The good old BA is India’s most popular graduate course, and that’s a problem

The job struggle.
The job struggle.
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Unemployability of young graduates has been a big concern in India for years now. As per some estimates, fewer than 5% of engineers trained in the country are cut out for high-skill programming jobs. Yet, India’s youth continues to queue for a generic Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, which has even fewer takers in the job market.

Currently, 9.34 million students are pursuing BA programmes in India, making it the course with the highest enrolment pan-India, followed by B.Sc. (4.68 million) and B.Com. (4.03 million), according to the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) published by the HRD Ministry on Sept. 22.

The survey is based on data provided by 962 universities, 38,179 colleges and 9,190 standalone institutions across the country.

Educationists and hiring firms believe the high number of youngsters pursuing BA is a problem as it exacerbates a demand-supply mismatch in the job market, particularly when globally, 50% of occupations existing today will become redundant by 2025.

Minding the gap

The biggest problem with such a high number of students pursuing the BA programme is that the course does not teach students any practical job-related skills, experts say.

“The graduate employability factor continues to be a concern which hovers around 20-22%,” said Sumit Kumar, vice-president at TeamLease Skill University, a Gujarat-based vocational training institute. “Traditionally, non-technical courses don’t offer internships. Hence, lack of exposure to real work in courses like BA churns out unemployable candidates.”

It is then no surprise that Indian graduates struggle to land their first job. About 25% of young job hunters in India find it very difficult to get their first job, reveals the 2019 edition of the HBR Ascend Youth Skills Survey. “In absence of proper guidance, a large number of students get stuck in the age-old BA/BCom courses with low-level equilibrium and then struggle to get to their first jobs,” said Shantanu Rooj, chief executive officer and founder, Schoolguru Eduserve, an online learning company.

Even if these untrained graduates land up a job, things only get worse.

“Employability skills are a set of skills and behaviours, such as the ability to empathise, communicate effectively, or work well with others, that require a high degree of self and social awareness,” according to Harvard Business Review (HBR) Ascend, an online-learning platform catering to early career professionals. “A high level of confidence in relatively young workers about their hard and soft skills could indicate a blind spot for many respondents.”

Further, the HBR Ascend Youth Skills Survey released in July this year showed that 63% of respondents believe that some part of their work can be replicated by a robot, indicating that they don’t bring any unique skill-set to the table.

The fix

Historically, conventional higher education programmes have been the obvious choice of study due to the lack of options, point out experts. But that is not the case now. “The irony is, today, there are options in the form of professional courses or vocational education or apprenticeships, yet there is a lower adoption,” said Kumar of TeamLease Skill University. “This is due to lack of awareness and accessibility especially in tier-2 and tier-3 cities and rural areas.”

Then there are calls for institutes of higher education to walk the talk. “Universities need to re-invent themselves in a true sense providing alternatives to students-programmes that have employability as a core deliverable,” said Rooj.