SINGAPORE – They may hire the cream of the crop of graduates in India, but during his visits to some globally competitive companies in India, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam found that these companies still took pains to set up in-house colleges to retrain these “exceptionally-capable minds”.
Mr Tharman said that the chief executives told him they hire people based on entry tests but the graduates do not come with the skills required to “operate in the real world”. These companies, therefore, have “put in an intensive structured training programmes to help them adapt”, he said.
Mr Tharman was responding to a question on how to tackle the gap between what is taught in schools and industry needs at the inaugural Asia Pacific Pan Indian Institute of Technology dialogue yesterday,
Identifying this lack of “practice orientation” as a gap in the Asian education system in general, Mr Tharman, who is Minister of Finance and Manpower, said: “This is true both for institutions at the pinnacle, like the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), as well as for institutions that should be providing high quality technical education for the needs of industrialising economies as well as the needs of the modern economy.”
The IITs are a group of elite technology and engineering-oriented institutes of higher learning in India. They are represented by more than 200,000 alumni globally under the umbrella Pan IIT organisation, with about 1,000 of them in Singapore alone.
In Singapore, Mr Tharman noted that the education system’s “technical orientation” started in the 1970s. About 65 per cent of each school-leaving cohort now progress through the technical route either via the Institutes of Technical Education or the polytechnics, he said.
“It doesn’t matter what they do later in life, but starting off with the applied orientation allows them to maximise the talent and skills they have because most people in any population, their minds work very well when they are working on something practical.”
Mr Tharman also touched on the need for greater intellectual and cultural linkages between Singapore and India, noting that the connection – while understandably weaker compared with the relationship between Singapore and China – presents great opportunities for development.
Singapore could help India with urban solutions, like clean water and the environment, he said.
“The challenge in India, in this regard, is to develop urban solutions that provide a standard of living that is acceptable to a broad mass of people and can spur economic growth both in manufacturing and services,” he said.
When asked how Singapore IIT Alumni association can contribute, Mr Tharman called on the grouping to create networks between India and East Asia “with Singapore being a gateway of sorts”.
This could mean allowing IIT students to visit Singapore universities through deeper collaborations than what is currently available, while providing opportunities for Singapore students to go to India, he said.