The Indian higher education system should strive to create Specialized Generalists.

The Indian higher education system should strive to create Specialized Generalists.

The median age of the Indian population is less than 29 years. That is 50% of the Indian population is below 29 years of age. This is a huge demographic dividend for India because of the rising proportion of the working-age population, while the rest of the world is aging. Many young people also mean that the Indian economy must support a large number of students, who demand education from the economy but cannot yet work. Educating the future workforce will be important because the economy is growing as well and is one of the largest in the world. Failing to do this could lead to high youth unemployment and political consequences. 

The new Annual Employability Survey 2019 report by Aspiring Minds revealed that 80% of Indian engineers are not fit for any job in the knowledge economy, and there has been no change in the employability prospects of Indian engineering graduates in the past nine years. Reports like 4600 Engineers and MBA graduates applying for 14 sweeper jobs in TamilNadu assembly are all signs of upcoming disaster. Cases like these warn us that merely looking at improving the gross enrolment ratio (GER) of higher education won’t suffice if the basic academic structure remains the same. 

To reap the benefits of the demographic advantage, it is high time that the Indian higher education system looks beyond single field institutions. IITs for Engineering, IIM for management can create more specialists. But in the rapidly changing global economy, with millennials averaging five to seven career changes in a lifetime, India should opt for an academic structure that creates more specialized generalists, ones who are good across a couple or more multi-disciplinary fields. This will not only improve the employability quotient, but it will also enhance the startup ecosystem across India which is much needed than ever before.

Even in the celebrated IT sector, most of the Indian software firms are into the services sector, and we failed to create many indigenous software products. Though we have the most sought after software engineers across the world, we are yet to create any flagship products like Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Because creating Facebook doesn’t only require knowledge of software, but also understanding human psychology. Our education system is more focussed on creating specialists, but instead, it should focus on creating more specialized generalists. A psychologist who knows to code is a specialized generalist and has a significant advantage over a pure software engineer or a psychologist, and we need an education ecosystem that generates such specialized generalists. 

Here is Tim Ferriss, the author of 4 hour week, explaining why it is an advantage to be a specialized generalist.

The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means “community of teachers and scholars. In Tamil language, university translates to பல்கலைகழகம் = பல​ + கலை + கழகம், which means “association of multiple arts” and that’s exactly what our educational system should foster. We have to design an academic structure that smoothly facilitates the association of multiple arts. We should strive for a system in which medical students learn about design thinking, engineering students learn about sociology, and art students learn about technology. The benefits of a higher education system that facilitates the creation of specialized generalists are immense, not just for India, but for any country across the globe. It is critical for India because of the failure of doing so, will lead to a demographic disaster. 


About the Author

Senthil Kumar G, is a human skills trainer, serious game designer, and the founder of MADIEE Games. He is a mechanical engineering graduate from College of Engineering Guindy, and holds in Masters in Thermal Energy storage. He is a recipient of the prestigious Young India Fellowship, and has since then become an evangelist for liberal arts education. He writes about mental models, serious games, gamification, lifestyle design, and is an avid reader of Thirukkural. 

Tweet him @senthil_MADIEE or connect on Linkedin or Facebook.