I’m sure many readers saw the article in the New York Times on the coming skills gap in the IT sector in India. The basic gist is this:
Software exports alone expanded by 33 percent in the last year.
The university systems of few countries would be able to keep up with such demand, and India is certainly having trouble. The best and most selective universities generate too few graduates, and new private colleges are producing graduates of uneven quality.
With the number of technology jobs expected to nearly double to 1.7 million in the next four years, companies are scrambling to find fresh engineering talent and to upgrade the schools that produce it. (link)
A shortage of 500,000 high tech workers is predicted for 2010. Perhaps the only way to forestall a huge wasted opportunity would be if the government were to liberalise its policy on foreign universities, and allow for-profit foreign institutions to open up campuses — with some regulation. According to this Rashmi Banga editorial in the Financial Express, the many thousands of Indian students who don’t go to IIT currently spend $3 billion on education in the U.S. — money which could be spent in India itself. Banga also outlines some of the basic problems in the Indian system as it operates from an insider’s perspective.
This is not a new idea. Proposals have been floated, committees have reported, and bills have been passed — though none of it has really led to anything. The many U.S. universities that have pondered building campuses in India (including both Stanford and Yale) have all been repulsed by the continuing ban on for-profit enterprises and the miles of regulations, regulations, regulations. (You can follow the saga on the T. Satyanarayan’s excellent Education in India blog) The arguments against liberalization seem weak. Standards are really not that hard to ensure, and a set of simple regulations or guidelines to ensure an orderly process shouldn’t be that hard. The charge of “cultural sensitivities” is raised, but are cultural sensitivities served by the current system, where thousands of students go abroad to study? (And many of them end up sticking around in the places where they get their degrees?)
It also needn’t be solely about filling the voracious staffing needs of the big consulting, outsourcing, and banking companies; I imagine that a Yale or Stanford campus in India would be much more than that. I’m sure many U.S. academics in the social sciences and humanities would jump at the chance to have rich, lively intellectual exchanges with Indian students and researchers — without having to go through a lot of bureaucracy.