On Campus

The fulcrum of a billion hopes

Yash Saxena | Updated on February 19, 2014 Published on February 19, 2014


Entrepreneurship education will help the country deliver the economic wellbeing to its young

Subrat Kar is a bright young man in his early twenties who lives in the national capital region and is busy putting together his next innovative venture in the advertising domain. He just moved from a coveted product manager role with a leading e-commerce company, where he worked with the graduates from some of the best B-schools in India and had a pay package that would make many an IIT-IIM graduate drool. And today, he has his own company and a small team that works with him on Vidooly, a self-serve, YouTube video promotional network for brands.

Subrat is living the dream that every young Indian would want to. The dream only becomes more inspirational when we realise that Subrat was born and started his journey from the hinterland of Orissa. He is the only breadwinner for his family and the farming activities that supported his family have never been enough. Yet Subrat’s career growth story is not a result of his studying in reputed institutes such as the IITs and IIMs or not even a good enough second-tier college. He graduated from a very forgettable private engineering college in Madhya Pradesh where ending up in a top-notch technology firm would be a dream that many wouldn’t even aspire for. Subrat's story in itself encompasses the aspirations, the awakening and ultimately the answers to the tribulations of the young in India.

Start-up lessons

His leap to a better career was a result of, ironically, a start-up that failed to take off. When he was still a student, he began his start-up experiments with an online city guide Zootout. For over a year, Subrat and his friends struggled with their start-up but could never make enough money to support themselves. So Subrat dropped out of his start-up and applied for a job instead. Surprisingly, this turned out to be a heart-warming experience.

Backed by the experience and skills he picked up running his start-up, Subrat landed a job that would remain a dream for many of his classmates. This reveals clues to answer an often-asked question about the Indian education system. How can we reform a system that systemically fails to give our students the skills required to be market-ready?

For very long, industry reports have been complaining about how only a minuscule number of Indian students are employable. In 2011, Nasscom said only 25 per cent of IT students are employable. In 2012, another study further lowered the bar to just 10 per cent. Reforming our education is a task that cannot wait for much longer.

As this country becomes one of the youngest nations in the world, we have an opportunity of a great century ahead. It is an opportunity that can pull millions out of poverty and ignite hope for a billion Indians.

Even if incomplete, the clues from Subrat’s story tell us that where the policies, schemes, regulations and government interventions fail to change our system of education, an alternate route works spectacularly. Subrat’s entrepreneurial experiments made him a catch for employees. Experts and studies have argued that entrepreneurship education has the ability to increase the employability of students. From Africa to Europe, there is growing evidence that entrepreneurship education goes beyond just making entrepreneurs, it also improves the employability of those who receive it.

One such study by the British government found a positive relationship between entrepreneurial education and the employability and earnings of those who received such education. Another study, this time with Nigerian students, suggests the same. Taking this entrepreneurial route has the potential to radically achieve what the more conventional and structured interventions to our educational system have failed to deliver. Entrepreneurship in itself is a philosophy that challenges the status quo and this approach will perhaps let us get more done.

Great employees

A comprehensive report funded by the European Commission in 2012 found that entrepreneurship education leads to personality and skill development, risk taking and an action-based attitude that makes students good at whatever they may do. Hence, they also make great employees.

On the other side of the spectrum, the global business environment is undergoing a transformation. Markets are not just more uncertain but are also embracing change faster. In what is termed as intrapreneurship, companies are increasingly looking towards an entrepreneurial spirit in their employees to cope with the change and tap the opportunities that a changing marketplace offers.

But the agenda of furthering entrepreneurship education fails at a massive level in India. At a one level, there is very little quality entrepreneurship education being provided to our students. One study I authored (http://goo.gl/xisvOA) paints a dismal picture of the access to quality entrepreneurial inputs available to the student community in India. But if you dig deeper, we find that the educational fraternity is not yet convinced about the potential of entrepreneurial education.

In the course of my work, I have met many academicians and administrators running educational institutes and have often come across how inadequate the understanding of entrepreneurship education processes and its outcomes within the educational fraternity in India can be. One of the many myths out there is that entrepreneurial education is about only creating entrepreneurs, and this myth is pretty widespread. Entrepreneurial education is often benchmarked by its ability to create entrepreneurs. A question is then asked how entrepreneurial education is relevant to those who cannot or do not want to strike out on their own?

As you see here, this is just a myth. Entrepreneurship education is actually about creating employment. Whichever way you look at it, creating entrepreneurs or creating more employable employees, entrepreneurship education delivers greater employment.

India has not created the likes of entrepreneurial ventures like Google and Microsoft. Therefore, there is a lack of understanding about entrepreneurial education processes within our society. This is why the discussion of entrepreneurial education is not yet moving in the right direction, even though I see greater signs of a discussion taking place at the grassroots.

But it is time that we also see the full potential of what entrepreneurial education can do to our system and how it can radically create more opportunities for the young in India. This wave of young Indians passing through our education system will be huge and they will, by their numbers, define the face of our country for this century. We cannot let our education system fail them. We cannot wait. We will have to find a fulcrum to bring change and this can be entrepreneurship education.

(The writer is founder of Openfuel, an organisation inspiring students to take the path of entrepreneurship.)

Published on February 19, 2014
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