Interview with Dr. T. P. Sethumadhavan

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By Education Today

Posted on August 10, 2022


7 min read

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Can you briefly explain what bridge courses are for our audience?

A lot of transformations are happening in the education sector across the world. The services sector is creating a lot of employment opportunities. To be precise, 68 percent of the employment opportunities are getting created in the services sector when compared to the agriculture and industrious sector.

In terms of education, knowledge, attitude and skills are the most important factors. Unfortunately, students are acquiring only knowledge from their campus, no appropriate aptitude and skills. This results in a huge skill gap between the available skills and acquired skills.  This skill gap can be reduced using adequate measures. While the services sector is acquiring momentum across the world, the context of education during the post-covid era has totally changed towards the digitized sector, especially the emergence of hybrid systems. The concept of a global village has come to the forefront, students have online access to any of the foreign universities across the world. There are technology enabled learning platforms emerging across world ranking universities and this is the context where bridge courses come into priority. 

Why do we require bridge courses? 

Most of the educational institutions did not give due importance to the academia industry interface until now. Whatever the student studies from the campus, cannot be directly applied to the industry level or at the employer level. We need to have some ad-on program for their existing qualification. Bridge courses make students employer ready or employer friendly. Students are in need of upskilling programs that help in talent acquisition, skill acquisition and human capital management, which bridge courses provide.

At the same time, there are certain sectors that are becoming obsolete. The International Labour Organization has commented that out of the total employment available in the world, 40 percent will become obsolete and new employment opportunities will surface. Upskilling and reskilling are the two dimensions that are important within the framework of skill development. These, along with knowledge acquisition, making the student employer ready or industry ready, increasing the employability, enhancing the employment potential are the reasons we require bridge courses. Ample number of bridge courses are available across the world, even the NEP (National Education Policy)envisages many of these courses now. They can be pursued at different levels, either through international collaboration or national collaboration within different educational institutions or skill providers. 

How much of this is available for students? 

There are umpteen number of bridge courses available according to students’ requirements. In the employer market, only 50 percent weightage is given to a student’s academic excellence while the remaining percent is given to their soft skills. Along with their existing qualification, they need to acquire better communication skills through different programmes. Cambridge Linguistics and the British Council offer various communication skill programmes. If a mechanical engineering student wishes to seek jobs in the IT field, he/she needs some reskilling or upskilling program in that field keeping in mind the basic requirement of the job. These programs make an ad on program for their existing degree. 

Do you think enough colleges are providing soft skills training for their students? 

No, not enough colleges are doing this. That is why employability is becoming less and unemployment rates are high. It would be too easy for the student to get better jobs if colleges do provide them with these training. In this age, the context of teachers is also changing. Earlier, the job of the teacher was to teach, then to become a facilitator but now has changed to make students competent in skills, digitalization, in mental development and health and also to improve the employability of the student. 

The only interest of educational institutions is to complete the academic program on time and to issue the certificate as early as possible. Unlike Indian universities, foreign universities are giving more importance to skill development and job- ready programmes. Unfortunately, we give priority to theory with less importance to practical aspects. There are a lot of skill providers available under National Development Corporation with different NSQF (National Skills Qualifications Framework) levels from the technician, supervisory to managerial levels. In India, around 40 lakhs graduates are passing out per year, out of which around 15 lakhs are engineering graduates and the employability is getting reduced around 25 to 26 percent. The employability can be increased through different ways. The first is to improve the communication and technical skills, to improve the domain skill (the skill required for the potential employer in which he/she is going to work.) Based on the potential sector in which the student is interested to work, they need upskilling or reskilling. Then there are bridge courses that can be identified for the particular job. The access to these bridge courses can be done using a lot of technology enabled platforms such as Edex, Coursera etc. Even the Ministry of Human Resource Development has a software called Swayam. 

How popular are bridge courses in India? 

Educational providers in India are offering bridge courses as either a preparatory to a new programme or as an employment enhancing program or as a skill development program. Most of the educational institutions use bridge courses to enhance their students’ competencies especially in computer skills, programming skills, English proficiency and other appropriate skilling programs. It is now considered as a prerequisite for admission to a particular program or for employability enhancement program. 

Schools were reopened very recently since the pandemic. How do you think we can bridge the gap between digital education and “back to normal” classes?

One of the sectors which were resilient during covid was the education sector. Even though the situation is changing at a faster pace in the post covid era, many are comfortable with the hybrid mode of education. The number of covid cases are getting reduced but the hybrid mode of education will continue to an extent because it is the need of the hour. We can’t keep away from technology in this time of “new normal.”

India’s demography is special since we are a very young population. We have students and working professionals moving abroad looking for better opportunities. What do you think we should emulate from the international model of education?

As you rightly pointed out, the population between 18-24 are the major deciding factors within the democratic world. Global education is providing students’ access to any of the universities across the world. NEP also envisages joint programs, dual degree programs and twinning programs with world ranking foreign universities. We have a trend of students moving abroad to pursue their graduation and post-graduation. Until now, students preferred not only English-speaking countries but others too. But the unrest that was recently caused in the Russia-Ukraine war has affected this trend and students started to strictly prefer English speaking countries where they could acquire work visas as soon as possible.  There are highly qualified educational institutions within the country itself but unfortunately none of them comes within the first two hundred in the world ranking list. Over the last few decades, we are having discussions on the brain drain. This would not have happened if our country had provided the students with an appropriate ecosystem, proper funding as the foreign universities do. India uses less that 2 percent of its GDP for education while other countries provide between 5 to 10 percent of its GDP on education alone. This is our weakness. We can definitely strengthen our education system on par with overseas education if we do the needful.