Where are India’s subject matter specialists?

Subject matter what is that? Specialists what is that too?

Chinnu Senthilkumar of Exfinity VC fund raises questions on subject matter expertise in India:

If India’s economy has to grow, it has to quickly transition from an agriculture-based economy to a combination of innovation-driven, manufacturing-driven and service-driven economy. After all, even today, close to 50% of our workforce is still employed in the agriculture sector, which accounts for only about 14% of our GDP. That is bad news.

A combination of events such as the economic liberalization initiated in 1991, C-DOT’s telecom revolution in the late 80s and years of middle class investment in education etc helped us to build a USD 150 billion High-Tech/SW exports industry, employing millions of youths, many of whom, like me, happen to have a rural agricultural background. Since I grew up in a village in Tamil Nadu, I can relate to the aforesaid events and the importance of policy changes. These paved the way for rural agricultural workforce’s participation in the present new age economy.

To sustain this momentum and reach our full potential, we need to initiate another set of reforms for competing with economies such as China and South Korea. Our strategy, policy formulation and skill development has to be well-coordinated and completely tuned with our economic aspirations. Unfortunately, an absence of coordinated strategy, policy formulations lacking subject matter expertise and not upgrading our skill-sets are limiting our potential, while our Asian counterparts like South Korea and China are moving ahead.

Not only in infrastructure, China has had a systematic approach when it comes to building regulatory bodies and institutions, which, in turn, has started playing a key role in economic growth. Similarly, Taiwan’s methodical development of Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan (ITRI) has played a vital role in making it, the “future electronics manufacturing hub” in recent years.

While our Indian ruling establishment and intellectuals are unified in their goal, which is, of achieving economic progress at par with China and doing even better, we fail to recognize the importance of key regulatory bodies and institutions.

India is just about noise and hype really. We just have a very large population and our per capita consumption in most items is low, this keeps expectations that things will only rise from hereon. Hence, there is the perennial hope around Indian economy. But the moment you start to scratch the surface, you realise all things just fall flat. There are hardly any institutions and mechanisms present which will ensure and sustain the momentum. This lack of subject expertise is a part of the huge malaise in the system

How does one build subject expertise? Obviously education and work experience are two ways to build it. And most people will say that getting work experience without education in the field is difficult. So, one has to have atleast some basic education before becoming let’s say a power or a road expert.

The next question then is how do we educate so that you build some expertise? And here, the answer is obvious. First, we hardly have any educational institutions which are doing their jobs. Then those who still remain interested and still manage to survive the education system hardly gets an opportunity. Despite many years of IITs and IIMs all we have to show is placement records of these places. There is hardly any mention of a new products/technology/research emerging from these places. One would like to bring the other universities in the picture as well, but less said about them the better.

It is even more ironical that as India has grown these things have become even more scarce. There was a time when scholars existed (yeah existed, it was that long ago!!) even in remote and random universities who stood for doing research on matters related to India. Now, it is rare to find people doing relevant stuff even in mainstream places.

The govt keeps opening new places of higher education without spending even a second on training PhDs and developing skills which strngthen the institutional framework of the country. It is these students who then develop the frameworks for future years. Recently the govt has figured out a short cut of picking Indian born experts based elsewhere. Somehow the patriotic words “come back to your roots and serve y our country” connects with some. But this is a shirt term game. It cannot last long. Unless we develop expertise here to serve such a large country, we will keep going around in circles.

The author says the whole setup is partial towards RBI and one creates huge hype and noise around appointments at the central bank. But one needs to look beyond RBI:

If the Indian economy aspires to compete with nations like China and South Korea, we need to look beyond RBI and systematically build regulatory bodies and institutions (TDB) with subject matter experts. Global business is the need of the hour, and well-strategized planning and execution the key to success.

This is the standard approach here. Keep aspiring so that the markets are happy. Who cares about realising those aspirations? Just keep making noises around Fin Min & RBI and let the rest just rot.

As it is the time-period for good days for India have moved from 5 years to 25 years..Life goes on after all..

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