By any measure, the achievement has been remarkable. India today is considered one of the world’s most promising markets and investment destinations. Many of its products and services are world renowned, its people in great demand, its opportunity immense. However, much still needs to be done
History tells us how remarkable the story is. For nearly four decades after 1947, India pursued a closed economy model focused on import substitution, industrialisation and five-year development plans until it hit an economic roadblock in the 1990s. A balance of payments crisis forced it to embrace “liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation.” It was a watershed moment in India’s economic history.
India was now open to global businesses and capital. Its own large consumer base was also becoming aspirational and global. Pick any box office success from the 1990s and you will find the lead actors surreally transporting themselves from the harsh realities of slums in Mumbai to impeccably choreographed dance sequences in the Swiss Alps! A new economic dream was taking shape. This economic dream however still contained elements of anxiety and unease.
Those who could access education (and tertiary education especially) could easily move up the value chain of employment, not only domestically but abroad as well. The great Indian diaspora is now the stuff of movies and novels.
An abundantly available workforce, cheap by global standards, competitively skilled in areas like information technology (IT) and with immaculate English, became the mainstay of an IT services boom in India. Unfortunately, those who could not skill themselves away from less productive sectors like agriculture or small-scale manufacturing, remained stuck.
Thankfully, and it brings much relief to note, tertiary school enrolment ratios have now tripled to nearly 30 per cent since the turn of the century. Education continues to be the most trusted route to prosperity and is rightly viewed as an important policy tool to create a levelled economic playing field.
Human capital development needs focus