• India has the largest population in the world in the age bracket of 5-24 years with 580 million people, presenting a huge opportunity in the education sector.
  • India is the world’s 2nd largest higher education system, with around 38 million students in 50,000 academic institutions (including 1,057 universities).
  • It has a goal of doubling gross enrolment rates from the current 26.3% to 50% by 2035.
  • India is the 2nd largest source of international students (after China) globally.
  • The government has implemented policies like the National Education Policy (NEP) and will have a strong focus on high-quality vocational education.
  • It has also embraced the Education 4.0 revolution, which promotes inclusive learning and increased employability.
  • India’s Higher Education sector has witnessed a tremendous increase in the number of Universities/University level Institutions & Colleges since independence.
  • In the prestigious Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2020, only three Indian Universities- IIT-Bombay, IIT-Delhi and IISc (Bangalore)- have been included in the top 200 institutes.

Issues and Challenges in India’s Higher Education Sector

  • India’s focus on expanding the higher education sector to provide access has led to a situation where research and scholarship have been neglected.
  • Funding issues:
    • The Central government’s slant toward premier institutions has continued ever since the Eleventh Five Year Plan where in spite of a nine-fold increase in Budget allocation State institutions have been left to fend for themselves with funding mainly directed towards starting more premier institutes.
    • Investment by State governments has been also dwindling each year as higher education is a low-priority area. The University Grant Commission’s system of direct releases to State institutions which bypasses State governments also leads to their sense of alienation.
    • There has been a demand to take spending on education to 6% of gross domestic product for decades.
  • Low enrolment:-
    • The Gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education is 25.2 meaning out of every 100 youths eligible for higher education, less than 26 are pursuing tertiary education.
  • Equity:
    • There is no equity in Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) among different sections of society. GER for males (26.3%), females (25.4%), SC (21.8%) and ST (15.9%).
    • There are regional variations too. While some states have high GER some are far behind the national figures.
    • The college density (number of colleges per lakh eligible population) varies from 7 in Bihar to 59 in Telangana as compared to All India average of 28.
    • Most of premier universities and colleges are centred in a metropolitan and urban city, thereby leading to the regional disparity in access to higher education.
  • Desired levels of research and internationalization of Indian campuses remain weak points
  • It follows a largely linear model with very little focus on specialization. Both experts and academics feel Indian higher education is tilted towards social sciences.
    • Only 1.7% colleges run PhD programmes and a mere 33% colleges run postgraduate-level programmes.
    • India’s investment in R&D has remained constant at around 0.6% to 0.7% of India’s GDP. This is below the expenditure of countries like the US (2.8), China (2.1), Israel (4.3) and Korea (4.2).
  • Regulatory issues:-
    • The country has a poor record with both the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) being seen more as controllers of education than facilitators.
    • As a regulator of India’s higher education, coordinator of vastly different kinds of institutions, and custodian of standards, the UGC had begun to look ill-equipped.
    • Regulatory bodies with licensing powers hurt the autonomy of professional higher education, leading to serious imbalance in the diarchy they were under, and partitioning general from professional higher education in several crucial areas of knowledge.
    • Privately set-up institutions in medicine, engineering, and other fields created the ground conditions in which strict regulation acquired justification. The power to license led to corruption.
    • The existing model is based on deep and pervasive distrust among regulators over the possibility of universities doing things on their own, and doing it well. The current framework that require universities to be constantly regulated by laws, rules, regulations, guidelines and policies set by the government and the regulatory bodies have not produced the best results.
  • Lack of autonomy:
    • All aspects of academic life, including admission norms, syllabus design, and examination were controlled by the affiliating university.
    • In colleges set up and run by the government, recruitment of faculty was the state government’s prerogative.
    • When certain state governments stopped fresh recruitment altogether and moved over to the practice of hiring contractual or ad hoc teachers, no college could practise autonomy to alleviate its suffering.
    • Autonomy to function through their own structures of governance first began to diminish in many provincial or state universities in the sphere of appointment of vice chancellors. State universities could not resist the imposition by those with political power of poorly qualified and unsuitable individuals as vice chancellors.
  • The vacancy crisis broke the sense of professional community among teachers and their organisations.Even teacher quality was abysmal
  • Ranking systems:–
    • Additional autonomy granted on the basis of NAAC rating and status in NIRF begs questions about these systems of evaluation. They are neither authentic nor valid. The reason they lack authenticity lies in the processes through which they are derived.
    • The NAAC is based on an inspectorial process. Its reliability suffers from both ends involved in any inspectorial system in our ethos.
    • NIRF’s need arose from India’s poor performance in global ranking systems but the question is if Indian institutions of higher learning were found to be generally too poor to be noticed globally, how would they get any better if ranked among themselves
  • Roots of Vulnerability
    • Currently there is a dominant ideology of commercialisation of knowledge and teaching.
    • Higher education is not leading to graduates entering the work sector as the education is not in sync with the needs of the companies.
  • Quality: Higher Education in India is plagued with rot learning, lack of employability and skill development due to the low quality of education.
  • Infrastructure: Poor infrastructure is another challenge to higher education in India. Due to the budget deficit, corruption and lobbying by the vested interest group (Education Mafias), public sector universities in India lack the necessary infrastructure. Even the Private sector is not upto the mark as per the global standard.
  • Faculty: Faculty shortages and the inability of the state educational system to attract and retain well-qualified teachers have been posing challenges to quality education for many years. Shortage of faculty leads to Ad-hoc expansion even in the premier institutions.
    • The Pupil-to-teacher ratio though has been stable in the country (30:1), however, it needs to be improved to make it comparable to USA (12.5:1), China (19.5:1) and Brazil (19:1).
  • Outdated Curriculum: Outdated, irrelevant curriculum that is dominantly theoretical in nature and has a low scope for creativity. There is a wide gap between industry requirements and universities’ curriculum that is the main reason for the low employability of graduates in India.
  • Accreditation: As per the data provided by the NAAC, as of June 2010, not even 25% of the total higher education institutions in the country were accredited. And among those accredited, only 30% of the universities and 45% of the colleges were found to be of quality to be ranked at ‘A’ level.

Recent Initiatives Taken by the Government

  • Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme (EQUIP) has been recently launched:
    • This is a five-year vision plan to improve the quality and accessibility of higher education over the next five years (2019-2024).
    • Double the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education and resolve the geographically and socially skewed access to higher education institutions in India.
    • Position at least 50 Indian institutions among the top-1000 global universities.
  • Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022
    • Qualitatively upgrade the research and academic infrastructure in India to global best standards by 2022.
    • Make India into an education hub by making available high-quality research infrastructure in Indian higher educational institutions.
    • To allow access of HEFA funding to institutions like Central Universities, AIIMS, IISERs and newly created Institutes of National Importance, without creating any additional burden to the students.
    • Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) has been tasked to mobilise Rs. 1,00,000 crores for this initiative.
  • UGC’s Learning Outcome-based Curriculum Framework (LOCF)
    • LOCF guidelines, issued by UGC in 2018, aims to specify what graduates are expected to know, understand and be able to do at the end of their programme of study. This is to make student active learner and teacher a good facilitator.
  • Graded Autonomy to Universities & Colleges: 3-tiered graded autonomy regulatory system has been initiated, with the categorization based on accreditation scores. Category I and Category II universities will have significant autonomy to conduct examinations, prescribe evaluation systems and even announce results
  • Global Initiative for Academics Network (GIAN): The programme seeks to invite distinguished academicians, entrepreneurs, scientists, experts from premier institutions from across the world, to teach in the higher educational institutions in India.
  • All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE): The main objectives of the survey are to- identify & capture all the institutions of higher learning in the country; and collect the data from all the higher education institutions on various aspects of higher education.
  • National Institutional Ranking Framework was developed in 2015. The rankings are published annually since 2016. It outlines a methodology to rank educational institutions across the country based on five broad parameters:
    • Teaching, learning and resources;
    • Research and professional practice;
    • Graduation outcomes;
    • Outreach and inclusivity; and
    • Perception.
Government schemes for Higher Education
  • Scheme of Apprenticeship Training
  • National Scholarships
  • Post-Doctoral Research Fellow (Scheme)
  • Junior Research Fellowships for biomedical sciences
  • All India Council for Technical Education Scholarships
  • Department of Science and Technology grants and fellowships
  • DST’s Scholarship Scheme for Women Scientists and Technologists
  • Biotechnology fellowships for doctoral and postdoctoral studies by DBT
  • Scholarships /Awards at Undergraduate & Postgraduate level in various science courses at the University of Delhi
  • Fellowships/Scholarships/Awards by the Jawaharlal Nehru University
  • Sports Authority of India promotional schemes
  • Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities – Schemes/Programmes
  • Scholarship Schemes for ST Students by Ministry of Tribal Affairs
  • Post-matric Scholarships for SC /ST students
  • Scholarships for Minority Students

Measures needed for Higher Education in India

  • Restructure or merge different higher education regulators (UGC, AICTE, NCTE etc.) to ensure effective coordination.
  • Amend UGC Act to give legislative backing to regulatory structure.
  • Allow foreign institutions to operate joint degree programmes with Indian institutions.
  • Link University grants to performance.
  • Select Vice-Chancellors of universities through a transparent & objective process.
  • Broaden the scope of Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) and Open and Distance Learning (ODL) to provide access to quality educationbeyond geographical boundaries.
  • All central universities should develop strategic plans for getting into the top 500 global universities rankings in the next 10 years.
  • Funding to these institutions should be linked to performance and outcomes through the MHRD and newly constituted Higher Education Funding Agency.
  • The goals of the higher education, for that matter any education system of any country is expansion with inclusion, ensuring quality and relevant education.
  • To meet these challenges, there is a need for policyto identify the jet issues involved, to build up on the earlier policies, and to take a step ahead.

Way forward for Higher Education in India

  • Research cannot be improved merely by regulating universities, instead they need efforts to create enabling atmosphere for which it is imperative to grant more autonomy, better funding and new instruments to regulate work ethic.
  • New initiatives like Hackathon, curriculum reform, anytime anywhere learning through SWAYAM, teacher training are all aimed at improving quality. These need to be effectively implemented.
  • As India wants to transform its universities into world class institutions, it must safeguard the interests of young researchers and thousands of temporary faculty members by expediting the permanent appointments in a time-bound framework and transparent manner.
  • Establish world-class multidisciplinary research universities
  • Create a master plan for every state and union territory
  • Each state must establish an integrated higher education master plan to provide an excellent education for all its residents.
  • Attract the best and the brightest talent to be faculty members
  • One of the fundamental changes India must institutionalize is a radically new compensationand incentive structure for faculty members. A flexibility to pay differential salaries based on market forces and merit must be part of this transformation.
  • Thus a complete revamp is needed to meet the present demand and address the future challenge that India is about to face.
  • To reap the diverse culture demographic dividendand to maintain peace and social harmony among them quality education with values are the necessary area to focus.
  • All higher education institutions must be accredited compulsorily & regularly, by agencies, empanelled through a transparent, high-quality process.
  • All central universities should develop strategic plans for getting into the top 500 global universities rankings in the next 10 years. Funding to these institutions should be linked to performance and outcomes through the MHRD and newly constituted Higher Education Funding Agency.

The higher education is facing many challenges as pointed above, most the challenges are difficult but are not impossible to resolve. Our goal to be a world power, the resolving and restructuring of higher education is must, then only we will be able to harness the human potential and resources of nation to the fullest and channelize it for the growth of the Youth is the most important asset for a country their future is the future of the Nation. So, the government must be compelled to provide basic education and skills.

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