Acumen Global Gateway Summit Sessions: The role of industry in higher education. Creating job ready graduates and establishing apprenticeships and meaningful career pathways

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and shifting economic landscapes, the relationship between higher education institutions and industries has never been more critical.

Join Dr Shashank Shah, Senior Specialist – Higher Education, NITI Aayog, Prof. Prabhu Aggarwal – Vice Chancellor, Bennett University, Mr Dipesh Shah, Executive Director (Development), International Financial Services Centre (IFSCA) GIFT City, Mrs Radha Bhatia, Chairperson, Bird Group, Ms Ruchi Shah, CFO – WeAce, Mr Prashant Tandon, CEO, Tata 1Mg and Adrian Mutton, Founder & Executive Chairman Sannam S4 Group, as they delve into this crucial intersection between academia and the workforce, exploring how universities and businesses can collaborate to foster innovation, prepare students for the demands of the job market, and create pathways to successful and fulfilling careers.

Five Key Takeaways

  • Alignment with Industry Needs: The discussion highlighted the pressing need for higher education institutions in India to closely align their curricula with the specific demands of the local job market. Universities and colleges should engage in ongoing dialogue with industries to ensure that graduates possess the skills and knowledge necessary to meet current industry requirements.
  • Promotion of Skill-Based Learning: Panellists emphasised the importance of incorporating skill-based learning into higher education. This includes practical, hands-on training and the integration of industry-relevant projects and internships into academic programmes. Such initiatives help students develop practical skills that make them job-ready upon graduation.
  • Fostering Apprenticeships and Internships: The panel underscored the significance of creating robust internship programmes in collaboration with industry partners. These programs provide students with invaluable real-world experience, and they serve as a talent pipeline for companies seeking skilled workers, benefiting both parties.
  • Diversity of Career Pathways: The discussion stressed the need for diversifying career pathways beyond traditional academic routes. Industry engagement should include support for vocational training, entrepreneurship, and alternative career choices, enabling students to pursue careers that align with their interests and aptitudes.
  • Government and Industry Collaboration: A key takeaway was the importance of strong collaboration between the government and industries to create an enabling environment for these initiatives. Government policies that incentivise industry participation in higher education and vocational training can significantly enhance the success of job readiness and career pathway programmes.

Below is the transcript

Adrian Mutton

Now without any further ado, I’d like to introduce our next panel. Once again, we have some fabulous speakers to talk about a subject that is very, very relevant, and that is the employability of graduates.

I mentioned in my opening remarks this morning, that there is a consistent and persistent complaint from corporations in India and across the globe. And it’s not only in India, that graduates are not job ready. Part of that has been a historical problem. Part of that, I believe, is because the workplace is changing so rapidly, that universities are struggling to keep up with the type of pedagogical that’s going to meet the needs of third, let alone future industry requirements. 

We have a fantastic panel here who I’m going to ask to each say a few opening remarks about their views on what we can collectively do representing some of the finest universities across the world to support corporations and multinational corporations to produce for work-ready graduates and provide the reskilling and upskilling opportunities to professionals already in India.

Prime Minister Modi has set a very high bar for India’s economy and that will be fulfilled with an enormously productive workforce. So, first, I’d like to introduce Professor Prabhu Aggarwal who is the Vice Chancellor of Bennett University.

Then next on the panel, we have Mr. Dipesh Shah, Executive Director (Development), International Financial Services Centre (IFSCA) GIFT City. Followed by Ms Ruchi Shah, CFO – WeAce, Mr Prashant Tandon, the CEO of Tata 1MG, Mrs Radha Bhatia, Chairperson, Bird Group, and of course Dr Shashank Shah, Senior Specialist – Higher Education, NITI Aayog. They will all bring a unique perspective, which I’m very much looking forward to. 

So without further ado, I will ask Professor Prabhu Aggarwal who is the Vice Chancellor of Bennett University for his thoughts. You represent an institution that was founded by a lot of India’s largest conglomerates, talk to us about the work that you’re doing to provide job-ready graduates.

Professor Prabhu Aggarwal, Vice Chancellor, Bennett University

Okay, thank you very much for this introduction. What a wonderful example I have. As correctly pointed out, Bennett University is very very young at only seven years old. In the space of those seven years, we have welcomed six and a half thousand students.

The only reason, if I may, it’s not because we are part of India, that students come to us is because they are getting input. And that’s the number one driving force for us. So let’s look at the statistics. There’s an article in the back of India today about how unemployable university students are. When I meet a lot of industrialists and semi-industry people, we seem to have a common problem. I have people to place and they want to hire people. But it’s not like they’re on jobs. And it’s not like they’re on the system. I somehow feel that the industry needs to step up in this process. There can be a lot of focus on micro-credentials, where the industry comes in and provides very, very specific certifications and training which we use.

At Bennett, we also work within what we call an industry advisory board, which is about 50, CEO level, across the gamut of technology, law, media, and sciences, that we work very, very closely with. And we don’t mean it in a superficial sense. We have them on our Board of Studies. Every three months, they do a review of our syllabus and how relevant we are.

This debate that a university should solve this problem of employability is an age-old debate. Right. Adrian is right, that things are changing in the industry. So quickly. How do you keep up? So it’s the higher order thinking, the critical thinking and learning that those things are what we focus on in the first two to three years if I can say so in a four-year programme. And we pretty much leave the student alone in the fourth year, say, go figure out what you want. You want to go to the industry, your fourth year, you spend in a full-time industry, and you’re still getting credits, but you don’t come to campus.

Do you want to pursue a future in research? Go join a research lab, you want to go on a global aspiration path to become a partner student at one of our partner institutions? We have about 100 plus partner institutions. I’m sure many of you are partners with us. That’s kind of like where we are. But for us, if employability is not what’s driving this, he will fail. As a university, we know this. Now, we have funding issues all the time. We are a premium product. But don’t worry about those universities and colleges that you find in shops, malls and residential places, and how will they be able to ever bridge this gap? And that is the scary part. And say yes to scale. Everything on the scale of 14 million people is education. And if the Prime Minister’s vision improves or increases our process, the enrolment ratio of 50% has to be realised. We need to put 40 million people or more in our education system. How do you get to this 80 million diaspora? And what are the things you can do? That’s the question I hope some of us can ponder upon. Is the scale crop, yield scale, we can do things, as you’ve mentioned in your speech, that some premier institutions, we’re doing very, very good things, some private universities, that it being one that is probably doing good. But how do we scale excessively? And that’s where I leave it as an open question.

Adrian Mutton

Mr. Dipesh Shah, you are on the cusp of the cutting edge of innovation in India with the financial sector. It was a pleasure coming to see you recently and I saw the vision that has been set up. My understanding is the Prime Minister personally has been involved in the planning and ideation. Talk to us a little bit about your vision for how GIFT City plays a role in links between academia and the workforce.

Lots of new real examples of Australian institutions who are setting up there that maybe you can call it within the best power out those strategies are being put together now.

Mr. Dipesh Shah, Executive Director (Development), International Finance Services Centre (IFSCA), GIFT City

Everyone, I  was just reading the panel names and just by a random coincidence last week I was on a panel for their key people with Sushank Shah here. I see this happening, but it’s no coincidence that education and Financial Services have a lot of jobs.

But I think that, as you rightly mentioned, the vision of GIFT City probably answers some of the equations, that were just raised about how India wants to go about fulfilling some of the aspirations of creating the future financial services ecosystem in India. And we have to look at the history of how India has been growing and what was said in the opening comments that you know, we don’t need a lot of rains from India, we want them to be given back to India, but the problem is our 300 students if they go to person will come back maybe 70% will come back and if this issue continues, you can imagine that you are going to all the efforts to holding them and giving them all the important education up to a certain level and that those planes are used by some other financial or other ecosystems to their advantage. I think How does India overcome that? You will say that every fourth person on this planet is Indian, because of the way that we have now tested the population 142 But the point is how we are importing goods and trying to retain selling within India is going to be an equally important question that we all have to ponder upon. 

One of the areas that we saw and probably the honourable Prime Minister way back in 2007, or 2008, saw an opportunity to create a FinTech or financial Tech City, being the bar who’s up there that was his mandate at that time when he was the Chief Minister of the state. But the mandate was very simple. If we can create a financial sector, that provides a similar ecosystem and infrastructure and helps India, that helps Indian entities, to do business within the Indian ecosystem for the international markets, then why not start official on which we started monitoring, I think we have enough examples of creating cities outside of India, if you ask me in our financial centre, we many times on the lighter side say that if two cities are India as well, outside India is the way in Singapore is built by the Indians, for Indian businesses, and they’ve been having on the Indian ecosystem. 

Now, if we see that, how do we start playing the role? Probably the Indian education system has to ponder on this question: why is the Italian call going out in other financial sectors and why do we provide them programmes that help them to any day unemployed in the financial sector in India? So just to give you a quick background, I’m not taking much of your time. However, the outcome is that GIFT City is the initiative offered by Skype to create a smart city, which is focused on the economic activity of international and domestic financial services within one ecosystem. 

Now, when we plan this, this was being built for creating 5,000 jobs and 500,000 indirect jobs, we’re talking about 1 million jobs. And people started saying that you are crazy, you’re talking of 1 million jobs in the financial sector in a city, that is not known for financial services at all? So this was a time of probably a hard time in India, as probably many universities will also pass. Whenever you start a new venture, hundreds of people will say you can’t do this. 

And there are one or two people who said you may succeed. And now probably the issue is that, after putting in our efforts, there are at least 3040 people who say that if we get into the services from Singapore, why don’t we do it from here? So I think the issue of the percentage of people saying that, yes, we can do similar services within India and from the beginning and ecosystem is increasing. I don’t see that it is going to be a credit to any financial centre or any foreign university at all. Because we are talking of a small piece of land within the whole of the Indian ecosystem, which is creating this new set of new projects of international education. What you’ve done is we’ve brought in an international branch campus, which is exactly to the question of how we align the industry here. The question is, are we industry ready? Our problem was that the financial centres were globally, and I told you, I think when he was with us at GIFT City, one of my research subjects was in the international financial services sector. And when I was studying this, what came out was that one of the most important elements of an international financial centre is a foreign university. Unless and until you build a good ecosystem of education within the financial sector, financial centres can succeed. 

With this objective. I think the financial centres coming up with more jobs in the education industry coming forward, providing the skill sets required, would be the right approach for some of the areas that you’re going to debate today. So probably all of us have to look at it from the perspective that if you have an industry there, which is asking for a skill, do we have the education institutions going the extra mile and saying yes, I can meet people in GIFT City or a financial centre across India, a job with the demand that you have if these two can be combined, I believe that we have a large opportunity of retaining our talent within our Indian ecosystem and probably then supply this talent to the southeast Asian region.

Mrs Ruchi Shah, CFO, WeAce

The startup that’s working on scaling across the globe works closely with the industry because, as you mentioned, the industry has a huge gap in terms of what they want and what is available. So something for graduates all the time in Tronic marketing and the primary reason being that those skills are just not matching. What the industry is looking for is not a very good sort of 1040 between employment manufacturing, and that skill gap must be shortened and matched. A huge talent pool which is also sitting on top is very different. Or people who have taken a break or happiness for several years. And that’s again, a fantastic tool that we use to start to upskill. And get back into the workforce. So that the industry has matured. And what I think is missing is the close partnership between the fabrics. And the industry as Adrian mentioned, and why it is there in different shapes and forms, there’s more that can be done there are 500 Plus mentors from the industry who are willing to come in and give their time to upskill. 

People who are not ready for jobs, or people who want to do more, but don’t have the right opportunities. I think there’s more than industry partnerships. And I’m glad that I’m part of a startup, which is addressing this.

Adrian Mutton

Thank you very much. Now this is part two, I can tell you how committed Mrs. Battier is to the skilling and training of the workforce. As chairperson of the Bird Group, she employs 10,000 people, globally. And it was her birthday on Monday. But despite it being a birthday, she called me into her office to talk about how we can help by upskilling and training her workforce across the world. Welcome. 

Mrs Radha Bhatia, Chairperson, Bird Group

Thank you very much. I was impressed by the work which you have done. And one thing in common between us was that we started in Kenya as teachers. So a teacher once is always a teacher. And my husband also says that I’m teaching him everything.

Okay, I have been working in the aviation and hospitality sector. There is a big mismatch between the training sessions.

I’m sorry to just say, I got asked the question by a gentleman from Bird Group, do you offer training or do I have to do some courses on travel tourism or hospitality? I have not yet but we think that any university that passes out won’t be capable of doing a job immediately unless there is a specific management. 

My idea was to start this with the nurseries because you can train the mind of the child unfortunately, something happened and I have to share that there is somebody keen on starting with what I bought training these children these young minds into more natural things on the toys, which belong to the aviation, something agriculture, gardening, these hobbies have to be different from the child, it cannot be different when you are a graduate or postgraduate. So, by training the children from the nursery, our school education also has to change. And there is a big mismatch between the job seekers and the job queues.

Now, why do you say that people have moved to Dubai? Why of course, all songs with the salary, the money they said which they cannot say. That is the reason, everybody knows that investing is the cheapest place to live. So somehow, the Prime Minister has started with this medical Indian brain is the most fertile.

Today you even see a villager who’s not educated, using iPhones, and mobile phones. Banking has gone to every. Maybe I’m not able to do the banking but my helper will do it because I don’t have the time. So Indians are very fast. I have seen that. The aviation industry has grown for the last 52 years. Today, you can make the booking on your mobile, you can plan your itinerary on your mobile. Everything is in your palm. Everybody I think knows about it here.

And he’s been setting it. I don’t know if anyone has seen it. He says this is the robot pictures each and everything. And that’s a small gadget in your palm. So it has played a great role. But we have to restrict. If you see the younger generation with IT, the communication is lost. Communication has just been asked instead of the word grandmother’s stories, which were so interesting for the children and our culture to go forward today, even on a day to table everybody’s with a mobile phone, as there is no communication. Cross fingers, what am I hearing, but education in a specific scene has to be built.

We lost so much of our manpower to the Middle East, they have also gone to Europe because they find more opportunities, they can get better salaries. Not to retain a diamond, we do need to increase our revenues. Also, there is so much competition that the industry has to work. I’m sure you want to be. I always try to write something before. And I always end up.

So my experience is that whether it is universities, colleges, or even schools, we have to do this as a skilling project for them. I’ve been to you and saw the same thing. I talked to them. The project is there. But it hasn’t seen the light. So because of my experience and my hobbies, I have a group of women in aviation, and these women go to the schools for the underprivileged, we’ve created a booklet of jobs in aviation. We go and talk to these underprivileged children, and mentor them. We tell them the job opportunities and we train them. The poverty level is a gift of this certification as the government wants free education and to make sure they are put on jobs. So we have to work together with the industry. If there are any questions, I will be happy to answer them. 

Adrian Mutton

Thank you. We’ll come to questions in a second. But I think you encapsulate exactly what we’ve been talking about this morning, which is the internationalisation of higher education. Institutions overseas bring their expertise to India to partner with world leaders in the effects of corporations themselves, any of our university partners that are exceptionally strong in hospitality, and tourism. So thank you very much. 

Mrs Radha Bhatia, Chairperson, Bird Group

The most important thing is the soft skills training in any department training the police people ignore is not easy for a student and society with change cannot keep going on, everybody gets a job. You’re the next generation, we’ve been getting these.

Adrian Mutton

Very wise words, we, within the summer school group, have a very active trading program rescaling program which might be bought in Canada or Japan, the one thing I’ve seen in the last 10 years is the need for rescaling upskilling is a considerable greater than it wasn’t the previous 10 years, I don’t remember doing much professional education in my previous career. But Now personally, I see that I have to continue to hone my skills to keep both on the soft skills side and, on the technical skills can keep up with the needs of our business. So a very good point, Prashant, you’re at the cutting edge of the industry’s needs. Talk to us a little bit about where you see, there’s an opportunity, and some of the challenges that you face with recruiting into what is one of the most modern and innovative businesses that you run.

Prashant Tandon, CEO, Tata 1MG

So there’s an interesting topic and just thinking about it, and why once a teacher is a teacher for life, I think the critical thing is once a student also has to be a student for life, especially the rate at which things are changing. So more important than what is being taught is the process of learning that has to be dumped, because that will have to continue way beyond university into life. And that is where I find a really big gap.

There are self-starters, go-getters, and people who figured out their paths of continuous learning, but as educational institutions, I think universities need to structure that process a lot more. I think going ahead, the emphasis on first principles, and the emphasis on the process of learning needs to play a bigger part than the current tools of deployment because very likely they will change by the time people graduate. And that’s changing at a very, very rapid rate.  So that’s one dimension. 

The other thing is, I think, what is that you also mentioned, the soft skills, the ability to assimilate in a workplace, just what to expect from a workplace, a fresh graduate coming in, how to engage with the organisation, how to communicate, becoming even tougher when gender communication in life is going down. But the training and emphasis on that understanding of what it takes to make your presence in the workplace, I think that’s very important that people take a lot of time settling in. and from an industry perspective, depending on the kind of function it takes three months to nine months for graduates to be of any material utility to the organisation. And that’s quite an investment.

And I think the journey of the first year of work should be seen as continued education. That’s why academia and industry are working closer together and I think what Professor Aggarwal mentioned is that in the last year, students are free to work in studios. We’ve worked with many institutes on that model, one semester, two semesters, two-quarters of a semester or something. Come spend time in the office post that we will discuss full-time employment and I think both the student and the employer are much more aware of what they’re getting into and that kind of that kind of model.

Lastly, I think, just the nature of the workplace is changing so rapidly and these vertical education systems now need to be much more intensely disciplinary. And just to give you an example of my company, Tata 1Ng, we’ve got engineers, doctors,

business experts, operations experts, data science, analysts, finance, accounting, and all kinds of functions coming together and not a single project gets done without all these skill sets coming together, but how to work with very wide variety and how to appreciate because earlier, it used to be a bigger challenge of graduating from a medical school stay so far from technology, that just the basic appreciation of what technology can do is missing. And vice versa. A young engineer coming out of an Institute has absolutely no interest in understanding our natural inclination towards healthcare, or what would be the dynamics here, and so forth. And once they start working together, they start learning, okay, they are that in the applications of the day, there’s a lot more they need to know, there’s a lot more they need to appreciate.

And, universities also need to get towards a more industry-focused kind of structure of the curriculum. So I would say, the first few years have to be the basic building blocks. The next few years should be used to make them as relevant to the industry contexts as possible, and that will be a continuously changing context or a dialogue process. 

Adrian Mutton

I’ve seen that with my children, that a number of the foundational traditional building blocks nowadays have been skipped over somehow.

My parents recently visited us, and they said to me, you know, not to criticise your parenting, Adrian. But you know, your kids need to sit up, they need to be a little bit more attentive at dinner, and they need to just learn some tidy up their basic manners. I was aghast thinking I was a bad parent. But the reality is they’re getting a lot of their inputs from TikTok, or social media where there simply are not the guidelines for just the basic principles. And yes, it’s a very different environment now, it’s a different generation moving forward. But those basic principles and the foundations that you talked about, must be in place to group to give people that common platform from which people can communicate, work and collaborate effectively. I fully agree. 

Now, just after we hear from Dr. Shah, I’m going to come straight to questions. So please do think of some questions. You have a fabulous panel for those of us who have got your summit agenda in front of you to read about their bios, when you do say your question, please introduce the university that you represent, so that they get a sense of the room as well. Dr. Shah, I’d love to hear your comments.

Dr. Shashank Shah, Senior Specialist, Higher Education, Niti Aayog

The advantage of speaking last is that you have an opportunity to sum up several ideas and also fill in the gaps. Things have not been covered. So I’ll do just that.

I think one area which has been creating a lot of anxiety in recent times, the team that we’re discussing, is what is called generating artificial intelligence, popularly known as Chat GPT. And that is the phrase, which is the flavour of the season. And everybody’s worried that if Chat GPT kind of platforms become mainstream, what is going to be the opportunity for employment and livelihoods for a large number of individuals? I think we’re missing a very big point there because we are ending up competing with others. And I think the objective of education of any kind, including our education, is not to create another set of computers that will compete with computers, but to create composers, because that is what distinguishes human intelligence from, quote-unquote, artificial intelligence. And I think the skills that have got us where we are today are not the skills that will get us where we want to get in the next quarter century. And so I think I’d like to share some thoughts on this because I did mention in my comments in the morning that India is going to remain the largest working population in the world. For nearly 50 years, nearly a billion people in the Indian workforce would be there through 2070. And hence, skilling is going to be a very key component of our responsibility. To contribute not only to the education system but also to the economy at large. 

And it’s not just going to be ordinary skilling, but reskilling and upskilling. Because you cannot longer afford to live by the skill that you’ve gained as part of your degree, and presume that that would stand in good stead for the next four decades. So it’s very important to look at that piece, a reporter by the DNA of the Niti Aayog said that India has done well with providing skills to the 1.2 crores, or the 12 million students graduating from the higher education system, but we’ve not to don as well with the reskilling and upskilling bit, which is a process of lifelong learning. And I think that’s a very vital area, maybe to progress. 

And also for this particular demography, we need to transition from teacher-designed and teacher-driven pedagogies to learner-design and learner-driven pedagogy. It’s what they want, and what they need rather than what we have and what we can get. I like to highlight four areas where I think the focus on skilling needs to be provided, which will sum up a lot of things that were shared by my panellists, I think, it’s not just important to gain digital skills, but also skills that will enable us to effectively use these digital technologies, which will evolve more and more over the next four to five decades, I think the first set of skills come under the category of what is called as problem-solving skills. We are very good at problem-solving skills. But what is required is problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and analytical innovation, I think these are at the cutting edge of skills, that are not single discipline-based, as you mentioned, we need to have a multidisciplinary better mind and thinking that will enable us to be at the forefront of creativity and doing fewer things. 

I think the second set of skills comes from a bucket of self-management. This includes issues connected with resilience, man managing ourselves better through stress tolerance, and flexibility, which are the four areas that several professionals lack today because they can do very well with the first part but not with the second. The third is coming under the bracket of working with people, how can you lead with empathy? How can you ensure conflict resolution and communication, these are very, very important skills for success today. And last, of course, is technology use and development as to how we can effectively use technology. A lot of these skills can be challenging, challenging at first, but because we are here we are used to the McCauley model of connecting education with employment and limiting ourselves to that which will get us the first good job. But I think that’s only the first step and how we do well in that job is going to play a very important role. 

So I did some of this by connecting it with the four areas that were highlighted in the UNESCO report way back in 1986. Because none of these things are new. We’ve been ignoring them repeatedly. And that’s why we are saying quote unquote anxious as to how we’ll succeed in the 21st century. So this 1986 report of the last commission, the UNESCO for learning the treasure within had identified four pillars of education for the 21st century, one was learning to know acquiring the instruments of understanding that I think can be compared with what is today called IQ or intelligence quotient. The second one they spoke about was about learning to do so so that we can act creatively in our environment. And I think that is what skills are all about how we can do, how can use this knowledge and intelligence to bring about change. The third was learning to live together to participate and cooperate with people in all human activities. And I think this is the social portion, or the SQ which many of us lack and are unable to excel in our workplace. The last thing they mentioned was learning to be, which essentially proceeds from the previous three, but which I would like to equate with the emotional quotient, how we can be with ourselves. 

I think the greatest dependence on technology today is also because we have not trained ourselves to be with ourselves. We are scared of our own company. And that’s why the company of that gadget has become so indispensable. And I think that learning to be that emotional quotient is a very vital element of that which will help us succeed. So we need to integrate IQ with skills, and SQ with EQ to succeed in the 21st century. And I think those are the kinds of skills which the higher education system will have to prioritise. They have been prioritised in the national education policy. The focus on holistic education has been phenomenal in all that has been mentioned. And I think we also need to ensure or think that we don’t limit education just to generate and create skills, which will give employment, but also pivot to integrating education with entrepreneurship. If 90 crore people are going to be in the employment space consistently for the next 50 years, you’re not going to have that many jobs that are going to come in the traditional. 

So how can we integrate entrepreneurship into the education system, so that students are trained to innovate, students are trained to not be risk-averse? And students are trained to think in ways that that ideas can be translated into ventures, which not only provide commercial benefit, but enable the country to be self-reliant, and also create impact at scale. And I think that’s going to make a very big difference in the next 50 years, where we break away from the McCauley model of education for employment, but move towards our model, which was the ancient model of education for empowerment, that embodies individuals take charge of their lives, and also contribute to the community and the nation.

Adrian Mutton

When I listen to you, I have a conflicting feeling of anxiety and excitement, or anxiety about the task ahead. But the excitement that there are people like you that have such a clear vision of what’s ahead of us, I think one of one of the very salient points that you made is that whilst there are traditional views on skill development, and we all know what they are, there are of course, the needs to train people to be entrepreneurial. It’s a skill, and it does need nurturing and developing.

But those communication skills are key, we see ourselves in the 21st century, with some of the most incredible, unimaginable technological and healthcare breakthroughs. Yet, we still have fundamental human misunderstandings across borders, we can see that in Ukraine and Russia, in Sudan and Afghanistan. And we mustn’t forget that ultimately, we can end up building the most advanced society that everyone can imagine, self-destruct because people aren’t able to communicate with each other. So very good remarks. Thank you. 

Adrian Mutton

I’d like to open up questions to the audience. We have about five minutes.

Okay, great stuff, please stand up. Ladies first introduce yourself. Are you happy to let go for five or ten minutes at lunchtime? 

Shall we ask a bunch of questions? Yes, let’s do that, who’s next?

Chitra Jaine, Recruitment & Marketing Advisor, University of Southern California

Hi, I’m Chitra Jain and I’m the Recruitment & Marketing Advisor from the University of Southern California. My question: I, am an international student and I recently completed my Master’s in Digital Marketing from Canada, Seneca College. So where there are like two sets of people, like most of the people, there’s a set of people who want to come back to India because they will miss their family. And they probably don’t want to be from your own country. But the issue with them, which I heard was, that they don’t get a lot of money, and the salary package is not good to support their family, because they have some financial issues. And this is the main reason they didn’t come back and they settled there. They are not happy and want to come back. So I just want to know, how the new business sector and market can help them with the salary package or if is there an important thing, there are chances that this can develop and we are starting packages will get better so that these people will come back and settle back down back in India?

Raashi Sharma, Assistant Recruitment Advisor, Anglia Ruskin University

Hi, I’m Raashi and I represent Anglia Ruskin University UK. So my question is, as Mrs Radha Bhatia was, rightly speaking, that when we talk about scale development, it does not have to be at the university level, we have to inculcate that from the very beginning. And so my thought is that when we talk about skill development, in my personal experience, I graduated from IDPA LLP. And now I’m in a different industry. And if I had been given a chance at a school level, where I would, have my summer or winter breaks, I could have done an internship with companies such as yours, that would have been beneficial because that would have bridged the gap between the theory that we study and the reality of the working environment. So my question is basically to Mr. Prashant Tandon and Ms. Ruchi. Shah, and Mrs Radha Bhatia. Because you guys are leading big, big companies now. So do you think that your companies can produce such kind of opportunities at the school level for students where it can be beneficial for the company as well as for the schools? 

Adrian Mutton

Thanks very much. Well, let’s address those two because otherwise, we’ll forget the questions. So key points, first question, would you like to address to someone in particular on the first question?

Dr. Shashank Shah, Senior Specialist, Higher Education, Niti Aayog

So I think I’ve mentioned this. In my observations, I think connecting a particular job, or a particular degree with the era of connecting a particular degree with a particular job and living by that for the next 40 years of your life, in my opinion, is over. 

The speed at which industry and the economy are reinventing themselves is far faster than we used to. And it’s very important that we need to reskill and upskill ourselves regularly. And that’s why I said that the kinds of skills that are required in today’s day and age in the 21st century, are going to be not a single discipline, but a multi-disciplinary. Hence industry must play a very valuable role in partnering with higher education institutions, as has been highlighted in the national education policy, whether it is through internships, whether it is through apprenticeships, whether it’s through supporting research projects, graduate research projects, postgraduate research projects, doctoral research projects, and the kind of involvement that the industry has, in the higher education system overseas is our phenomenal quantum. In the US, for example, the commercialisation of higher education research for 20 years, between 2000 between the late 90s and 2016 or so, created industry output to the tune of $1 trillion, and created over 4.5 billion jobs. That’s the potential that exists when industry and academia work together. And I think that is something which is lacking to a large extent in the Indian higher education system. Hence, providing that kind of mentorship network funding hand-holding and collaboration between academia and industry will play a very vital role in giving students not for not just their first job, but to making them bold-ready, continuously. So I think that’s what would be my thoughts on your question.

Mrs Radha Bhatia, Chairperson, Bird Group

But I would like to add any problems that come into your eyes think it’s an opportunity, and how that problem you can change into an opportunity is in your own hands. Don’t depend on others.


If I can, this was a popular graduation speech, top-notch and we shouldn’t be in front of your mother graduating college in front of as many as there were in my school days, I keep changing the channel every time to see the right movie, the whole of the 90 will just spend changing the channels and you never watch the movie. So he was telling the graduating batch that you know it’s best to watch one movie and complete it till the end. It will be the best way to do it, probably the career also. So you rightly mentioned that this is no longer a reality now, but probably what it means is that you need one skill set where you feel that this is something where you belong. And then you know you keep adding as you like you said about the other add-on. Honestly, skills marketing yourself in different ways was today even the professional says to market themselves, whether you like it or you don’t like it, you have to be in groups, you have to keep exchanging your ideas in the group. So I would prefer that you keep watching one movie and complete it, that would be a while.

Adrian Mutton

I’m going to come back to the salary question. And the second, which is, I think, is for Dipesh. What I’d like you to do is explain the story of Prime Minister Modi going to Singapore and realising what was happening with the Gujarati community there as an example of where the money flows with salaries globally. But Ruchi, I’m just coming to you on the work experience suggestion. Does your firm offer work experience opportunities for young graduates or high school students? If not, why not? And if so, what are you doing to support the next generation of employees? 

Ms. Ruchi Shah, CFO, WeAce

Both actually, universities can go to more high school students think that’s a good suggestion because I think that’s what’s needed. Even when we are going to hire interns, we see a lot of skill gaps between the theory and the practical. So while they’re very good at the theoretical part of things, when it comes to actually working in the corporate environment, there’s a large difference. And I think that the skill gap is what needs to be reduced. The internships there needs to be more mentoring, more internships, and more opportunities for students to gather that practical experience before they start working. And I think that’s also a large difference that I see between countries outside and India. 

The high schoolers they are once they cross the age of 12/13, they start doing part-time jobs, to gain that extra pocket money or to be noticed by getting some extra money on their hands. But it does give them a lot of experience. They might be working at an ice cream store or a small shop or just doing some part-time going to gardens, etc. But it gives them a sense of independence, they’re using that time for something practical. And even though it’s a small job they learn outside. And same goes for internships, the more experience that the students can gather, and while we’re doing it at a probably very small scale right now, because the firm size is smaller. But the more opportunities that they can get in the industry, the more ready they will be for jobs.

Adrian Mutton

I’ll have two or three more questions, and then we’ll have to wrap up. 

Mr Dipesh Shah, Executive Director (Development), International Financial Services Centre (IFSCA) GIFT City

So I’ll just give the story of GIFT City. So you mentioned the Prime Minister when he was the chief minister of the state. His visit to Singapore was an eye-opener for him. Out of probably 15 people that you met, probably 12 or 13 people were Indians and out of those 1213 people, at least eight to 10 people.

And he asked them what you’re doing here. They say that they do international financial services, we do financial services here. He said, Okay, so our single market is zero, forget about the Singapore market we talk about and we do business here in Singapore, for India, it isn’t sitting in Singapore, to India, business is in the US. 

To his surprise, the answer was quite simple. They said the regulations the foreign exchange laws and the tax laws in India, were not conducive to doing international financial services efficiently. We will start moving those jobs outside to India because business is much more efficient. But I think in the larger audience today, the question is, it will always happen that the markets or the countries which are growing will start generating more jobs. And later, I think to answer your question, thanks to the probably global scenario, the jobs are going globally now. And in India, the jobs are going up. So it’s easier for them to decide where to go and where to earn money. Because in the last 10/15 years, at least I would have come across five students who want an incentive in the US but I’m not getting it. There are at least 10 people in the US who want a job or are not getting a job in the IT sector. So the reality is quite extraordinary in the way that the global scenario is emerging. 

But if you see the same for India, at least I’m sitting in GIFT CITY, the Bank of America tells me I need five people in the next year, would you be able to give me a skilled manpower? And the question is to the universities, would you be able to provide them with the right skill sets? So we are doing a project called ‘Accountants of the World’. And I think this could be a good input to many universities. We did a roundtable and what came out of it was that in the US there are 300,000 accounting jobs which have no takers, they don’t have the skilled manpower. In Australia, nobody is taking up the accounting course. And when we were trying to figure out why this is happening, the answer is that an accounting job gives someone $50,000. And driving a car gives you $250,000.

So people are very car-oriented, rather than becoming an accountant. And if this is the reality, then India would be the right destination for grading their competence for the world. Because we have the skill sets, we have the right cost metrics, and we can emerge for the world as accountants, so for the businesses.

Adrian Mutton

Okay, we’ll take a couple more questions

Tanishka Jain, ICR, University of York

So my question is this, now that you’re talking about job-ready graduates, often we’ve seen a trend of some of the leading employers like Google, as you know, they’re welcoming people without a college degree. So my question is to Professor Aggarwal and Mr. Prashant Tandon. From an institutional perspective, do you think in the next five to seven years, higher education degrees will still be relevant to be job-ready? And from an employer perspective, you know, we still see mostly job roles when they are advertised, we talk about minimum qualification required. So do you think the state is going to change in future? And as from employers, like they weren’t happy to welcome students purely based on their skill and not just their degree?

Adrian Mutton

Great question. We’ll come to that in a second.

Lawrence Pratchett, University of Canberra

I was going to ask the question that you asked, but I do have another question. I’m Lawrence Pratchett, from the University of Canberra. But I live in Mumbai now. And thinking about living in Mumbai, one of the things I noticed is just how competitive life is. And so if you’re talking about moving from 14 to 18 million graduates to configure, thanks, that figure anyway. But if you move on from 40 to 80 million graduates, how do you make every single one of those graduates competitive in a market where you’re going to have a billion people employed, needing different skills for every sector, and making changes skills, picking up all of those things that we said, how to add as a university like yours because that’ll create the individual competitiveness, at the same time as feeding the whole 80 million people that are going to be graduating in the year in India?

Adrian Mutton

We’ll come to you for that question on the back. Thank you. 

Dr Maina Singh

Dr Shah, you mentioned very succinctly in your earlier remarks, as well as now, critical thinking problem-solving analytical skills. Those are things that probably educators can deliver and teach through the curriculum. But there’s a lot of conversation here also about soft skills, the ability to get along with people, the ability to interact, to collaborate, to even get the cues. And Adrian also mentioned that example in jest about his children.

Is there something that we are missing as a community or as our society? Is there a gap that we need to fill, which just outsourcing it to the educator is not enough? Is there a need for self-reflection there? And my second question is that you do say we need to encourage entrepreneurship. And yes, there’s been a lot of that going on, including in government schools, in Delhi, and so on. In a situation where they’re encouraging and getting more and more aspirational students from tier two, and tier three there are still lakhs and lakhs of people who are trying for the UPSC exam. How are we going to teach people to be risk averse, which is the first ingredient for any type of entrepreneurship? 

Adrian Mutton

I appreciate it’s very close to lunchtime, so I’ll try to answer these questions as quickly as we can. 

The first question was about the relevance of higher education and the degrees who would like to click on a private app to take on some of these interrelated issues. 

Dr Prabhu Aggarwal, Vice Chancellor, Bennett University

There’s a societal issue you mentioned. We are a country which is degree-fixated. Will it change? I don’t have a crystal ball. But it’s getting less and less relevant in the larger scheme of things like the Google example.

I think it was mentioned somewhere at the end, that a degree fixation is going to go away. I mean, the other problem is that our universities today are only focused on a one-job kind of outcome. And it is that time now when no student should be focused on a one job outcome. Because of that first job, I would say, 90% of people leave their first job in less than two years. So that’s another part, I don’t have any answer to your question. Because you’ve set me up.

You wanted me to tell you? How do I make 80 million people competitive in a workforce of a billion people? This translates to what? Well, 8% are guaranteed unemployment is at what 7% stubborn, somewhere around there. So these are my thoughts, I encourage my students not to think about the first job, and I encourage my students not to be fixated on a degree. From a personal point of view, I’m a mechanical engineer. And whatever I do, that I built for institutions of higher education, has nothing to do with my education.

So it’s all these higher order things, bringing the EQ SQ IQ the application skills together, and creating an ecosystem somehow, to bring all this together. It’s a tough task. And again, it’s a skill problem. I keep arguing it’s the same with COVID-19. And then that was one of the guys I was talking to, he said how would you vaccinate a million people to imagine life without technology and can’t do it? So technology will solve the scale. And I think technology lies at the heart of the education ecosystem to solve the scale. It’s technology.

Adrian Mutton

Thank you, Mrs Bhatia, you hire several young people, you’re dealing with the soft skills that they bring into your life, I would like to leave you with UPSC. 

Okay, any final comments or remarks before we wrap up? I think the last set of questions is addressed.

Dr Prabhu Aggarwal, Vice Chancellor, Bennett University

To me, I just, again, draw your attention to the national education policy. I think we get very focused on the technical side of things. But the soft skill side, which you mentioned, is repeatedly highlighted way back in UNESCO way back in the reduction commission of 1948 went off to set up another Christian force to do a roadmap for the education system of our country. I think the role of human values is rarely discussed or analysed, which is what has to be the undercurrent of the gentrification system. 

The national education policy refers to the landmark Supreme Court judgement, which highlighted the five universal human values of truth, righteousness, peace, love and nonviolence as being vital to enable individuals in the 21st century to be successful. I think this would spring, competencies like empathy, multicultural competence, and issues where we can handle all kinds of technical and non-technical situations better.

I think the question of whether Google would respect your higher education degree or not, should be secondary. The primary question is, how can I go to university and develop these skills better because I can always gain knowledge from a book or a screen? But I need a cohort to develop these kinds of soft skills or human values where the rubber can hit the road. It’s only when we are with fellow human beings with our group dynamics, team building, team management, and team leadership skills are tested, and traded. So I think that is the true purpose of our education system, which builds such holistic individuals where the IQ component is vital to the skills and EQ and SQ components are equally vital. And I think that is what Google may not require in their upfront job application. But that’s exactly what will enable any individual to be successful if he or she wants to rise the ladder, basically, always hire people with great IQ. But if you want to be a great leader in any company or institution, you need to have the right skills, and the right EQ and SQ that cannot be outsourced or higher. So I think that is the role. That is the contribution which our education system can make. I think that is what will enable individuals to be competitive, because it’s not knowledge alone, which will help you to be competitive. It is these skills, which will play an important role along with that knowledge. And I think that is how universities need to look at themselves, as the role goes beyond the Napoleon model, and comes to a true Indian model, where all these four are vital for success in life, personally, institutionally national.

Adrian Mutton

Wonderful, well, thank you to the panel for some fantastic insights. There is some optimism about the future of the workforce and its role in higher education. Thank you for attending.

The next session starts at 2 pm. It’s with Sanjeev Sanyal from the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council. He has some very out-of-the-box extreme views on higher education and I very much encourage you to be back in the main ballroom at two o’clock.

Next session starts at 2pm. It’s with Sanjeev Sanyal from the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council. He has some very out of the box extreme views on higher education and I very much encourage you to be back in the main ballroom at two o’clock.

About the Acumen Global Gateway Summit: India

The Acumen Global Gateway Summit, held at the renowned JW Marriott hotel in New Delhi, marked a milestone in the Acumen@15 celebrationsThis exclusive invite-only event brought together the Acumen Global Team, distinguished guests, government officials, and experts. Client partners convened to discuss international higher education, exchange innovative ideas, and shape a vision for expanding access to higher education. The summit fostered collaboration, inspiration, and knowledge dissemination among higher education professionals. With its unique setting and thoughtful discussions, the event offered an exceptional platform for networking and setting the course for a future of inclusive and transformative higher education.

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