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Hospitality Education - Time for Course Correction?

Tuesday, August 6, 2019, 14:52 Hrs  [IST]

There is no two opinion among the academia associated with the hospitality education in the country that the systems and practices that we follow required an urgent course correction. But what is lacking is unanimity as to how to go about it and achieve it. The key challenge is nothing but the unorganised and fragmented character of hospitality education. The question comes as to who will bell the cat? Hospitality Biz makes an attempt to understand the sense of the academia on the topic.

The debate in the industry about whether we need more managers or more skilled manpower is quite old. While it is an admitted fact that in the pyramidical hierarchy of a hospitality unit, the demand is at the bottom of the pyramid than at the top. But still when it comes to hospitality education the focus is on management education than specialised skill programmes or craft courses.

Hotel industry has undergone sea changes in terms of its product profiles, service designs, concepts and formats, etc. over the last decade. However, the hospitality education has failed to cope with the pace of changes, admits everyone associated with the industry. And section of the academia even concedes that it is practically impossible for the academic system to move at the same pace of the industry because of the bureaucratic and regulatory framework.

But the question relevant is whether it makes sense to herd all into three and four-year conventional degree programmes? While more than 80% of the students end up at the entry level jobs with students coming from diploma and craft courses, do we need to revisit our programmes and curriculum designs?

Dennie Matthews, Chief Managing Officer – South & South East Asia, American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI) believes that the root cause of the problem is clubbing a purely skill-based programme with technical programmes by our educational system. Because of this, Hospitality programmes are also “blinkered to mimic even the length of the programme to a protracted 3-4-year programme, instead of a good 18-24 month one.” “I do not want to slay all 3 and 4-year degree programs, as you still need these programs for developing managers of tomorrow. What needs to be done is majority Universities should move to Associate Degree level programmes of 2 years and a select few must retain the full Bachelor’s level programme. The best must enter the 3-4-year programme and this could be easily done with a good strong psychometric professional compatibility cum intellectual testing to screen students,” Dennie states.

Commenting on the same, Kamal Manaktola, Professor & Head, School of Hospitality, Auro University, said, “I think it’s time that we segregate ‘hospitality skills’ from ‘business of hospitality’ and offer these as two separate programmes of different durations, followed by the placement process at separate levels. Conventional programs with ancient pedagogical practices should be abandoned and relevant contemporary knowledge and skills should be imparted through interactive pedagogical practices. More emphasis should be given to social skills, communication and creative thinking.”

However, people who support the conventional pattern of degree programmes do suggest periodical revision of curriculum in consultation and interaction with the industry to make the teaching and training relevant to students at all times. “First of all, let me make it clear that hospitality education in India is still in infancy stage. Variety of programmes, durations and different regulatory bodies have deviated the objectivity,” informs Prof RK Bhandari, Dean, Faculty of Hotel & Tourism Management, SGT University, Gurgaon. As far as degree programmes and its duration, Bhandari bats for 4-year programmes. “4 years definitely give an edge over 3 years programme with scope of additional exposure to industry and input of advance management with research component. It is essential that Hotel Management Programmes need to be of 4 years. The same is mandated by UGC. Flexible approach in this regard is diluting the standard of hospitality education and its output,” he says.

For many, the course correction is only a thought within the current framework and not beyond that. “A course correction should be assessed at all times. Feedbacks from Industry and regulatory bodies should be a regular feature for any stream of education. A regular updation of syllabus (every 4-5 years) assessing the need of the industry, having constant interaction with Industry experts, sending faculty to hotels to upgrade their knowledge help in bridging the gap between Industry and academia,” observes Sarah Hussain, Principal, Banarsidas Chandiwala Institute of Hotel Management & Catering Technology (BCIHMCT), Delhi.

Dr. Sonali Jadhav, Principal, AISSMS College of HMCT, Pune, believes that while it is necessary to update the curriculum with the latest technological and other changes that is happening in the industry across the globe, the basic premise that the hospitality student must be trained to sport the right attitude, be consistent and to be groomed to be his/her smart best still holds good. And instilling necessary qualities and skills demands the conventional programmes to continue. “This cannot be done overnight. The moulding will take a few years and that is where the conventional hospitality management degrees stay relevant. Curriculum revision every 3 years will ensure that the knowledge imparted is updated. It would also help if students are exposed to prolonged “on the job training”, as a part of the course. I would like to add that all hospitality institutes should strive to go beyond the syllabus. We have an entire process for ‘Content beyond Syllabus’ at our institute that each faculty member follows.”

Hesitance towards new delivery models:
While HR managers reiterate that they give weightage to ‘right attitude’ than anything else, the question being relevant is whether one need sit through four years of degree programmes to develop that attitude. There are also HR heads who say that they go scouting for talent in regular universities and management colleges than in hospitality institutes these days. So, there is scope to ponder innovative delivery mechanisms to train and groom people for the industry.

Although there are tech-based delivery models of educations prevalent in overseas destinations, the regulatory framework and lack of proper understanding about such systems among the decision makers are blocking their way into India, observes Matthews of AHLEI. “There are quite a few new tech based training delivery companies overseas which give their training products as a subscribed service. There are also a couple of them offering programs based on AI / virtual learning environments. These currently have low local adaptations in our market but interestingly NewGen is keen to have these made available to them. One of the biggest hurdles in my observation is that tech fear which many among the decision-makers have and hence unable to accept newer delivery models - perhaps the day when we have more NewGen involved in decision-making, we could be matching counterparts around the world in our education practices.”

Prof Bhandari feels that the education system has started adopting changes to remain relevant. Neither the education nor the delivery models be the same, he feels. “Regular updating of the curriculum is essential with the change in trends and practices, innovation in technologies and competition in this sector. Knowledge base of the students and resources available is also advanced than before. Experiential learning, research incorporation, project based and case study can make studies interesting.”

Suggesting new models of delivery in education, Manaktola said that the delivery model should be a balance of technology and information put together. “Student’s participation in teaching/learning practices is the new mantra. Innovative pedagogical interventions with live projects will motivate new generation to learn the required information. Technology and Information together will play a huge role in shaping the new age curriculum and design for the students.”

Traction for Hospitality Courses:
Irrespective of the unorganised and fragmented structure of hospitality education, the traction for hospitality courses is on the rise. Hospitality courses are no more a last resort for students who are rejected from elsewhere. It is today a conscious choice for ‘creamy’ layer. Principals proudly place accounts of rank holders in the IIT list leaving them and joining hospitality courses.

Says Sarah Hussain of BCIHMCT, “I see more awareness in metropolitan cities especially in Delhi & Mumbai. The smaller towns are way behind exploring the plethora of career opportunities though social media has made a lot of difference. The best part of hospitality education is that it grooms you for the service sector and equipped with soft skills the students become topmost candidates for jobs there.”

Hospitality education has come a long way from being a diploma to getting the status of a technical degree, says Dr Jadhav. While this did not influence the course content as much, it did attract a larger number to pursue hospitality as a career option. It offered a status to this field and students felt more confident about making a choice, she added.

While choice in terms of courses and delivery models create a win-win situation for both the career aspirants and the industry, it should not be at the cost of quality of the product. There should be standardisation at every level of delivery so that the products can get the right credit rating at the market place.

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