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Policy gap between Higher Education and SMEs support leads to unemployment growth in Manipur

Shanjoy Mairembam *

Policy gap between Higher Education and SMEs support leads to unemployment growth in Manipur



How serious is unemployment issue in Manipur state now and how this issue relates to Higher Education (HE) institutions in the state? Also, at what level in the 'priority list to tackle first', the state govt considers these two issues; thereby deciding the financial budget allocation and timely execution through a strategic planning approach? We may need to review all available policies, support systems and prevailing operating scenarios of HE institutes and SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) within Manipur state in order to come up with a rather holistic integrated support system. Current socio-economic chaos in Manipur state may be transformed into opportunities if we are able to find means to create employment for youth in relevant industry sectors, and knowledge transfer from HE institutions to youth and local enterprises by enabling them to lead the society.

Currently, HE policy of state govt seems to focus entirely on
(1) building and refurbishing physical infrastructure,
(2) hiring and supervising academic staffs,
(3) scholarships for students to study outside Manipur (rather than capacity building within the state).

Also, state govt seems to focus on another parallel educational policy i.e. imparting vocational school (10th or 12th) level training to youths of Manipur either by sending the students outside Manipur or allowing training companies from outside Manipur to deliver short-term courses for local students within the state. State govt has thus started pumping in more funds to the above areas and hopes to bring about quality as well as quantitative improvements within Manipur. But, the interesting question is 'Is this current approach really working towards improving HE sector within Manipur?', or 'what are the impacts achieved so far toward local economy and graduate employability?', and 'is there anything else that state govt missed to consider in the current HE policy?'

Most HE sector issues reported in the local media are of institutional related such as regularization of ad-hoc lecturers in colleges, mismanagement of scholarship funds meant for students, lack of classrooms and equipments to support teaching, cases of students and academics indulging in malpractices in examinations, lack of principals and qualified lecturers in specific colleges, non attendance of staffs in colleges, less or no students getting admitted to study in various degree courses at specific colleges, etc. Yet, none has seriously looked into the issue of employability for graduates out of colleges and universities within Manipur, and the scarcity of non-govt jobs availability within Manipur.

The HE sector policy of govt rather ought to aim at providing 3 key priority needs at each individual college within Manipur
(1) Infrastructure development for creating 'Centres of Excellence' oriented to specifically chosen domain knowledge of local/global relevance,
(2) Administrative support staffs having expertise in running HE institutions at world class level,
(3) Professional support staffs having expertise in career grooming and local enterprise development support for graduates.

State govt's funding budget in the above three areas may be 50-75% of the overall HE sector allocation. This approach may help in turning around the brain drain scenario of Manipur state i.e. Manipuri students going outside the state to study degree courses and high quality Manipuri professionals leaving the state to teach/work in HE institutions of other states. Thus, chance for quality as well as quantity improvement in HE sector can be seen within Manipur state.

Govt's policy of introducing vocational school level (10th or 12th std) training courses seems to give conflicting message to the students, as it hints as if the degree level courses provided in various colleges within Manipur are useless to the local job environment. Also, most parents may not wish their wards to choose vocational school level course as compared to degree level courses. A vocational student may learn skills to get a low-level job (though maybe of highly advanced technology) within Manipur or outside the state, but career growth for such vocational students is bound to be of low level in any organizational hierarchy. It's because they are of skill-based training rather than domain knowledge-based learning unlike in the case of graduate courses.

The graduate courses currently opened in various colleges within Manipur are of traditional nature which is about learning basic science, or arts, or commerce. The applicability of such traditional degree course to the needs of current industry jobs elsewhere or any relevant jobs within local Manipur environment is very hard to find. Either course contents of degree courses ought to be adapted to application oriented learning modules, or new local industry relevant degree courses need to be introduced freshly to all the colleges within Manipur. Again, if govt is trying to retrain youths especially college graduates after having studied 3yrs at one of the colleges in Manipur into another school level vocational training courses, then, it will mean that college students have not only wasted three years of their lifetime in colleges but also govt has wasted crores of Indian Rupee in running 'white elephant' colleges in Manipur.

Graduate related issues of HE sector are also relevant to the local enterprises within Manipur, because high technology intensive industrial growth will define availability of jobs which is of graduate level (rather than school level or vocational skills level). State govt needs to consider availability of skilled manpower and capable enterprises in each relevant industry sector before forming growth supporting industrial policies in those sectors. HE sector not only provides skilled manpower for the industry, but also, creates research outputs that support industrial applications and products through R&D activities of academics and scientist in HE institutions. Thus, industrial policies of govt correlates strongly with the HE sector policies. Such strong relationship between academics in HE institutions and industry companies are visible in most developed countries (UK, Germany, France, USA, etc).

Relevant state govt department may create funding pots for SMEs that provides funding support to allow employees to study graduate level professional courses and training programmes in HE institutions within Manipur. Each HE institutions may be encouraged to create a centre of excellence via funding from relevant state govt department to help SMEs in that industry sector. Thus, such approach will brings about enterprise oriented HE policies and creation of more jobs in the local economy because of active participation of SMEs in HE policy formation.

We are yet to fill the gap in policies governing supporting HE sector and growth of SMEs in various industry sectors within Manipur. Hence, in spite of funding heavily on HE sector, Manipuri students are leaving after school education to study outside the state. Also, we can't see any visible industrial growth in various sectors in spite of heavy funding by the state govt, since we don't have the requisite industrial manpower locally and professionally working mindset culture in the local enterprises. Thus, it is the right time we tackle both the issues of youth employability and industrial growth by creating an integrated support system within Manipur.


* Shanjoy Mairembam wrote this article for e-pao.net
Shanjoy Mairembam (BEng, MBA) is a Business Strategy Consultant based at London (UK). He supports mentoring of young entrepreneurs in 'conceptualization of ideas into business case', and offers role of a 'Business Doctor' to local NGOs/SMEs in Manipur.
For further info, visit www.shanmaiconsulting.com; E-mail: shanjoym (at) gmail (dot) com
This article was posted on February 17, 2014.


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