This article by Aman Aditya Sachdev, Regional Director, EHL Advisory Services for South Asia, Myanmar and the Middle East was originally published on The Hindu.
The approval by the Union Cabinet in July 2020 of India’s new National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) has filled me with hope for India’s youth. The NEP 2020 aims to create an education system that is more student-centric, giving flexibility to students to pursue their passion while at the same time enhancing their skills. If implemented properly, this policy will ultimately enable our youth to become more employable. Since its launch, the new policy has been met with some criticism, despite it being hard to argue that the approach to education in India, which had been stagnant since 1986 (over 34 years!), needed a serious overhaul. However, I believe that this policy will open new doors for our youth. Not simply because it introduces an approach that is new, but because it introduces an approach that has already proven to be quite successful in other countries.
I experienced it first-hand at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) in Switzerland, the world leading hospitality management university, where their dual education approach (combining practical and theoretical learning) results in very high youth employment rates.
A quick note to those who might hold the opinion that what works in other countries does/may not work in India – agreed, however we are not talking about verbatim application of a potential solution here; we must learn from others and contextualize for local application as long as the contextualization does not lead us to create nothing beyond a repackaging of what we have been applying for the last several decades and which clearly is not producing the desired outcomes.
Shifting from a degree hungry nation to an employable nation
In my opinion, India has traditionally been a degree hungry nation. For those who complete higher secondary level education, obtaining a bachelor’s degree, at a minimum, has been the focus. However, the reality is that the curriculum of these programs often does not match the desires of how students want to learn, nor the requirements of the job market.
Having studied in India and, further in my career, having had the chance to visit a large number of hospitality and tourism higher education institutions across the country, there are certainly institutions that are excelling, but there are many more where I have witnessed an outdated curriculum and approach to teaching. In these cases, often students end up holding the degrees that they wanted but are left unemployed or stagnating at entry-level roles in the industry.
Why have we, in India, put so much focus on acquiring a Bachelor’s degree? Why haven’t these programs been held accountable for their curriculums and teaching approaches? Why haven’t we, as a country, focused on consistently updating our education system in order to help graduates pursue successful careers in their chosen field of study? Instead of focusing on answering these questions, I choose to focus on the future, where the changes in the education system as a result of NEP 2020 should create better opportunities for our youth to learn and become employed.
Lessons learnt from abroad
I am largely a product of the old Indian education system. I grew up attending schools across the country and stayed in India to pursue the first steps of my higher education in the hospitality industry. It was not until I went to study abroad that I truly saw the drawbacks of the education system within which I had been raised.
In 2001, I left India to pursue a Master’s degree in Hospitality Administration at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland (EHL). It was a transformative experience. For the first time, I was able to truly discover and develop my critical thinking skills, analytical abilities, life skills, and entrepreneurial spirit. I was introduced to a student-centric learning environment, something that was truly missing throughout my education in India. It was in Switzerland that my understanding of the massive impact that the approach used in educating youth has on a country’s youth employment rates.
EHL, on its Passugg Campus in eastern Switzerland, provides options for young students to get a Swiss Professional Degree in just three semesters through an accelerated, dual education program. This enables them to get access to a university degree even if they do not have a high school diploma. The experiential learning approach used by EHL promotes social and professional mobility – students progress at their own pace from course to certificate to degree regardless of their background or the opportunities that they had access to from a young age. It opens doors and facilitates more equal access to greater careers.
While our education system in India has by and large been caught in a labyrinth of statutory and regulatory bodies, some of which do not allow for us to propel our educated youth into long-term and productive careers, the Swiss system, demonstrated at EHL, has been opening up endless possibilities and enabling students of all kinds to excel. It is not only that students benefit in finding their first job, a dual education approach enables institutions to roll out the expertise they gain in the development of courses and in lifelong learning systems that allow professionals to always stay in touch with the new realities of work in the field. The industry feeds the system which in turn feeds educators with new content to help ensure that learning stays relevant and people stay employable.
After spending the better part of 12 years studying and working overseas, I returned home to India in 2012 to discover that barring a handful of institutions/colleges, little had changed in our country in the area of higher education in the field of hospitality and tourism. In fact, I could see that things had deteriorated, mainly due to the significant increase in the number of institutions that were offering courses to students due to the rapid growth in the travel and leisure industry across the country. The industry had evolved, students’ mindsets had shifted, and even the resources available for learning had grown. However, by and large, institutions continued to use outdated methodologies and curricula.
From Switzerland to India – our opportunity for positive change is now
The NEP 2020 should result in a new approach that has proven successful in Switzerland. It should allow students to obtain the right skills and practical experience needed to excel in the job market. However, a simple change in policy isn’t enough to deliver these positive outcomes. And it will take time to rebuild the system and change the approach to learning. EHL in Switzerland has been using this approach for over 125 years. But now is our time – we need concrete action and a serious change in mindset across the entire country to make sure that India, and especially our youth, truly benefit from our education system.
EHL Advisory Services, EHL’s consultancy firm, over the years has been working closely with a select few private institutions, industry bodies and governmental organizations in India to radically reshape the hospitality higher education and hospitality vocational education landscape. At present there are two higher education institutions in the country which are members of the EHL global network of certified schools, the Indian School of Hospitality in Gurugram, Delhi-NCR and the ISME School of Management & Entrepreneurship in Mumbai. Additionally EHL Advisory Services is also working with a few select partners, including the Confederation of Indian Industry, in the launch of a pan-India network of Vocational Education & Training/VET by EHL licensed training center ecosystem to skill the youth of the nation for the domestic and the international job markets.
Education is a concurrent list item in India, therefore it is going to require a significant effort by multiple state governments and the union government to achieve some form of uniformity in the application of the NEP 2020 across the country. Whilst this is no mean feat, it is something that must be pursued with great vigor and sincerity to safeguard the future of our nation and the employability of our youth.