In its own interest, the software sector must play a more active role in ensuring educational institutions aim at higher levels of excellence.

It is indeed a sad commentary on the quality of higher technical education in the country that the software industry should find that the graduates do not quite measure up to the academic and technical standards demanded by the industry. It could be argued that the quality of a country's higher education system should not be judged solely by its ability to provide employable human resources for the burgeoning software industry. While pursuing knowledge for its own sake may have its adherents, the alternative framework, which views it as a process that equips students with the capacity to adapt to changing requirements of the real world of commerce and business, appeals to the vast multitude seeking material progress in life.

Viewed from that perspective, if the software industry feels that the higher technical education on offer in most of the educational institutions does not equip students with relevant knowledge that would enable them to contribute to their prospective employers' operations, it is a matter of concern, not just for the student community but those engaged in steering the nation's economy on to a higher growth path. But there is nothing new in the software's industry's prescription as articulated by Mr Kiran Karnik, President of Nasscom, calling for private investment in exclusive education zones. If the expression `exclusive' and `zone' imply the privilege of tax-exempt existence and the phenomenon of many of them clustered in a small geographical area, then these are already features of private investment in higher technical education in the country. What is more, entrepreneurs have also worked around the university system to secure a certain degree of autonomy in academic matters.

Consumers of education services too have demonstrated a capacity to respond to price signals from the market. For instance, long before the software industry acquired the cult status among engineering graduates, private training institutes offering courses on a myriad aspects of computer programming enjoyed steady patronage. In other words, all the ingredients for private capital to flow into this sector and flourish already exists. Perhaps, given the industry's vast requirement of qualified technical personnel, and that too of a higher skill level, it has to play a more active role by providing both human and financial resources to ensure that these institutions achieve academic excellence. Then the final outcome in terms of quality of student material passing out of these institutions would be more on the lines that the industry visualises.

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 21, 2006)
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