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BW Businessworld

Temples Of Modern India

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If economic reforms created the conditions that helped Indian businessmen flourish, it was the availability of cheap, well-educated and young manpower that helped diverse sectors to grow and be globally competitive. I doubt whether companies that achieved global fame and market share could have done so, even in a liberalised economy, if they could not hire enough engineers or management graduates or even graduates in a host of subjects.

But to continue growing, we will need many more educated young people. And this is where a problem is cropping up: we are simply not producing enough educated manpower to meet the needs of the industry. Almost every industrialist and senior executive I have met recently has said one of the biggest dangers to India's growth story is the growing shortage of well-educated people who can be hired.

No nation can become an economic superpower without a flourishing higher education system. The rise of Europe in the 19th century had much to do with the universities that attracted the best minds. In the 20th century, the US created a host of world-class universities — from Harvard and Wharton to MIT and Stanford — and this powered its rise to the top. China currently is investing heavily in higher education infrastructure. And Indian policy makers too realise the importance of improving higher education infrastructure.

However, the government just does not have the resources to build and staff best-in-class universities in sufficient numbers. In fact, it is still grappling with the problem of primary education. The last few institutes it has built have failed to match the reputation of the earlier institutes. The success stories in education — Indian School of Business, for example — are private sector initiatives. Unfortunately, the private sector faces too many hurdles to build world-class institutes and universities. In every academic stream — law, engineering, medicine, management, liberal arts, pure sciences — there is a huge gap between facilities and demand.

What can be done to sort out this problem? BW invited five people with a passion for higher education — Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Kaushik Basu, B.B. Bhattacharya, Rakesh Bharti Mittal and Pritam Singh — to discuss the issue. Read about their suggestions.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-11-2011)