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To upskill 500 million workers, India goes international

Attempts to open the Indian education sector to international educators have experienced a setback in recent months, as initiatives to allow international higher education institutions to establish branch campuses in India have encountered political resistance.

However, this reluctance to admit international educators does not apply to all educational sectors. As India labours to meet its aim of upskilling 500 million workers by the beginning of the next decade, the country has turned to international organisations and institutions for help.

India’s unique dilemma

Compared to many Western nations, India faces a unique dilemma. Although the country boasts one of the greatest labour surpluses in the world, Indian employers are particularly likely to experience difficulty meeting their needs for employees: a recent study by ManpowerGroup found that 67% of Indian employers reported that they struggle to find workers who meet their requirements.

The reason for this apparent contradiction lies in the fact that a large proportion of Indian workers are unskilled. Research performed by the Indian government presented this staggering statistic:

“80% of the workforce in rural and urban areas does not possess any identifiable marketable skills.”

The quality of vocational education has played a central role in the emergence of this issue.

According to a report by FICCI and Ernst & Young, vocational qualifications have a poor reputation in India because standards vary widely across institutions, and because schools are often out of touch with the needs of the industry, producing graduates with skills that are outdated or irrelevant.

This lack of skills among Indian workers is having an increasing impact on the economy of India as it makes the transition from agriculture to manufacturing and service based industries. FICCI and Ernst & Young claim that more than 75% of future job opportunities will be “skill-based.”

The National Policy for Skill Development

Recognising that India’s future growth will depend on a much greater supply of skilled workers than is currently available, the Indian government has adopted a radically ambitious plan to increase the skills of Indian workers: the National Policy for Skill Development, adopted in 2009, aims to create a skilled workforce of 500 million people by 2022.

To accomplish this audacious goal, the Indian government has mobilised forces from across Indian society.

One main thrust is being lead by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, which has conceived of several schemes to provide training to those who have left academic education: these schemes include vocational training at Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) or education at the workplace through apprenticeships.

Another important contribution is being made by the Ministry for Human Resources and Development, whose range of responsibilities include education. In early 2012, they announced the adoption of the National Vocational Education Qualification Framework, which will be introduced to secondary schools, colleges, polytechnics, and universities in 2013-14.

The framework supplies a standardised system of certifications for vocational education that mirrors the levels of certification issued by the academic education system; this system of standards is intended to increase the quality and reputation of vocational education across the country.

The National Skill Development Corporation

To help finance the burden of providing quality education to a massive population, the Indian government decided to turn to the resources of private enterprise.

As part of the National Policy for Skill Development, the Indian government formed the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) in order to create high quality for-profit vocational education institutions by forming Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) with private companies.

The NSDC alone is tasked with training 30% of the 500 million workers that the government has set to create by 2022.

So far, it has formed partnerships with 26 organisations, which intend to train 40 million trainees; at this rate, FICCI and Ernst & Young believe that the NSDC will be able to meet its quota of 150 million trained workers two years before the government’s deadline.

The NSDC is also contributing to the development of skilled labour through the formation of Sector Skill Councils: sector-specific organisations that include representatives from labour, industry, and academia. These councils are responsible for aligning the needs of the industry with the training of workers by identifying skill shortages and determining standards for skills.


Although India has already achieved notable success in creating a skilled workforce, there are still several serious challenges that the country has to overcome in order to achieve its goals.

Creating and formally adopting a framework of standards was an important first step; however, in a country as diverse and decentralised as India, it may prove challenging to introduce the framework quickly.

And even if the framework is adopted smoothly, its proponents will have to struggle with common prejudices about the quality of vocational education. FICCI and Ernst & Young warn that extensive advertising and public information campaigns may be necessary to counter the weak reputation of domestic vocational education.

Insufficient funding may also obstruct progress: currently, India devotes a mere 1.12% of GDP to education; and the NSDC has recently had its funding cut by Rs. 1000 crore.

The entire policy also suffers from a lack of instructors. FICCI and Ernst & Young note that the Craftsman and Apprenticeship schemes alone will require 70,000 instructors, compared to the current output of 1,600 instructors per year.

… and opportunities

Although the National Policy for Skill Development faces challenges that cannot be overlooked, it also presents tremendous opportunities for educational organisations and businesses. For example, teacher training providers can fill the gap left by domestic providers.

Kotak Institutional Equities, one of India’s largest equity research companies, has made the following predictions:

11-13 million Indians will come onto the job market every year for the next 15 years;

the value of the Indian vocational education sector will reach US $20 billion by 2020.

With statistics like these, it’s no surprise that the potential and value of this sector has attracted the attention of international players in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Education New Zealand takes charge of vocational education for INZEC

In 2011, India and New Zealand agreed to form a council to coordinate cooperation in post-secondary education – the India New Zealand Education Council (INZEC).

Skills and vocational education is one of the two key areas in which INZEC will support cooperation; the other is higher education and research.

At its inaugural meeting in October 2012, the attending representatives discussed several ways in which India and New Zealand could collaborate to strengthen vocational education.

It was agreed that cooperation in the vocational education sector would be lead by Education New Zealand, and that a joint working group would be established to pursue several projects, such as:

  • Support for the implementation of India’s new National Vocational Qualification Framework, drawing upon New Zealand’s experience.
  • A three year training programme for Indian education leaders, managers, and assessors, aiming to train 100 people in each category.
  • Sharing of best practices in specific areas such as agriculture and dairy farming, food processing, and hospitality/tourism.

Australia provides certificates in Maharashtra

Kangan TAFE, a vocational education provider that maintains several campuses in Victoria, Australia, signed an agreement in 2011 to offer its certifications through vocational institutions in the Indian state of Maharashtra, making it the first Australian vocational education provider to establish itself in India.

To fulfil the Indian government’s aim to create a skilled workforce of 500 million people, Maharashtra alone is required to train 50 million workers.

Through its partners in Maharashtra, Kangan offers a diploma in automotive technology and a diploma of aircraft maintenance engineering.

Kangan expects to achieve enrolments of 12,000 students per year – as opposed to the 40,000 students who are enrolled at Kangan’s Victoria campuses.

To support Kangan’s initiative, the Victoria government has contributed AUS $300,000 to train 325 Indian vocational instructors.

According to Kangan CEO Ray Griffiths, students and industry in India view these courses favourably because they did not require students to incur the cost of travelling abroad.

UK colleges to offer vocational education in India

Joining the rush to benefit from India’s drive towards vocational professionalism, the Association of Colleges – an affiliation of over 300 UK colleges – has opened a permanent office in Delhi.

The AoC’s International Director John Mountford explained, “This marks a great opportunity, not only for our member colleges in the UK, but also for a huge variety of education and training providers in India. AoC in India will be a way of sharing educational best practice that has been developed in colleges in the UK over many decades.”

Dilip Chenoy, the CEO and MD of the NSDC, welcomed the AoC to India, and invited the association to participate in the private public partnership model administered by the NSDC: “we would be happy to work closely with AOC India to transform the domestic skills landscape.”

Organisations involved in the development of vocational skills education, such as FICCI and CII, also expressed their support for AoC India – as did several major providers of vocational education, including Centum Learning, the Skills Academy, and Manipal City & Guilds.

Manipal City & Guilds is itself a collaborative venture between Manipal Education, a major Indian education provider, and City & Guilds, a leading international vocational educator founded in the UK.

According to Anju Talwar, CEO of the Skills Academy, “The Indian skills industry will benefit hugely from the quality and experience of UK’s FE colleges via their professional support and solutions in various fields.”

Multi-national corporations join the fray

Educational organisations and institutions are not the only international players contributing to vocational education in India; the FICCI and Ernst & Young report describes how several multinational corporations have taken the creation of skilled workers into their own hands.

For example, Maruti Suzuki India has partnered with dozens of ITIs since November 2010 and has placed hundreds of students with its company.

The hotel giant Hyatt Hotels Corporation, on the other hand, offers in-house training at its School of Hospitality in Mumbai, India.

Vocational education in India: a tempting investment

As India progresses towards its goal of providing skills to 500 million workers, the pressure on the vocational education system is only expected to increase.

This state of affairs has created particularly favourable conditions for international vocational educators, whose capital and experience appeal to Indian authorities, and whose reputation may help them dodge the stigma associated with domestic vocational education providers.

Due to a government that is determined to encourage its population to choose vocational education, an almost limitless supply of potential students, and a rapidly growing economy, those educators who do choose to enter the Indian market appear set to reap significant rewards.

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