India's booming middle class chose what to study based on demand not curiosity

Computer weekly correspondant Kathleen Hall is out in India visiting Indian IT services firm HCL. She sent me a blog post following an interview with an Indian academic.

Here is Kathleen’s blog post:

The huge disparity of wealth in India is impossible not to notice. Whether it’s a beggar knocking on the window of an expensive car, or people dwelling on the street below a billboard for diamond rings: the juxtaposition of haves and have-nots is always present.

It’s little surprise then that 200 million of the population cannot read or write, yet the country produces 350,000 engineering students every year, approximately 15 times that of the US.

But it’s a combination of India’s brilliant technical know-how and low labour costs that has made it a world-leader in IT services. “The entire IT industry is built on fact that it’s cheaper here,” says Professor Ravi, Indian Institute of management.

And because the IT sector is booming, people are making choices about their education based on market demands.

“Usually a higher education in US is propelled by curiosity [about the subject]. In the Indian context it doesn’t happen that way. Here, a higher education is seen as a passport to a good job – in companies such as HCL, TCS, Infosys, for example.

Employment is driving the entire education sector, he says. “In India there are about 80 people getting PhDs in computer science, in the US it’s 700. That unbalance is unlikely to change because if people can get paid five times the compensation for working in the [IT] industry instead of becoming a teacher that is what they will do.”

Innovation is in the country’s makeup, believes professor Ravi. “There’s a tremendous amount of entrepreneurship in India that has contributed to the success of this industry.

“If you are limited with resources you optimise. Innovation is very important when resources are scarce. It’s not a luxury.”