August 22, 2013

Blaming gravity

(Disclaimer: I am connected, amongst other things, with maritime training. Try and ignore that when you read this, please; I have.)

The Indian administration will soon roll out a Comprehensive Inspection Programme that will outsource periodic audits of Maritime Education and Training institutes to classification societies. In a first, inspections will grade MET setups under a wide variety of headings including infrastructure, faculty, pedagogy, CSR activities and the institution’s post training job ‘placement’ records instead of simply checking for compliance with the Directorate General of Shipping’s rules. There are six grades in all in the CIP, covering a score from ‘below 50 per cent’ to ‘above 90 per cent’. Although the programme is intended to cover Pre-Sea training, there are plans to have it cover Post Sea courses as well later. Amongst other things, gradings will influence an institute’s DGS approvals for additional courses and increased intake in existing ones.

This piece is not meant to be a dissection of the CIP, which can be (and I am sure, will be) nit-picked by others. I, for one, think that it has many strengths, the main one being that it is dynamic; it goes beyond idly ‘meeting DGS requirements’ and grades instead. It tries to differentiate the good from the bad- or the downright ugly- based on quality of infrastructure, training and overall commitment. That can only be a good thing. 

I wish the CIP had addressed the grading of MET setups based on their size, though. A small setup conducting just one ratings course, for example, will find it much more difficult to hit the top grade now. Because it will be more difficult for it to find or allocate resources- including, most importantly, in personnel- when compared with a large institution conducting, say, a dozen courses. Even though the focus on quality may be visibly higher in the smaller setup, its grade may be lower because of resource constraints.

But that is a smaller issue. What is more disappointing in the CIP strategy is that, once again, the entire onus for improving quality of future Indian ratings and officers has been completely (and unfairly) put on the MET establishment. This is because the CIP, like the earlier regime, seems to think that giving jobs or training berths to graduates is the training institute’s responsibility. It allots almost a quarter of the maximum scoreable ‘credit points’ (used in grading) under ‘Recruitment and Placement’ in the CIP.

That this is a majorly flawed strategy has been proved over time. Firstly, institutions not connected directly to shipping companies are in no position to guarantee jobs or training berths to their graduates. Adding to this is the lack of industry interest in freshers, not to speak of naked corruption, in many private and public sector shipping companies, Indian or foreign. In most instances, a graduate can only get his first sea berth if he pays somebody or he knows somebody. Doing nothing about that entrenched and accepted rot while simultaneously grading MET in ‘placement’ is setting ourselves up for failure. I rest my case by pointing out that even toppers in the GP Ratings’ post Pre Sea training Board Exams (conducted under aegis of the DGS, I may add) cannot get jobs today without bribery or nepotism. If improvement in quality is the goal, this way of trying to reach it is futile.

Incidentally, ignoring the corruption in the first-job market has also direct fallout on quality of MET intake. Some people think that the recently reported poor job market in India, coupled with the rising dollar, will make shipping more attractive to youngsters.  I disagree. I doubt any increased interest will be significant, because I think the rot in recruitment runs too deep, and everybody, including potential entrants to the profession, knows about it.

A MET setup can take the smartest eighteen year old in India and train him superbly, producing a stellar cadet or rating at the end of the exercise. Then what? Since they don’t own or manage ships, MET setups can only then ask- in the circumstances of today- that youngster to pay a bribe to get his first on board training berth.  How many smart eighteen year olds do you think we will get that way? How will quality improve?

(My generation paid sweet nothing to get a job or training berth. Why have things deteriorated to this extent in thirty odd years? Why have they been allowed to?)

By the way, a MET setup placing its graduates by bribery and corruption can still be top graded under the CIP, because its records will show ‘100 per cent placement.’ Is that the way we want to grade our institutions? 

The introduction of the CIP is not going to improve quality unless we accept what we know already, and act to fix the problems in the domains where they lie. Placement of graduates in the job market cannot be the sole (or even the major) responsibility of MET. I say roll out the CIP, amending the placement weightage appropriately. Simultaneously, clamp down on the many malpractices that are part of the recruitment and on board training sewer today.

The CIP is a good idea- maybe even a great one. But not if we make MET institutes responsible for ‘placement’. Not if a quarter of their grading is dependent on their ability to secure jobs for their people- something they have little control over. Unless the administration fixes responsibility and accountability appropriately, the CIP- that good idea- will fail. 

As Einstein said, you can’t blame gravity for falling in love.



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