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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Campus Placements Broken: Who can Fix it?

IIT Delhi refuses the request of Zomato to allow them to recruit students on day one. Zomato's founder, Deepinder Goyal, is upset. Link to the news.

Deepinder tweeted: Campus placements in India are broken. Placement cells optimise only for money. Growth, esops, quality of work is secondary.

Sure, campus placements in India are broken. On the campus side, it is true what Deepinder has said. Package is the most important parameter, which is very unfortunate. There is very little career counseling in our campuses, very few people to advise students about importance of long term career planning, quality of work. It looks a bit difficult to believe that a placement officer wouldn't understand ESOPs, but that is possible too.

However, I would hold industry responsible for it, and not the institutes. Industry, particularly large companies, have data which can be used to set things right, not just in terms of who comes on day one of placement, but to improve the quality of education in the country.

Why do campuses insist on salary being the most important parameter to decide the order in which companies will be allowed to come for placement. It is because most students and parents primarily look at placement data for deciding which college to study in, and which discipline to study. If a college does not focus on numbers, it can lose its appeal amongst the potential students and parents. Why would a college do that?

And, why do potential students and parents look at placement data as the primary information to select discipline/college? Because any other information is either too complex (like quality of faculty), or simply not available to them (like what is the long term impact of quality education from a college on your career). In US, one has lots of study tracking large number of alumni from several universities as they make progress in their careers. That kind of data is simply not available in India.

If such data were available, I am sure it will show that people who earned the most in the first month after graduation are not necessarily the ones who are earning the most after 10-15-20 years, just to give one example of what we might see in that data. And assuming that indeed this is shown by data, immediately, the focus on just one number will go down. (Unfortunately, the data will not show who is happier, and hence the supremacy of money will remain, data will not be very broadbased, will not include government, NGOs, and so son, but at the very least, people will start thinking more long term than immediate term. So a significant improvement over the current system.)

It is also possible that the data will show (I am convinced based on some anecdotal evidence) that graduates of colleges where the quality of education (education being defined both as a combination of academics and extra-curricular) is better do end up in higher positions more quickly. If such a data is in the public domain, the colleges can start focusing on quality of education rather than just chase the package as the sole number in placement games. And potential students and parents will also start looking at broader quality parameters of a college rather than just perceived placement figures.

So, this data is extremely powerful in improving the higher education of the country. The higher education scenario in India will improve only when all stake holders start demanding quality, and they will start demanding quality only if they are convinced that it leads to better long-term career.

And, who has this data. Well, our industry has this data. If the top 10 companies in software business who jointly employ almost a million engineers, were to make available anonymized data on performance of graduates from hundreds of colleges where they recruit from, the higher education in this country will be transformed.

But will they. Of course, not. They will not, not just because this is strategic information for them. They will not, because there is no scientific system in place for deciding where to recruit students from. The HR divisions of companies which are going to only 40-50 colleges usually take "safe" decisions. Let us include colleges which have been ranked by some list. Let us include colleges which are funded by central government. And notice that the rankings in India themselves are mostly perception rankings, and the perceptions are higher for colleges which have better placements. So it all becomes a vicious cycle, with absolutely no incentive for HR manager to break this cycle. The HR divisions of companies who are going to a much larger number of companies often select colleges for reasons other than quality. (There are hints of corruption as well.)

From the HR's perspective, going to a college which is more convenient to go to, or going to a college who provided excellent hospitality last year, or going to a college whose perception is better though quality of education may not be, it makes a very small difference. They will find reasonable quality and quantity of students for the low tech jobs that are typically asked of a fresh recruit. That they could find somewhat better quality and perhaps some more students who are above the threshold of the quality is really not important to them. But, please understand that while this may not make any difference to the HR, it makes a huge difference to the college, its students, potential students and parents.

If the HR folks could only take decision based on how alumni of those colleges have done in the past, and make that information public, it would push quality like anything. The power to fix campus placement is with the industry, and till they don't come forward to improve the situation, campuses will not be able to do anything, even if they want to.

1 comment:

Nitish Kumar said...

I think IIT D did right by not allowing Zomato for placement on it's first day .Their CEO may throw heaps of praise for his own organisation regarding work culture , quality of work done etc. in media but the review posted by various employees speaks otherwise - .

i think there are better organisations who deserve a first day slot when compared to Tomato .