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Distorted picture - Institutions are creating the image of "superiority in singleness"

During the last 10 years, I have thought of requesting the director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, to prepare a plan for campus recruitment of medical graduates, post- graduates and super- specialty doctors and biomedical scientists who are trained at this institute.

This request document has not been posted, although it is observed that well trained and skilled manpower in healthcare sector is not easily available. Why have I held this back? Partly because of self- doubt regarding the view of the administrative systems at AIIMS and health ministry, and partly a reservation that doctors cannot advertise their qualification and skill sets as a commodity.

The recent news and debate surrounding the retraction of the original job offers made to IIM and IIT graduates by a few ecommerce organisations make us all realise the thin- end of the wedge in recruitment practices. Campus placement is like the Teflon- coat, the promise of anti- rust that allures. " We give you the degree and we make you shine." Many educational institutions, government agencies, and industries have come to participate and foster the system, and find it convenient to create a platform that will ensure that the students are given work and salaries. The print and television media annually go to these educational institutions to showcase: " Varanasi IIT graduate lands Rs 2.03 crore job". It is time for a disambiguation of campus recruitment and high salary offers that have evolved over the last 20 years in India.

Computers entered offices and organisations in the last two decades of the twentieth century. By the 1990s, information technology ( IT) was recognised to increase productivity and efficiency.

IT companies started a bulk hiring system for professionals and this approach led to the spread of IT in all spheres of society.

Manufacturing, hotel, banking, agriculture and transport sectors all showed growth. The short supply of manpower led to unrivalled salaries, job hopping, and body shopping. IT pros became the new celebrities. The recruitment process of IT companies appealed to other public and private sectors, ranging from oil to estate that traditionally filled up the posts through advertisement, interviews and recommendation.

The educational institutions have reaped benefits from campus recruitment. The placement percentage of its students and an attractive salary component raised the brand value of a college or institute. When we look back, from a very sedate and respectable position, the IITs and IIMs suddenly started looking glamorous. In the initial years, there was healthy competition between these institutes, as to which one garnered more jobs or better packages for their students.

The other public and private educational establishments took the plunge to attract industries and companies. The rules of the hiring system changed. The human resource ( HR) model to document and analyse the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics ( KSAOs) of a potential job seeker cannot be easily applied when a large group of fresh graduates are sourced for on- campus hiring. Size matters. The HR management of a company started adopting new ways and means for campus recruitment. Colleges and universities developed a section where a dean or faculty for placement, publicity personnel, student representatives and agents of companies worked in tandem.

A vast majority of students pin their hopes on campus recruitment and spend sleepless nights thinking about this annual process, which is usually conducted in a few days. It is a heady mix of glamour, buzz and " my moment of glory". This atmosphere is the yearly ritual in most professional and technical institutions in India between December and April. The parents and well- wishers of a student like this hiring system. The social media and multiple web- enabled resources feed a picture of success stories.

Understandably, parents and society in India consider education synonymous with earning. Thousands of parents and children take a pledge to disrupt normal life, move 14 to 15- year- old children to coaching centres in towns, with an obsession to succeed in the entrance tests for technical and professional courses.

I sat for the IIT entrance test in 1969 and came out of the obscure building of an engineering school in Cuttack with an abysmal performance.

My father was not shattered and my dreams did not end there. The scenario has changed. As soon as children enter a good technical or professional course, the high salaried job becomes an aspiration for the family. Farhan Qureshi in 3 Idiots , with a passion for wildlife photography, is the exception.

The current bulk recruitment process has gone on for far too long. The academic institutions, industries and HR experts should jointly retrofit the hiring metrics. The alleged cartelisation on campus, the CGPA score of 8.5, uncertainty about offcampus opportunities, this will all require careful attention.

Stagnancy and slump in various sectors such as telecom, automobile, real estate, and even IT, which come in cycles, should be conveyed adequately. The job offers from enterprises will need an alignment with sanctity. " Withdrawal of 1,500 job offers, students on fast". It dents reputation and trust, more so, before these young citizens enter the real world.

The academic institutions, both public and private, have competed to create the image of " superiority in singleness". An established IIM or IIT need not make an annual declaration of highest salary offers to a few graduates. This grossly distorts the big picture, as the same company spreads its salary packages: one engineering graduate from Kanpur will get Rs 50 lakh and another from Kanchipuram joins at Rs 2.5 lakh per annum. It will be a difficult moment when the parents of these two graduates meet at the training campus of the reputed enterprise. The gold dust should settle down on Indian college campuses. In comparison, the difference between median and the top 10 per cent s annual salary for fresh graduates in most developed countries does not exceed two to two- and- half times.

Also, the future of Indian graduate engineers who join the work life is rarely discussed. A study from Duke University, USA, published in Issues in Science and Technology , revealed that at the time when 170,000 were awarded the four- year bachelor's engineering degrees from 794 colleges in India in 2007, approximately 20,000 completed master's degree and another 2,000 obtained PhD in engineering.

A miniscule 15 percent of engineers in India acquire the advanced engineering or research qualification suited for academic, faculty, and R& D ecosystems. Another 20 per cent obtains the MBA, not all of lasting calibre. Effectively, 70 per cent of our campus recruited graduate engineers hop jobs, and in their 40s and 50s find that their skill sets have been outstripped by advancements in science and technology. The future for campus recruitment is here.

(The author is a former professor of radiation oncology at AIIMS, Delhi. Now, he is director of radiation oncology at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon)