From education to employment

What opportunities are out there for UK providers in India?

India is rolling out a major reform programme with regard to its skills development policy and is investing heavily (at both national and state level) in skilling vast numbers of unskilled and/or low-skilled workers as well as targeting drop outs from schools and the unemployed, including graduates.

At the heart of the reform are the objectives to:

• Improve the employability of the workforce

• Achieve a better match between training supply and demand

• Improve access to high quality training

• Raise the status of VET

While emphasis in the early stages of the reform programme has been to massively increase the numbers of people in training, there is a growing recognition of the need to achieve the right balance between quantity and quality thereby ensuring the reforms significantly improve the quality and the relevance of skills training in India.

The architecture supporting the reform programme is familiar to those of us working in the UK Skills system as India has adopted the SSC and NOS model to capture employer requirements with regard to job roles. Private sector training providers are encouraged to affiliate with SSCs to deliver NOS-aligned training and other State and National bodies are similarly encouraged to align their provision with NOS. Where the current model differs from our own, however, is that the SSCs – in the case of providers not affiliated with other regulated certificating bodies – currently hold certification responsibility with assessment devolved to third party assessment agencies. This is already being challenged given the obvious conflict of interest.

Given the myriad of skills development schemes emanating from no less than 19 National Ministries as well as their counterparts at State level, there is a strong desire to bring a greater sense of cohesion to the piece and this is being led by the NSDA, the National Skills Development Agency, an autonomous body responsible for coordinating both government and private sector efforts towards achieving the skills targets within the 12th Five Year Plan. The Chair of NSDA reports to the Prime Minister’s Office.


A notable step in this direction, under the auspices of the NSDA, is the establishment of the National Skills and Qualification Framework (NSQF) with an agreed mandate from Government that the NSDA implement the Framework within the notified timescale of five years, i.e. by the end 2018.
The roll out of the NSQF requires both central and state-level ministries involved in education and training to work in a more coherent, joined-up manner, using the NSQF as the basis for course design, delivery and assessment & certification practice. The ramifications are profound as this, in turn, will require all teachers, trainers, lecturers to shift from traditional modes of teaching, learning & assessment to a learning outcomes approach. For UK providers already working in India or thinking about it, this is clearly good news given the potential to be involved in the shift to a system with a greater and more urgent focus on quality assurance than currently exists. It will be the quality assurance system underpinning the NSQF that gives it and the qualifications within it validity and trust from both industry and individuals.

NSQF at a glance

1. It is a single, overarching framework within which all government-funded courses and qualifications will be placed and with an expectation that all provision, including private and international, will ultimately seek the benefit of being so placed

2. It comprises 10 levels, Level 1 – 10. Each level has a set of five descriptors covering five domains: process, professional knowledge, professional skill, core skill and responsibility. Process defines the broad nature of what someone at the Level would be prepared for, knowledge, skill and responsibility are self-explanatory, core skill comprises generic skills.

3. It is an outcomes-based framework in line with those of most other countries; indeed it aspires to achieve international equivalency.

4. Key elements: seeks to establish international equivalency; promotes multiple entry and exit points across the academic/vocational divide; promotes progression; seeks to support lifelong learning; reaffirms partnership with employers/industry; enshrines transparency, accountability and credibility of skill development; facilitates recognition of prior learning RPL.

5. Its language is familiar to those of us working in the UK, i.e. learning outcomes, competences, credit, qualification.

6. It is defined as a ‘Quality Assurance Framework’.

7. It will be accompanied by a Qualifications Register – a public record of all qualifications aligned to the NSQF levels, pathways and accrediting institutions.

Opportunities for UK providers

A key challenge now is to get a robust quality framework in place for the supply side as well as improving the matching of demand with supply. UK providers – both training providers and assessment/awarding bodies – have considerable experience and expertise to bring to bear as policy is still being formulated. The British Council, which manages the UK India Education Research Initiative (UKIERI) on behalf of the UK government, and by having a senior post-holder dedicated to Skills, is heavily involved in promoting the UK System, as is UKTI and the UKIBC, UK India Business Council.
We have much to offer in support of the hallmarks of the UK system, one based on accountability, professionalism, transparency, independent audit and continuous improvement, and these are the principles which India seeks to embed, not least that of continuous improvement, but it is at a very early stage in the journey.

As a step along the way, work – undertaken by the ILO and supported by research jointly commissioned with the British Council- is leading to the establishment of standards for trainers and assessors. Other programmes, the India-EU Skills project and an ADB-funded project in particular, are contributing to the quality improvement of existing infrastructure and systems as well as making recommendations for further quality enhancements. There are opportunities to input to this work both directly and indirectly.

While those of us working in India already recognise that this is not an easy market, it is never dull. It is a time of rapid and major change and, in light of the global demand for skilled labour that only India can meet, now might be a time to consider whether the time is right to look at India?

Isabel Sutcliffe is international quality and standards director at Pearson Qualifications International, Noida, India

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