Producing nearly 1.5 million engineers a year, India’s affinity towards STEM degrees is well established. It is the sometimes incorrect notion that conventional degrees like engineering could guarantee financial stability that attracts Indian youth. However, in the past half-decade, a slow shift was underway with humanities-based majors like journalism and psychology gaining popularity. Now nearly a year into the COVID-19 crisis with the GDP of the country contracted by over 23%, how is this pandemic likely to affect the higher education choices of young India?
A survey conducted in 2015 showed that nearly 75% of students wanted to pursue humanities-based courses like media, economics, and law. Only around 11% of the polled students were interested in science and 6% in commerce. This trend is likely to see a change due to the economic downturn worsened by COVID-19. “Degrees in psychology, music and arts will lose popularity,” Dr. Karan Gupta, a Mumbai-based career guidance counselor and education consultant, told Re:Set.
“Given the recession, we are going to see more students opting for STEM-based careers which normally have more job availability and higher pay.”
Nearly 120 million Indians lost their jobs over the course of the crisis and this poorly performing job market could shift the needle when it comes to education priorities. Students will be looking for majors that are more likely to land them jobs after graduation, Gupta reflected.
For many urban middle-class youths, this could mean having to turn away from pursuing “unconventional” passions and choosing career options that will bring in guaranteed income. “Given the recession, we are going to see more students opting for STEM-based careers which normally have more job availability and higher pay,” Gupta said, with a special emphasis on jobs in computers, finance and artificial intelligence.
While unemployment rates touched a record high of 11.6% after reopening post the first lockdown, it currently looms at 6.6%. With the job market unlikely to pick up anytime soon, Gupta predicts that some students who have the resources may also choose to stay longer in school by taking up graduate studies or stretching graduation by taking up extra courses, if possible.
Others may also opt for more advanced degrees like postgraduate diplomas, master’s or doctorates so they are not entering the job market early. The instability of industries could have an impact on the trajectory of careers as well, “we will see people from pure business backgrounds try to move into fields like analytics and quantitative finance,” Gupta reiterated.
Despite the fact that the IT sector and banking saw nearly 150,000 and 30,000 layoffs since the crisis began, it seems unlikely that it will affect the affinity for majors like computer science and finance in the Indian education market. “These will continue to be popular even after the pandemic,” added Gupta, “the only majors that will suffer are humanities.”