But as higher education has rapidly extended into towns and villages across this nation — college enrollment tripled from 1991 to 2011 — so have student aspirations to pursue the white-collar professions widely viewed as the most respectable: medicine, teaching, business management, and software and electronics engineering.
The result, researchers say, is that the professional goals of a fast-
growing body of educated Indian youths are running ahead of the skills that the country will desperately need during the next decade of its economic transition. The mismatch only adds to concerns that India’s swelling youth population will yield less of an advantageous “demographic dividend” and more of a demographic disaster.
“Indian families tend to put a lot of emphasis on college degrees as a tool of aspiration and growth,” said Dilip Chenoy, who heads the National Skill Development Corp., which was set up by the government four years ago. “So what we have is a whole lot of people with degrees in hand but with no relevant skills.”
In Rajhedi, a large farming village in the northern state of Haryana, families speak of skipping the incremental farm-to-factory journey and instead express hope that their children will secure office jobs that bring respect and social status.
Vanshika Sachdeva, a 12th-grade student, is the first in her family to speak fluent English. She rides a motorcycle, carries a smartphone and plays volleyball. Her parents — her father is a wheat farmer, and her mother is the village council chief — did not study beyond 10th grade.
But when it comes to choice of career, Vanshika defers to them.
“My parents want me to be an electronics engineer, and that is what I will study in college,” she said.
Rajhedi is in a district that boasts small- and medium-scale industries comprising sugar mills, plywood and machine-parts manufacturing. But the choice of Vanshika’s parents for their daughter’s course work was not based on research about the kinds of jobs that are available locally or elsewhere.
“We want an engineer in the family. There is a higher status attached to the engineering degree,” said Anita Sachdeva, Vanshika’s 38-year-old mother.
But she does not want her daughter to be a civil or mechanical engineer. She wants Vanshika to work with electronic products, because it will be a “respectable office job fit for women,” even though the salaries in those engineering branches may be similar.
A fearsome tide
In a recent survey of more than 2,800 Indian students, the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that the “aspirations of students are largely misaligned with the needs of the Indian economy.” It said that the construction and automotive sectors are expected to need the most skilled workers over the next decade but that “only a very small proportion” of students want careers in those fields.