The free market economy of India supports education, health care, car insurance etc at every socio-economic level . So you can get a root canal done for a 1000 Rupees (approximately $20) as well as for 8000 Rupees (approximately $123). What differs between a $20 and $123 root canal is the marketing to different segments of a stratified society.
The same can be said about private education in India. Didn’t get into a public university? Well, you can buy yourself into admittance at a private university (about $10,000 USD for an engineering seat). The demands of an ever growing population are fulfilled by the supply in the private sector.
At the top level in private universities are owners. This might be 1 person or a group of people who pooled in to buy/rent a land or building and start an educational institution. The owner is usually the designated Vice Chancellor, if there is more than one owner then, they self appoint to an equally powerful position. By fulfilling a set of guidelines (none of which has to do with commitment to research) an educational institution can become a deemed university by simply affiliating themselves to an existing university which has been approved by an authority called UGC (University Grants Commission). It is all a numbers game. Chandigarh University, that opened up in 2012 now has 25000 students as of 2018. And this is just one of many private universities in a small union territory in India.
Private universities compete with each other for enrollment on the basis of placements and collaborations with foreign universities. These private universities all boast of placements at companies such as Amazon, Google, Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys to name a few. But there is the catch…
Their curriculum is also quite lofty and ambiguous with programs boasting collaborations with IBM (for example IBM Global Entrepreneur program, cloud computing).
Every year private universities pool money to call big companies over for placement drives. So for example they will invite representatives of these companies, and give them a small gift (bribe) to come and interview their students. At the same time, students are charged a fee of 500 Rupees ($7) to attend a placement drive . So 25,000 students at 1 private university and assuming at least 30% attend a placement drive means the university earned $52500. Oh, and this is just 1 university. Lets say at the least there are 5 private universities part of the pool. That means $52500 times 7.
Upon an informal meeting with M.Badal, the finance minister of Punjab, I was told that a few private universities had claimed upto 500,000 (in total) students under the economically disadvantaged/S.C quota to be studying in their institutions and were being investigated. The government pays for these students to be educated. Which is great if these students:
- Are actually enrolled and studying
Because the representative of a company has been offered a gift, they must ensure that they are called next year too, so a student or two will be accepted for a placement at the company for anywhere between 3-6 months. Once a student is chosen for a placement, the university will have a press release and announce the salary package awarded and the rest of all that stuff that is marketing.
But hold on! Isn’t it good that a student is offered a job along with a salary package that is envious? Well, the placement starts off with a training period, during which the student either sinks or swims. Which means either the student gets hired or isn’t offered the job.
But wait, what about the smaller local companies that aren’t big brands but still have a business to run. These companies offer to provide training and placements to students. Will this is how it works. Each university has a training and placement officer (TPO) whose job is to ensure that students are ready for jobs in the market. The smaller companies cut a deal with the training and placement officer to provide them with at a minimum 100 students per semester. Each student pays approximately 20,000 Rupees (approximately $300) to an IT company for providing them with training. The company in return gives them an already completed project and pays them back half of the original $300 ($150) as part of payment for doing a “placement” (the already completed project…). Now if this sounds convoluted, wait till you read this: The IT company will pay the training and placement officer about 1000 Rupees ($15) per student, for sending 100 students it.
So the IT company makes money, the training and placement officer (TPO) makes money and the student thinks he/she has saved money. All are happy and oblivious to the long term outcome.
The students are at the bottom of the food chain. Even if they do get placed at an IT company it is usually a “sink or swim” policy for them.
A lot of these students are part of an emerging demographic that can now afford loans, cars and other goods, i.e the growing middle class. It is often the parent that bears the burden of the “admission seat” and tuition fees. This demographic well not at fault, is not blameless either. The constant pandering and advertising based on authenticity, for example:"Asia's fastest growing university", coupled with guaranteed placements by private universities has led students to believe they are entitled to a job, by virtue of paying an exorbitant amount as admission fees to a university. When it comes to choosing a company for IT training for which they must pay, the students will often gravitate towards the cheapest training that guarantees a completed project they can showcase on their resume.
If the situation is to change, it is down to individuals to prioritize skill training that will result in employment rather than degrees. Vocational colleges should be given equal funding and state recognition.