On this Deepavali day, here's something to light up the debate on India's higher education priorities.
In his ToI column, Starting Point of Higher Education, Devesh Kapur focuses on "the lack of clarity in thinking about the fundamental underlying question: What are the goals of Indian higher education?". He then goes on to pose a bunch of questions in order to clarify where India's higher ed priorities should be.
The most discernible instrumental outcome of higher education is its links with and impact on labour markets. Let us say one of its key goals is to provide skills to a very large number of new entrants to the labour force. But then, should one invest in IITs or ITIs? Suppose we want to leverage the human capital resulting from investments in higher education to improve Indian health care. A supply chain of health care would require doctors, nurses and paramedics, pharmacists and lab technicians, hospital administrators and even accountants. If the goal then is better societal health outcomes, where should resources be directed? In India, investment in the human capital of nurses and paramedics might matter much more than specialist physicians, and in civil and environmental engineers who can ensure clean water and sanitation much more than the high-tech engineering behind MRIs. But what do we do? When we think of skills we are obsessed with IITs; when we think of health care we can scarcely think beyond doctors.