“The hon’ble Chief Minister, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, was the catalyst for the movement toward greater integration of skills and education. A mission for students to remain in higher education for a significant amount of time, with the majority of that time being spent on developing practical skills in addition to academic knowledge. Giving students this kind of real-world experience will be an essential part of making them employable.” said Prof. K Hemachandra Reddy, Chairman, Andhra Pradesh State Council of Higher Education (APSCHE).
The Andhra Pradesh State Council for Higher Education is focusing on boosting the employability of students while also emphasising on quality, access, and future readiness of the students in higher education following the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. To learn more about how APSCHE is reimagining higher education in Andhra Pradesh, and what are some of the initiatives in making youth employable, among others, we conversed with Prof. K Hemachandra Reddy, Chairman, Andhra Pradesh State Council of Higher Education (APSCHE).
Below are a few excerpts from our conversation. You can watch the full video interview on our YouTube channel.
Q: How are you addressing the emerging goals of higher education in India?
A. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which is driving the reforms in higher education, is being discussed throughout the nation. This has sparked an important national discourse on the improvements that higher education desperately needs. Most of us are extremely aware of the fact that since the last NEP, higher education has begun to convey strong theoretical and foundational knowledge in the classrooms and through the network that these higher education institutions ought to have implemented with the industry. People have been talking about linkages between industry and institutions for the past 2.5 decades, but nothing has ever come of it. Our classrooms are more theory-focused.
In Andhra Pradesh, professional education is steadily growing. The conventional educational fields are often ignored, so professional education is the first choice for both parents and students. Sector skill councils are all discussing the skills needed for students to become employable. Universities are now being advised to focus more on imparting skills so that students become employable by the time they graduate. This is in contrast to the theory-ridden teaching and learning process taking place in classrooms.
We have been reading NASSCOM reports regarding the percentage of employable graduates that Indian higher education systems produce for some time and it has never exceeded 25%. Now is the time for all of us to take a step back and think carefully about what will happen to the remaining 75% of the students. Even while there are jobs available, there are ways to give them the necessary training to make them employable. To integrate into society and build that network, we must make progress. Whether it is commerce, science, or engineering, all courses should be treated equally, and practical components and skill development should be encouraged across the board.
Q: How do we ensure that higher education leads to better employment and promotes entrepreneurship?
A. The newly created program and launch of our curriculum with a choice-based credit system has a 40% skill component. We have replaced the previously mandated courses with 30 to 40 per cent more skill-related courses. We are aware that the capacity was not apparent in the higher education system when we established the skill-oriented courses. The teachers are not equipped to impart the required skills in the classroom.
A crucial component of higher education is the development of teachers’ capacities. We have decided to extensively train the teachers on the newest skill requirements that the industry is seeking and emerging trends. As a result, we are simultaneously redesigning the curriculum and expanding the capacity of higher education institutions.
COVID-19 has provided a novel opportunity to embrace online learning. We have therefore taken online learning critically. The Andhra Pradesh government has developed a very robust ecosystem for leveraging online learning.
A 10-month internship is now mandatory for students in higher education. Both conventional education and the professional education system are required to complete this internship.
Currently, around 2.25 lakh students are pursuing their internships in the state of Andhra Pradesh. We have taken comprehensive procedures, such as identifying, mapping, and providing internships to students. We have created a robust industry connect portal, where 9 lakh students have registered. Any time information on internships is released, it won’t take long for the information to reach 9 lakh students. Starting next year, we will give 3.5 lakh internships to students. In Andhra Pradesh, 1.85 lakh students are completing virtual internships in major IT-enabled companies.
Q: Please tell us about your partnerships in implementing internships in the state.
A. We have reached out to MSME enterprises, significant business sources in Andhra Pradesh, as well as any nearby small-scale companies. Our students are currently undergoing two-month internships for the first time. By November 15th 2022, we may have enrolled at least two lakh students in six-month internship programmes at the start of the school year. Additionally, we are giving the students the freedom to choose the internships they will require in any industry.
Q: How do you foresee the outcomes of connecting education with work in the future?
A. Since 2019, we have been implementing reforms, and change is now inevitable. We communicated with all potential stakeholders and trusted institutions. As a result, parents and students now believe something positive is happening to them. Currently, we have 89,000 campus placements in 2021–2022, up from 30,000 in 2019–2020 and 60,000 placements in 2021. So, as we grow, the average salary also grows. Yes, in terms of numbers, we are grateful to see that they are increasing and that the higher education system now has the confidence of the stakeholders.
Today, Andhra Pradesh is one of the few states where all students receive free higher education. No student needs to pay a single rupee for any of these initiatives, skill development, or internships. We will eventually witness a changing society as a result of this. We are unquestionably headed towards a new society. Our aim, which we are striving towards, is probably to be recognized as a powerful, skilled force in Andhra Pradesh.
Q: How is APSCHE promoting entrepreneurship among the students?
A. We are promoting entrepreneurship innovation start-up centres in the system of higher education and experimenting with a few informal methods. With AP’s innovation society, we have a close connection. There are 553 entrepreneurial innovation start-up centres built during the past two years in several institutions. We have identified virtual mentors so that students can receive the mentor’s support wherever they are in Andhra Pradesh. We have an Atal Incubation Centre operating very successfully at Sri Krishnadevaraya University (SKU), which is taking on a mentor role. Therefore, our goal is to improve and strengthen the 553 entrepreneurial innovation start-up centres, which will eventually number close to 1000. To provide them with the necessary support, we are also attempting to obtain CSR funding from corporations and seeking industrial houses to adopt one such centre and closely care for them. We want the higher education system in Andhra Pradesh to produce more entrepreneurs.
Our students were unable to think creatively or beyond the box in theoretical classrooms. We are urging students to participate in society today. A two-month social engagement project was made mandatory. For the first time, all higher education students will participate in society for two months and include that in the curriculum in addition to the mandatory internship. As a result of the structured support provided to Andhra Pradesh’s entrepreneurship incubators and start-up centres, students will naturally be able to broaden their perspectives and think differently.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?
A. Andhra Pradesh is willing to experiment with new ideas in higher education. We are very flexible, and we welcome and support any new discussions. We intend to experiment and scientifically free the system from all of its ingrained preconceptions. We would be delighted to engage with more entrepreneurs and industries as a result of this interview to serve better for our students.