India wants to train half a billion people in vocational skills by 2015 – and their entrepreneurial spirit will ensure they succeed. Now is the time for the UK to become a relevant partner
India embodies raw entrepreneurialism in a way that very few other countries do, according to Dame Asha Khemka.
There can be little doubt that India growth and development over the last decade or so has been impressive. The country has become a treasured partner for states such as the UK and the US; by 2025, estimates indicate that a quarter of the global workforce will come from India.
Unlike many nations, India's population is a young one – approximately 67% of the population is considered to be "working age" and it has a long and illustrious tradition of higher education. In fact, India has the second-largest higher education system in the world.
But to meet the huge challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, India needs to develop its vocational workforce and has an ambition to train half a billion people in vocational skills by 2015. It would be easy to think that we, as a nation with a well developed and robust framework for vocational education, had little to learn from this new kid on the block. There is, however, a little thing that I think sets India apart – and that's attitude.
A passion for learning and an entrepreneurial spirit India embodies raw entrepreneurialism in a way that very few other countries do. Despite the enormous amounts of red tape for which India is famed, there is a spirit and a will to strive for a better life. This attitude starts with the family. Regardless of circumstance, there is a deep-rooted desire to do well and make something of your life. Entrepreneurialism, creativity and ambition are in an Indian's DNA; people genuinely want to be the first to walk their own path.
I have witnessed the impact of this attitude first hand when travelling in India. Despite the poor resources, despite the fact that classrooms can be crowded, students are eager and willing to learn – they soak up knowledge and, what's more, they then want to use that knowledge to better themselves. In India, gaining a good education is valued above many other things. Families often go without to ensure their children are educated. University education remains the aspiration, with traditional academic routes revered above all else. And therein lays India's biggest challenge.
Linking skills to quality job outcomes Education in India owes a lot to the British Empire. In fact, India's education system is reminiscent of Britain's education system in the late 19th century, albeit with slightly more opportunities and much more creativity.
Middle-class Indians want a formal, academic education for their children; winning the hearts and minds for vocational education is one of the biggest battles that this new India will have to win. It will not be without resources though; the Indian government has pledged significant pump-priming to get vocational education off the ground. It will happen and it will happen at a significant pace. This has been given added impetus by the newly-elected prime minister Mr Narendra Modi. He is particularly passionate about growth through relevant skills development and this will give the agenda a renewed energy.
In the UK we often hear employers bemoaning the lack of skills in their workforce. In India, the calls for a highly trained workforce are getting louder and more persistent. Only 2% of India youth – and only 7% of the entire working population – have studied formally for a vocational qualification.
Now is the time for the UK to become a relevant partner. There are huge opportunities for UK colleges to work with Indian private colleges to establish systems and structures that address these skills gaps. India is home to 8,800 industrial training institutes (ITIs) and a further 450 polytechnics, all geared towards the delivery of vocational learning. Many employers are now taking the lead in shaping and steering private colleges with many opening their own.
India has the capacity there, we can show it how to develop and deliver the right skills and, more importantly, develop relationships with employers.
The right attitude to succeed In my capacity as chair of the Association of Colleges (AoC) in India, I have made several visits to the country and have and never failed to be impressed by the thirst and hunger for knowledge, the entrepreneurialism and the enthusiasm that defines the Indian spirit. However, in an educational sense, much of this passion has been directed at higher education level. Meeting the skills needs of the economic power that India has become will require skills gaps at all levels to be filled. India needs to create a cadre of skilled workers at entry-level to provide the labour force to build the sub-continent's infrastructure, at mid-level to aid productivity and at higher levels to enable innovation.
The challenges that India faces in the revolution of its education system are the same challenges that Britain has faced over the last decade and more. However, I am sure that this little thing called attitude will mean that India achieves its ambitious and exciting targets. After all, when India sets out to achieve something, it invariably does so.