Indian students battle castes in education standards

If you’re an American, you don’t have to be in an Ivy League university to feel reasonably certain you will get a good job after graduation.

Names like Harvard, Princeton and Yale still make employers’ ears perk up, but American students holding degrees from schools without brand names are still generally treated with respect for their individual skills.

In India, the situation is much different.

The divide between the top-tiered schools – those like the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian Institutes of Technology – and schools of the second tier is astonishing.

Alumni of the Management and Technology Institutes graduate to engineering and managerial jobs with some of the world’s largest companies on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.

At the top-tier schools, students are taught communication skills, and emphasis is placed on creativity. Curriculum is designed to help prepare students to be effective leaders.

Faculty make sure that students can speak English well, and that accents are weakened so that speech can be understood by potential employers and colleagues in the United States and Europe.

But second-tier schools emphasize obedience over innovation and spend little time teaching useful job skills. Training in the second-tier schools is vastly inferior to training by schools in the top tier, and half of their graduates do not receive English instruction, even as it grows more important.

Even in many English-teaching schools, professors use poor grammar and speak with thick accents.

“With India’s growing economy and influx of foreign enterprise, I would imagine that recent graduates would have plenty of opportunities in the job market,” said Sanjay Maniar, a student at the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

Maniar said that he thinks the biggest challenge for some highly educated Indians is interaction with English-speakers from other countries.

“Looking at the premium placed on English-speaking skills that companies such as Microsoft and Citibank demand, it is a saddening reality that some of the country’s top graduates will be left behind,” he said.

Maniar, who holds degrees in bioengineering and religious studies from Rice University, said that his father came to the United States in 1974 to study medical technology.

The same opportunities which were afforded Maniar’s father in the U.S. still hold true for Indian students today.

“The quality of graduate education in the United States is far better than that in India, mainly due to the facilities here,” said Suri Vaikuntanathan, now in the PhD program in chemical physics at the University of Maryland-College Park.

Vaikuntanathan said that the Indian Institutes of Technology helps graduates as it serves as a well-known brand name. The schools “give the students a decent infrastructure to pursue their goals” with a curriculum that “is flexible, exhaustive, and up to date.”

He said that the United States “remains a preferred destination for grad studies.”
Although he is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, one of the elite schools, he said that the opportunities in the United States are better than those he envisioned in India.

“I do not think I would have had the opportunity to pursue the field of my interest to an adequate extent in India,” Vaikuntanathan said.

Apart from a select few, “Indian universities do not really have good facilities for higher education,” said Anirudh Dhawan, who studied engineering in Bangalore and is now doing a master’s degree in information science at the University of Maryland.

Dhawan said that many Indian people think less highly of people who have done their higher education in India as opposed to those who studied in the United States, Europe, and Australia.

He said that upper class people go to the United Kingdom for personal interest, leaving their families to study and see their world. They will complete their education and come back to India to join their family businesses.

He said that only the upper class people go to the United Kingdom for higher studies, and it’s usually management related.

“Their families are well off and they can afford tuition without batting an eyelid,” Dhawan said, while the upper middle class go to the United States or to Australia.

Dhawan’s father, Samir, is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and has been working in India for the past 30 years or so and successfully climbed the corporate ladder after a lot of hard work.

Samir Dhawan said that there has been “a cultural shift from the save, save, save frame of mind from the seventies and eighties to a spend now and pay later mindset now.”

He views this optimistically and said that it “looks like this generation has realized very early in life that all you have is one life and you need to make the most of it as soon as you can.”

However, the majority of Indians do not have the same opportunities.

“There is a big gap between the two [top tiers of universities],” Anirudh Dhawan said. “People from the first tier get into much better companies when compared to those in the second tier.”

He said that most people in a first- or second-tier college or university get a job through campus placements.

“The better the college you are in, the better the companies who come for the job placement,” Dhawan said.

“It’s not like jobs are scarce, it’s just that there are so many people in India. There’s just so much competition. Everywhere you go there’s always someone who is willing to do your job at a much cheaper price.”

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