Interview by Shivangi
Dr. Swati Mujumdar is designated as the Pro-Chancellor of Symbiosis Skills and Open University, Pune. Her academic qualifications include an MBA, M.S. (USA) and Ph.D. (Skill Development & Vocational Education). Having worked for nearly 12 years in top IT companies in the US, she has been doing research for the past many years in the area of skill development & vocational education. Because of her passion for skill development, Symbiosis, under her leadership, has established two skill development universities namely Symbiosis Skills & Open University (SSOU) at Pune and Symbiosis University of Applied Sciences (SUAS) at Indore.
In an exclusive interview with collegedunia.com, Dr. Mujumdar shares her views on the importance of skill development and methods by which the same can be embedded in our system.
Implementing skill development differently in SSOU
The way we are implementing the Skill India Initiative differently in Symbiosis Skills and Open University is the kind of industry connect we pursue in our courses. We decided to implement the skill education by offering degrees in a conventional form. Currently, a lot of industries are not aware of the vocational degrees which the government has introduced. While interacting with the industries, they were not keen on giving jobs to such students as they never heard about such vocational degrees.
Uniqueness of Programs, in a conventional university, the programs are 50 percent focused on theory and 50 percent on practical. But in our skills university, the emphasis is 70 percent on practical knowledge and only 30 percent on theory.
Initiatives being carried out by the Maharashtra Govt.
Maharashtra government has been active in rolling out a lot of schemes, mainly to promote short term skill-based courses. But, my observation is that there is no consolidation of this activity. A lot of people are doing such kind of activities in the market in limited spots, but since there is a lack of consolidation, I don’t know how much effective skilling is actually happening.
For example, let’s take the case of the city of Pune, there may be 10-15 vocational training providers and each of them are offering different courses. There is no standardization of content, delivery, and pedagogy, so we are not sure of the quality. For example, if a student is opting for a skilled course in Satara, there are quality issues. Consolidation is needed in terms of implementing standards, certain types of content, quality of training personnel and assessment in order to impart quality skill education. Some kind of consolidated efforts have to be presented to bring these parties together.
Courses at SSOU are modular in nature
We are emphasizing the students on the fact that this is a kind of university where they are not going to be tied down with lengthy programs. Our courses are modular in nature. Also, we are conducting seminars with industry experts to explain to the students with things like the jobs that are available in the market. Secondly, we are explaining students how our learning model and pedagogy will help them get trained for that course so that they get employment in that particular sector. Advertising, counseling, and capacity building are the measures we are taking to attract students.
We are also arranging tours to our campuses, and our labs to actually show students what they can learn here and the type of machinery they can get access to. Students passing from our university are more industry ready and the curriculum is entirely prepared with industry interface. To give an example, in our automobile course, we have collaborated with automobile companies in and around Pune. This way, the students know how the concepts they learn in the university are actually applied in the real world.
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Entire gamut of the skill development process
We provide counseling sessions to students so that we have the right fit. When the enrollment process starts, we also arrange meetings with the faculty and industry experts for the students. When the academic process starts, every teacher is assigned a group of students whom they mentor. In this way, the students understand our model of education and benefit from our infrastructure and labs.
We also go for frequent industry interventions. We send people to the industries, arrange frequent industry visits for the students so that they can correlate their theoretical education and apply their knowledge. This way, students have an experience of working in a particular industry, can build a relationship with the industry.
Empowering women and socially marginalised section
For underprivileged students specifically, we have tied up with the CSR initiatives of the corporate world. For example, we organize workshops and short term skill courses. Such kind of initiatives are free for students, even their lodging and boarding is free. The students are also getting placed through such initiatives. These kinds of models are adopted for the betterment of socially marginalized students.
For women empowerment and for school dropouts, we are organizing skill courses like beauty parlor courses, cooking courses, tailoring, bag making courses. Many of the women have started small shops on their own and they are getting a decent income out of it. Somebody who started from zero is now earning eight to ten thousand per month, and this is a big achievement for such women. Along with these trade-based courses for women, we are also teaching women, soft skills, basic computer literacy, a bit of spoken English so that they can access the internet.
Making courses more relevant for the Indian industries
We are continuously involving the industry to design our curriculum and having a continuous dialogue, unlike other universities. The industry, even in the pedagogy, is suggesting changes to make the courses more effective. We are also calling trainers from the industry who train the students. So in this way, there is a continuous industry connect that helps us make our courses more relevant to the industry.
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Challenges faced in the skill development industry
The biggest challenge is the mindset. People are so used to the conventional mindset of education that they think skill-based education is secondary. We have to change this mindset by teaching students and giving them good jobs. Also, the government needs to be more supportive.
All the universities and higher education are governed by the HRD ministry and UGC. The norms for recruiting professors are Ph.D. but is possible that they might not have the experience of skill-based training. Hence, the mindset of the government has to change. We have to look at skill education at par with conventional education and have to provide opportunities to the students. We need to have consolidation and also train the teachers in skill-based pedagogy. The government should be flexible and give more emphasis on industry experience of the professors rather than the degrees they possess.
Initiatives and effects of Industry 4.0 on Skill Development
We are getting a lot of demand from various industries to run some courses on industry 4.0. For this, we are working with various industries to develop modules. Especially the engineering students should definitely pursue some courses on industry 4.0 and understand what are the technologies that are going to arrive in the next five to ten years. Currently, we are at a phase where we are actually formulating a training module on industry 4.0 and hopefully we will roll out a course on the same in the next three months.
Ways Indian industries can contribute to the Skill India initiative
Just to please the government, some of the universities are starting short term skill-based courses. However, they should assess the effectiveness of such courses. What is the efficacy of such courses? What have the students learned?, Have the students been able to apply such knowledge in their jobs? these are the important questions the universities should ask themselves.
Also, universities should place emphasis on teachers that are able to train students in skills-based education. If a teacher is not skilled themselves, how can they impart knowledge to the students? So, my request to all the universities is to make a genuine effort, and not just do something merely to put on paper. They have to change their pedagogy, and primarily look at the requirements of the industry and impart such skills to the students effectively so the students become immediately employable.