Why jobs come before higher education

August 11th, 2012

This placement season Avinash Iyer is playing it safe. The 23-year-old engineer from West Bengal had an opportunity to pursue his MS in the United States. But he chose to be a part of his college placement and is happy with a big IT job and a fat package. He has learnt from the experience of his elder brother in 2008-09,  who had opted for higher education in the US, only to find, on his return, that the job market was dry.

A recent trend in India is that engineering students this year have chosen to join companies with fat pay packages rather than go for higher education. They seem to have learnt their lessons from 2009-09, when students who had completed higher education found it difficult to get decent jobs. This time, they are playing it safe.

The protagonist in a popular Bollywood movie tells his friends worried about exams and placements, “Get educated, not for the degree that you would get at the end of it. Get educated, to learn, for the sake of knowledge.” However, the situation in the country is far from this scenario. Most students will openly tell you that they chose to join an A, B or a C institution only because of the attractive salaries that they would end up getting post their degree from this institute. Let me tell you, I am no exception to it. I too, joined a journalism school with a hope that this would help me secure a job in an easier manner.

The ongoing slowdown has also given an excuse to students to find a good paying job for themselves rather than pursue higher education. The students here are not at fault. The incentives for daring to leave a job and pursue further education and research are just not good enough. The meager stipends coupled with lack of sufficient grants make it ‘impractical’ for students to choose anything other than a job. Plus, the Indian ethos also allows us to question other fellows who have dared to step into the ‘other path’. “You are 23 years old and still studying? Don’t you want to take up a job and settle down?”–are the general remarks to these exceptions.

While it is not entirely fair to put the ball in the government’s court by citing lack of grants, financial inadequacy for research remains a concern. Picture this. As per the annual report for 2011 of the University of Texas at Dallas (United States), a whopping $93 million was spent on research. It is not even one-fifth of the amount in India. Though institutions have been trying their best to concentrate their efforts on research, a lot still needs to be done. Infrastructure is also a concern in some of them, which needs immediate attention.

According to reports, India contributes only 2.2 per cent to the total population of researchers, which makes it a country with one of the least number of researchers per million among developing nations. If all stakeholders come together and try to work out a solution, higher education would have the place that it deserves among the Indian community.

On a lighter side, this is not meant to dissuade anyone from going for a fat package. Of course, you need to show them what you are worth! But if you think you are capable (financially and otherwise) to take the ‘other path’, please go for it. We need more such people to brighten the temple of the international knowledge community.

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