South Asia faces demographic disaster unless skills increase

Monday 23 September 2013

A new report “Skills development in South Asia: Trends in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka” (executive summary) has found that the region is lacking 96 million of the 100 million trainees currently required to meet the requirements for continued economic growth. The report estimates that one million additional skills training places are needed every month for the next eight years in order to avoid an unsustainable rise in unemployment and recession.

The consequences of the research, prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit, will be presented at a special South Asia Policy Dialogue: ‘The Quest for Excellence: The Skills Revolution in the UK and South Asia’ convened by the British Council and hosted by the Royal Society of Arts in London.
 
South Asia is on the cusp of a demographic dividend even greater than China’s in the last century. The region will enjoy one million new entrants to the labour force every month for the next twenty years – however a ‘leap of faith’ leading to a region-wide strategic alignment is required to avert a regional skills crisis.
 
Peter Upton, the British Council’s director in Pakistan, said “Neither government nor the private sector can solve this issue – it requires a leap of faith by both sectors working together on a scale not yet attempted. It demands a radical approach to delivery, flexible routes for progression and learning, enhanced quality assurance and sustained investment from public and private sector. This could be a ‘win win’ outcome but at the moment the private sector is responding to demand in an episodic manner and the public sector is following traditional models that are not highly valued. The leap of faith calls for both sectors to work collaboratively in a new partnership that can propel the region to the next stage of economic development and prosperity”.
 
The report quotes Manish Sabharwal, co-founder and chairman of Indian recruitment firm TeamLease Services, and a member of India’s National Skills Development Council, declaring a state of “education emergency”. He notes that a “geographic mismatch, sector mismatch and skill mismatch” may be unnecessarily confining as many as 300m people in India to low-productivity jobs. “The public sector has an execution deficit, while the private sector has a trust deficit,” said Mr Sabharwal.
 
Across South Asia there is recognition by most policy makers that economic success and social cohesion can be brought about through greater economic prosperity, more education and greater equity. However the policy framework; the capacity and opportunity, and the infrastructure of opportunity lags behind the policy drivers. This means that rising youth employment risks a lost generation in the region, with the consequent risk of radicalisation or alienation.
 
The report outlines the four key challenges for the region to be: 
• Market size and structure – an unstructured, irregular market with uncoordinated policies and no ownership of the skills development agenda.
• Quality and Scale of provision – there is a massive capacity gap and issues of equity and access, allied to restricted funding to meet demand, weak curriculum models disconnected from employer need.
• Quality and relevance of outcomes – misalignment between industry and graduate needs, limited interaction between state and private sector on planning and future needs.
• Poor public perception of the Technical Vocational Education and Training sector – viewed as low value and a last resort option.
 
The South Asia Policy Dialogue will be exploring these four challenges and examining how current policy can be shaped so that it supports a skills revolution in quality, infrastructure and delivery. The region is already addressing some of these issues: India has outlined plans to train and up-skill 500 million works by 2022 – nearly 50 million workers a year, Bangladesh has a National Skills Development Policy that is emphasising an integrated approach, Afghanistan plans to increase enrolment for vocational courses by 150,000, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are both investing in flexible delivery strategies and moving to a demand led approach. The challenge remains one of scale, quality and the ability to meet national and regional economic needs.
 
More than 90 high-level decision makers from governments, businesses and educational institutions from South Asia will join experts from the UK and international agencies on 23 and 24 September, to debate outcomes of the research and investigate how the UK’s skills sector can build greater partnerships in South Asia to address some of the challenges.
 
The event is part of the British Council’s 2013 South Asia season, a series of events held in the UK addressing different thematic challenges that affect the region across the arts, education and skills.
 
 

Notes to Editor

The Policy Dialogue ‘The Quest for Excellence: The Skills Revolution in the UK and South Asia’ will take place at the Royal Society of Arts, London, on September 23rd and 24th 2013
You can watch a live-stream of the Global Education Dialogues: The skills revolution in the UK and South Asia perspectives and challenges on 23-24 September and take part in the conversation on Twitter with #educatesasia
 
The programme of the event, list of speakers and attendees is available on request. Prominent speakers include:
• Matthew Taylor, CEO of the Royal Society of Arts
• Dr. Aminullah Amin, Member National Council on Higher Education, Afghanistan.  
• Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik, Federal Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, Pakistan 
• Professor Rakesh Basant, Chairperson, Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), India.
• Dr. Paul Comyn, Specialist on Vocational Training & Skills Development, International Labour Organisation
• Sir Geoff Hall, former interim CEO of the Education and Training Foundation                                      
• Salahuddin Kashem Khan, Managing Director, A K Khan & Co & Co-Chairman National Skills Development Council (NSDC) Bangladesh 
• Mohan Lal Grero, Monitoring M P, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development, Sri Lanka
• Nosheena Mobarik, Chair CBI Scotland
 
To attend the event, or for more information please contact Tim Sowula, Senior Press Officer, British Council on 0207 389 4871 or tim.sowula@britishcouncil.org
 
 

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