That the Indian education racket is not limited to maritime training is hardly unknown. Maritime education and training institutes are not the only ones that delight in churning out graduates lured in by miss-selling and seduction. Besides, students elsewhere are also poorly educated, are often not fit for purpose, and are under-employable (or downright unemployable) when they graduate. Add to this the fact that the youngster’s choice of profession has often been made without much thought to anything else except hyped pay packages- the process resembles an abattoir assembly line more than anything else- and you have a recipe for disaster.Take Business schools, for instance, the much preferred destination for tens- if not hundreds- of thousands of students. The fact is that, in India, many of these have been operating at a reduced capacity for a couple of years or more. Employment rates are falling (down to 18% this year, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry). Thousands of MBA grads are unemployed. The elite schools do not have this problem, of course- they rarely do in any industry. But, “More than 220 B-Schools have already closed down in 2013," says Secretary General of Assocham DS Rawat. More than 160 management schools have shut down in India in the past two academic years; 94 more want to shut down today.
Take another popular career choice- engineering. Post the software boom two decades or so ago, software engineering colleges mushroomed like fungus. Never mind that four out of five all their graduates were unemployable. Never mind that the software industry was spending a billion dollars a year in making these graduates useful after they employed them. I was looking after a software company during some of this period; the percentage of engineers with poor English, academic, professional and soft skills was- akin to the story seen in maritime training today- appalling. The situation is no different today, and, by all accounts, cuts across engineering disciplines.
Unsurprisingly then, many engineering colleges have shut down and many more are up for sale today- especially in the South, which saw huge growth not so long ago.
So what has all this got to do with maritime education and training?
I will answer this question with another- Why is the MET space so sanguine about its long-term viability? What makes them think that maritime colleges are insulated from closure even if demand vanishes?
In my opinion and keeping the experience of the business and engineering schools in mind, the maritime education and training space needs to remember or recognise a few things:
Most importantly, that educational institutes do close down when the bubble of market oversupply bursts, or when enough students realise that the emperor has no clothes.
Another, that political or bureaucratic patronage and corruption- that may have got you the required approvals in the first place- are eventually no protection. You can still be forced to shut down if you cannot make money. Remember that many of the engineering and business schools have surfaced in identical murky circumstances of patronage.
Three, oversupply in MET shows up more easily than elsewhere, because a typical maritime institute graduate is not really educated or trained to be anything else except a seaman, and does not get decent employment anywhere else.
Four, it may be wise, given the state of affairs in the MET space in India, for institutes to have an exit strategy if the bubble bursts. (Can’t resist a tongue in cheek comment- will they open an engineering college instead? Or a poultry farm?)
But before they realise all this, MET institutes - and not just the private ones; look at the mess within the Indian Maritime University- need to realise this first: The best protection for your business is excellence in training and education. It will not bother you too much if other colleges are collapsing if you are not. And that will happen only if your graduates are preferred by employers.
Therefore, the stress should not be on marketing, sales or misplaced seduction; the stress should be in delivery. In ensuring that the calibre of your graduates is recognised.
As happens often in life, the basics often deepen the moat around you.