The rapid technological developments we are witnessing in the twenty-first century, together with the forces of globalization, are likely to lead to radical changes in the world of work. To this end, vocational education and training across the globe, more so in the global south, is critical to harness the demographic dividend for the social, economic and scientific development of the country and the region. The UNESCO report (1997) on International Standard Classification of Education defines vocational education as “education which is mainly designed to lead participants to acquire the practical skills, know-how and understanding necessary for employment in a particular occupation or trade or class of occupations or trades. Successful completion of such programmes leading to a labour-market relevant vocational qualification recognized by the competent authorities in the country in which it is obtained (e.g. Ministry of Education, employers’ associations, etc.).”
The Indian higher education ecosystem with more than 950 universities and 44000 colleges, provide a wide range of choice and opportunities to international students. Further, the skill development initiative in most of the higher education institutions has been a vantage point for students enrolled in these institutions to gain practical skills, know-how and life skills for employment. Currently, India is one of the top destinations for African students to pursue higher education. As per the report by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), 2018 of all the regions in Africa, the largest proportion (49.25%) of students came from Eastern Africa followed by Western Africa (26.48%) and Northern Africa (11.62%), the Middle and Southern Africa accounts for 9.52% and 3.13% of the total African students studying in India. In this backdrop, enhancing such opportunities to students from Africa could add value to the current bilateral economic and technological cooperation between India and Africa.
Dr Goolam Mohamedbhai, former secretary-general of the Association of African Universities in University World News (September 24, 2020), argues that Africa and India face very similar challenges in the education sector, especially with issues related to significant graduate unemployment or under-unemployment among. Common problems and common strategies, especially in the domain of vocational and skill development programmes would benefit African students in India, to seek employment here or in Africa.
To this end, the most effective but less popularised ITEC (Indian Technical Economic Cooperation) programme in 1964 by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India has been used for cooperation programmes conceived in regional and inter-regional contexts. A programme envisaged for sharing the Indian developmental experience acquired over six decades of India’s existence as a free nation. Under ITEC more than 160 countries in Asia, Africa, East Europe and Latin America countries are invited to share the country’s experience with economic growth and development.
According to the report of the McKinsey (2014), “India has been in a unique position where both the employers requiring skilled workers and the employment seeking population are facing issues. It is expected that the Indian manufacturing sector would require a labour force of 20 to 30 million, which in turn would necessitate the training of 1.5 to 3 million technicians every year”. Enhancing access to appropriate and quality vocational and technical education to train the potential labour force is the need-of-the-hour. Apropos, the National Education Policy-2020 (NEP-2020) envisages a robust education system with vocational education as part of the mainstream education at the secondary and higher education level. The NEP-2020 also envisages a robust plan-of-action ‘study in India’ programme with a vision for internationalization at home, enabling an ecosystem of international students. Vocational education and training in traits like a foreign language, secretarial jobs, entrepreneurship, translation, construction work, tailoring and so on.
While the prospects for internationalization and international students in India, especially for students coming from Africa is bright, there exist few barriers. One of the critical barriers is most of the higher education institutions where African students have enrolled, are typical teacher-centered higher education system; there is limited scope for vocational training and education. Vocational training and education is not yet a mainstream activity of higher education and its institutions and hence has a particular stigma attached to it for students, parents and employers. Further, integrating African students into the larger social and economic milieu of the country amidst sporadic violence against them will be a critical component of successful vocational education and training for African students in India. They can not only seek training but seek employment, contributing to the success of the training programmes. And finally, it is important to identify their interest and specific traits that the African students in India are keen to learn and engage with as part of their career pathways in India or Africa.
The way forward
India-Africa has had deep and robust diplomatic relations for many decades. It is further strengthened with the capacity building and higher education programmes under the South-South Cooperation as reflected in India’s foreign policy. It would be a very significant move ensuring a conducive ecosystem for African students in India to gain vocational training and education with their regular higher education or otherwise which could aid in an effective relationship with Africa and India. The NEP-2020 is one such opportunity to not only harness India’s capacity in vocational education and training but to engage effectively with international students and institutions, in order to emerge as a knowledge superpower in the global south.