips our commerce grads with the skills they need to navigate the complexities of business, our journalists with the ability to think independently from the organisation which employs them and our engineers to provide practical solutions to the problems facing our growth but I am skeptical as to whether the current system of higher education would allow that to happen. We do not just need new IIT’s, IIM’s or AIMMS’ but a complete overhaul of the institutions that already exist, particularly in the rural centers. The upgradation of our model of education model has been long overdue and the Modi government needs to renew their focus on this department because this is one area which has been neglected for years and if that trend continues, Modi’s vision of a Digitized Start Up India would never truly be realised.