Skills Agenda: A paper for Ministers and the Australia India Education Council
Hugh Guthrie and Francesca Beddie
National Centre for Vocational Education Research, Australia
Skills and their development are at the centre of India's agenda at present. The recent National Skill Development Policy by the Government of India states that skills and knowledge are driving forces of economic growth and social development. Skills policy must be co-ordinated and coherent, and must be linked to policies in the economic, employment and social development arenas. Beyond the economic and social benefits for India itself in having a better trained workforce, should these workers have internationally recognised credentials, India will become a significant player in the global labour market.
India's skills targets are immense and ambitious: creating 70 million new jobs by 2012 and having 500 million skilled by 2022. A key Indian agency, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), has a mandate to skill up 150 million of these 500 million by then. This target is to be achieved though public-private partnerships, signalling a move away from a bureaucratic-led model for India's vocational education and training system.
In its 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012), the Indian Government pointed out that only 2% of the existing workforce has skills training and, by and large, skill formation takes place through informal channels like family occupations and on-the-job training with no links to the formal VET system. National Sample Survey 61st round data states that 91% of the working population is employed in skill-based jobs in India. A striking contrast to this fact is that 90% of the population has no access to vocational education . This raises an important question: how are we to define skill in the Indian context? Whatever the answer, it is clear that India is building off a low formal skills base, especially in its unorganised sector. It also lacks the capacity, and some of the key elements for, high quality formal vocational training.
Reform and development of underpinning systems and a rapid growth in training capacity is required. India is looking to established economies and vocational education and training systems for advice and models to follow and adapt, including Australia's, although any substantive Australia-India VET relationship is in its early days.
Collaborative initiatives to date have included the establishment of the Australia-India Bureau for Vocational Education and Training Collaboration (BVETC), the Australia-India VET missions of 2010 and 2011, the Joint Ministerial Statement of 2010 between Ministers Gillard and Sibal and a commitment to on-going commitment to annual Ministerial meetings. This official contact has been the impetus for exchanges between Australian and Indian parties involved in skills development. This has helped to reveal the potential for a greater degree of engagement and collaboration between Australia and India in helping to develop the skills of India's workforce.
Despite this good will much still remains to be done to establish and secure a stronger bilateral relationship, an operating environment conducive to substantial cooperation in skills development and the creation of the underpinning structures and governance systems India needs to give effect to its skills development policies.
The paper outlines the status of skills development and VET in both India and Australia, then looks at the issues raised by a closer bilateral engagement. The paper concludes with some recommendations.
India - Status
The Republic of India is a federated system made up of a central government and 28 states and seven union territories (UTs). There is divided responsibility between departments in the central government and between the central and state governments for skills development and vocational education and training. India is a country of young people, with more than 50% of the current population aged below the age of 25 and over 65% below the age of 35. Only a small proportion of these have skills that are recognised or gained through formal processes. Literacy rates are still under 75%, with rates for females being below those of males.
Vocational education is delivered by a range of vocationally oriented institutions, including government-operated Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and Colleges (ITCs), polytechnics and engineering colleges. Like Australia, a large proportion of VET institutions are privately owned and operated. Some are company-based training facilities providing in-house training often to very high standards for some of the larger foreign or Indian owned corporations or government owned enterprises. Vocational education programs are also offered in schools.
There is a pronounced 'skills gap' in terms of both quality and quantity. At present the capacity of skill development in India is around 3.1 million persons per year. A rapid increase in India's training capacity is envisioned, with the Five Year Plan for 2007 to 2012 seeking to increase it to 15 million annually.
India's National Skills Development Policy has a bold vision for the emerging skills and training system that will require 'root and branch' changes to its VET sector. It is based on the following principles:
- High inclusivity: The skill development initiatives will harness inclusivity and reduce divisions such as male/female, rural/urban, organised/unorganised employment sectors and traditional/contemporary workplace.
- Dynamic and demand-based system planning: The skill development initiatives support the supply of trained workers who are able to adjust to the changing demands of employment and technologies. This will be driven through the 20 Sector Skills Councils presently being established.
- Choice, competition and accountability: The skill development initiative does not discriminate between private or public delivery and places importance on outcomes, users' choice and competition among training providers and their accountability.
- Policy coordination and coherence: The skill development initiatives require a framework for better coordination among various Ministries, States, industry and other stakeholders to be established.
The changes will be significant not only because of the scale of the numbers involved but also because the significant challenges for its VET system cited in a range of Indian papers and reports: competing agencies and interests, corruption, non-professional management and processes, lack of infrastructure and up to date equipment, variable quality, poor linkages with industry, out of date and inflexible curricula, the language of instruction (given the number of recognised languages - including English), a shortage of teachers and trainers and poor teacher quality, lack of cross sectoral mobility, low esteem and qualifications that are perceived as being of low social status.
As well as the challenge of putting into practice the policy settings and overcoming huge technical and resources issues, to realise its skills ambitions, India must also effect a profound cultural change that creates a mass demand for high quality vocational training, which is directly linked to the labour market and achieves tangible benefits for both learners and their employers.
Australia - Status
The Commonwealth of Australia is also a federation, with eight states and territories and a divided responsibility for formal vocational education and training, especially between its federal and state and territory governments. It has a small population, but a very large landmass. Thus differing priorities and the tyranny of distance are significant in Australia's overall approach to vocational education provision and skills development.
The current skills agenda in Australia aims at meeting the nation's demand for the additional skills that will be required to address economic and demographic change and to improve workforce participation and productivity by increasing tertiary (VET and university) enrollments and co-funding this growth by individuals, enterprises and government, increasing workforce participation, improving Australia's utilization of its existing skills and significantly boosting the levels of foundation skills, particularly language literacy and numeracy.
Australia also faces a looming demographic crunch as its ageing workforce retires and needs to be replaced. According to Skills Australia, the country is experiencing the paradox of employment growth - more than 2.2 million jobs created in the past ten years - combined with stubborn levels of underemployment. This structural mismatch in the Australian labor force will persist unless the skills of those who are underemployed or unemployed increase to take advantage of the growth in job opportunities that will open up over the next decade through economic growth and workforce retirements. Thus training was a centrepiece of the most recent federal budget, and there was a significant increase in government investment in it by the federal government.
The Australian vocational education and training system is well developed, with over 5000 public and private providers and around 1.8 million students enrolled in publicly funded courses in 2010. Australia does not collect complete data on the size of its VET system, so the total number of students is unknown. However, if it did so, it is likely that in pure numbers Australia's VET system is of similar size to India's, despite Australia's population being around 2% of India's.
Australia's VET system is a mature one which has developed and changed significantly throughout its history. As such it has faced, and is continuing to face, many of the issues that are confronting the Indian VET system at present, albeit on a far smaller scale. Most recently, it has come to be seen more clearly as part of a tertiary sector and offers programs and qualifications over a wide variety of levels and durations, ranging from Certificate I to Bachelor degrees and equivalent post- graduate Vocational Certificates and Diplomas. A number of its providers operate both as universities and vocational education and training providers offering programs from Certificate I to Doctorates. There is also a growing effort to find more seamless pathways between education sectors and programs. The system is industry-led, and embraces a wide range of age groups and demographics. It has a focus both on initial education and training as well as re-training, upskilling and career change. Formal VET delivery can take place both in institutions and workplaces. Qualifications and their elements delivered by registered training organisations (RTOs) are recognized nationally, as are those delivered or auspiced by Australian providers operating offshore.
The current reform effort for the VET sector in Australia aims to ensure quality provision and recognizes the important role industry plays in shaping a strong system that delivers results for both enterprises and individuals. It is built on three key pillars: The Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF), the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and Training Packages developed by eleven Industry Skills Councils. Australia is moving towards a vision of a single, national VET regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, which will then possibly merge with the higher education regulator to form a single tertiary education regulatory body in 2013.
India's national skills development policy will help create a demand for VET trained workers. Part of this involves establishing a common understanding of skills required for occupations which meet both India's and global labor markets. India has also made the needs for its skills development and vocational education and training system clear:
- A qualifications framework that is compatible internationally.
- High quality industry advice through its emerging Sector Skills Councils, and better linkages between VET institutions and industry.
- For its VET sector, better governance, quality assurance and regulation, teacher training and professional development and linkages and exchanges with VET institutions overseas.
Interaction is therefore required at three levels: government to government, industry to industry and institution to institution.
The sheer size of the economies of scale and range of issues India faces are outside the experiences of most countries and their vocational systems. A number of agencies from a variety of countries are already active in India, and these countries are also looking for ways they can assist or gain market access. They bring different perspectives and potential solutions to address India's aspirations. There is unlikely to be one right answer bilaterally or multilaterally for India, and whatever approaches are adopted will be a blending of what is seen as most attractive from overseas, spiced and flavored in an Indian way to make it palatable. Indeed, the answer may sometimes lie in multilateral collaborations, in which Australia plays its part, to help develop holistic solutions.
In the light of such competition, the key to developing Australia and India's bilateral relationship further will be to look for the best matches between Indian and Australian priorities, and identify clearly those areas in which Australia is best placed to help. This may even involve looking back to help India look forward: that is, the best answer may not lie in current Australian practice, but in sound previous practices where there is still considerable residual experience. An example would be the development of national curricula based on national competency standards. Creative ways then need to be found to resource agreed engagement.
Australia's qualifications framework is internationally recognized and has only recently been updated and endorsed. There has already been some measure of interaction between staff of Australia's Qualifications Framework Council and bodies in India. The emerging National Vocational Qualification Framework in India may benefit from a more active engagement between those who developed the Australian framework and those doing the same for India.
In relation to industry to industry engagement, that between Australia's Industry Skills Councils (ISCs) and the emerging Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) in India will need to emerge according to mutual interest and best fit. In addition contact might be nurtured at a higher level through collaboration on the International Network of Sector Skills Organisations (INSSO ), of which Australia is a member and India a likely one.
Consultations need to identify key industry areas where Australian and Indian engagement is likely to be fruitful. Again, ways of best resourcing this engagement will need to be considered as the nature of funding for Australian ISCs means working with India's SSCs is unlikely to be possible unless first driven by Australian government priority. Indeed, to explore Indian engagement without some form of backing would be both too risky and marginal to their core business for many Australian agencies.
The development of regulatory practices in India will require both national and risk-based approaches covering all VET institutions. Nevertheless, it is also possible to consider a variety of approaches dependent on provider type or risk level. There are also other approaches for recognising quality which may be at a higher level: some sort of 'gold standard' which gives the institution concerned both recognition for the quality of what it does and possibly more tangible benefits. Other approaches include a complementary approach to quality assurance at industry level, where the excellence of particular faculties or departments can be recognised for the quality of the training they provide to a particular industry. Australia has experience in developing all three of these approaches. Such an approach may also be linked to the development of an international quality assurance framework in the region that Australia is co-ordinating. There may also be a value in creating a national representative association to provide a voice for India's VET institutions, and covering both the public and private sector. Such an organisation might help to drive improvements to structure and governance arrangements and management practices.
Finally, while VET has some status problems in Australia raising the status of VET in India is a matter which requires very serious and sustained attention. One way to do this is to celebrate the value and skills VET programs can bring. Australia has been a successful competitor in the World Skills International Competition, currently ranked 5th in the world (out of 51 participating countries), and aiming to improve each time. Competing in such a competition would be one very clear way in which India can raise the status of its VET training. Potentially there is a role for Australia to play as an advisor and fellow competitor in World Skills.
Recommendation 1: Australia- India VET engagement Strategy
It is recommended that the AIEC agree to the development of a VET engagement strategy with an agreed focus for the medium and longer term cooperation between India and Australia. It will establish key areas of priority for the two countries and identify the stakeholders most effectively placed to broker the engagement. The purpose of the strategy is to bring together the various elements of engagement that have occurred to date, actioned through the joint administrative arrangements, in a more formalised way. It will also draw upon the key learnings from the particular collaborations in order to build a solid framework for future activities. The benefit of developing an over-arching engagement strategy will be to bring clarity around the engagement efforts between the two countries and make these visible to all stakeholders. It will also ensure that there is high-level policy support and financial resources for specific activities and that we deliver effective engagement in the most useful and cost-effective ways.
The Australia-India Bureau for Vocational Education and Training Collaboration (BVETC) will assist in the creation of an Australia-India VET Engagement Strategy. The three key principles for the engagement strategy include:
- A qualifications framework that is compatible internationally.
- To cooperate in order to secure greater mutual understanding of India and Australia's respective structures and systems and connect the right agencies, groups and individuals to address each principal priority area.
- To establish, monitor and report progress on appropriate collaborative arrangements and engagement processes to address each of the identified priority areas.
Recommendation 2: Develop Labour Market Information Systems and VET Best Practices
It is recommended that Australia collaborate with India in enhancing the regulatory systems and procedures for India's VET system, particularly Labour Market Information Systems and VET best practices. In addition, and to help foster best practice, it is recommended that Australia collaborate with India in supporting systems focused on Quality Assurance, Information Systems, and Train-the-trainer centres. The agencies and organisations that could foster and improve communication in VET Governance in India are the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Ministry of Labour, and State government agencies. In Australia they are the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE), State and territory Training Authorities and Skills Australia.
The agencies and organisations to foster and improve communication within quality assurance, information systems and regulation in India include the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), and the Directorate General of Employment and Training (DGET). In Australia it is the Australian Skills Quality Authority, the State regulatory bodies and the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.
In relation to train-the-trainer centres the key agencies in India are the four National Institutes of Technical Teacher Training and Research (NITTTR). In Australia it includes Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA) and individual VET providers and systems. TAFE Directors Australia is a potential broker for such arrangements given its networks within individual institutions and systems.
Recommendation 3: Development of NVQF
It is recommended that Australia assist in the development and implementation of India's National Vocational Qualification Framework (NVQF). The agencies and organisations that could foster and improve communication in qualifications framework in India include the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT). In Australia it is the Australian Qualifications Framework Council (AQFC).
Recommendation 4: Development and Support for Sector Skill Council
It is recommended that Australia collaborate with India in supporting the role of the emerging Sector Skills Councils in India, especially in the areas of operational processes, National occupation standards, curriculum development and competencies. The agencies and organisations that could give effect to this recommendation in India are the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC), established and establishing Sector Skills Councils (SSCs). In Australia it is Skills Australia, the Industry Skills Councils and those with expertise in the development of competency standards and national curricula. Engagement would be based on identified priorities and best fit.
Recommendation 5: Skill Development through partnership
It is recommended that Australia collaborate with India in supporting systems relevant for skill development and entrepreneurship directly or through partnerships. This can be achieved through transferring teaching resources, including those using e-learning approaches that can then be used as is or developed and adapted to meet Indian needs. The agencies and organisations that could foster and improve communication within India for industry advice and linkages include the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC), established and establishing Sector Skills Councils (SSCs). In Australia it is Industry Skills Councils, and those other bodies that develop, or are repositories for, a wide range of VET teaching, learning and assessment resources developed using government funds. For example, there are those held by Training Products Australia and the more than 110 flexible learning Toolboxes held in the Toolbox Repository.