Most Indian millennials are opting for higher education and professional training outside the country. Surprisingly enough the country’s higher education system stands as one of the largest in the world, the 3rd only to the United States and China. As per published data (UGC), India has 789 universities and 37,204 colleges. The University Grants Commission (UGC) exerts enough influence as the governing body of the higher education sphere.

The higher education system of India has been going through a­ transformation for many years now. The main reason behind this metamorphosis is the economic changes taking place in the nation. By 2020, India is expected to become the 3rd largest economy in the world with a robust and rapidly growing middle class. Over 50% of the country’s population is currently in their early or mid-twenties; thus by 2020, India is expected to have left China behind by holding the largest Tertiary-age population.

Despite such economic boost and uplift, there are four significant challenges faced by India’s higher education sector. Firstly, the rate of enrollment in higher education is meagre in comparison to our educatable population. If the government wants to achieve at least 30% gross enrollment in higher education by 2020, it will also have to provide a humongous 40 million university spaces. Second, the higher education system of India suffers from certain chronic illnesses like shortage of faculty, outdated and often irrelevant syllabus etc. Rigid curricula, lack of emphasis on research separated from teaching, default in accountability etc. make the matter worse for the students.

The third most significant threat to making students ‘study in India’ is the shortage of environment that fosters research and innovation. The rate of enrollment in PhD courses in India is significantly low is we compare ourselves to other nations. On top of that, lengthy official procedures, lack of governmental encouragement for research is making cream academia leave the country to pursue degrees abroad. This institutionalized brain drain is leading to the degeneration of the higher education sector; even more, resulting in a vicious, systematic cycle. The fourth evil is much debated unequal career opportunities scattered across all cultural groups, communities, locations, which supports minority factor more than merit.

Thus, to leverage the Indian higher education system, the government needs to frame a plan of action that focuses primarily on three points – expansion, equity and excellence. 

A few years back the British Council published a paper on the future of higher education in India and the country’s opportunities for cross country collaborations in this sector. The paper articulated a detailed account of the doubts expressed by various stakeholders of the system like educationists, academics and policymakers. Many said that though the government had already started implementing reforms in the sector, bringing about a pan-India tangible change would be a considerable challenge as the existing system still lacks structure. Another point made was the disparity between the higher education curriculum and vocational training. A third doubt raised was the inclusion of private players – if at all allowed – and their influence in higher education. In other words, the emergence of “for-profit” higher education in India is still doubtful.

The last point brings us to a very vital question – would only public policies help in making students ‘study in India’ or should institutions play a more significant role in the process?

It is a very widely known fact today that Indian students are opting out from pursuing research in their own country as the resources are compromised, so is the infrastructure of institutions. Additionally, the research work suffers setbacks from the lack of funds, politics etc. The British Council paper also highlighted the fact that cross-country collaborations would go a long way in the internationalization of the higher education institutions in the country. This kind of association especially lacked in streams like Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences etc. Industrial collaborations were also standing short in case of technical higher education.

State universities, as well as top-tier institutions like IITs and IIMs, are supported by the Government through funds. This support is not received by private higher education institutions, which are, in many cases equipped to train students better. With little help from the state, these institutions may do wonders. Moreover, private colleges which have fund and infrastructure are bent under the pressure of the affiliation imposed from mother universities. Thus, the government does impose regulations on private institutions but provides no aid when required. At the least, some dependable private institutions should be considered for grant 100% autonomy.

Not to forget a mention of the lack of importance the system lays on general streams of higher education. We can’t undermine or ignore the fact that the system is partial to technical education in the country as more resources are allocated there. To encourage students to stay back in India to pursue higher education, syllabus, structure & quality of these courses should be revamped right from the undergraduate level.

However, there is some silver lining behind the dark cloud. The higher education sector in India has shown substantial growth from 2014 to 2018.  From 10% in 2004-05, the gross enrollment ratio (GER) in higher education has risen to 25.8% as on 2017-18, as per the All India Survey on Higher Education. But it should also be analyzed if this growth is all-inclusive, that is, encompassing all sectors, communities, economic strata of the country etc.?

argue that in the last 30 years, the education sector in India has displayed exponential growth especially with the emergence of hundreds of Higher Education Institutions. But this growth also comes under the scanner. In a paper by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations titled ‘Higher Education in India: Need for Change’, it has been pointed out that the count of institutions has only gone up, not the quality of education provided by them. Unplanned over-expansion is considered the real reason behind the structure-less system. This has led to the origin of a parallel industry in the country – coaching institutes for entrance tests. In more straightforward language, the situation is complicated!

Industries and employers often claim that skill crisis is a big issue with the candidates they hire from India. This is also due to the low quality of teaching and grade-oriented mentality of the students. Evils like heterogeneous enrollment pattern, age-old syllabus are there but another factor to consider is the problem with loose regulatory norms. While exceptions exist, some private higher education institutions are run only with the profit motive. Over the past few years, UGC & AICTE have tried to shut down such unaffiliated private institutions that have mushroomed across the nation.

Speaking about governmental intervention, one may ask, what is the role of the government in encouraging students to stay back and pursue higher education in India?

The higher education sector falls under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Though the main motto of the Department of Higher Education is to increase GER to 30% by 2020, it also must ensure that the participation is uniform and includes minorities.

Currently, higher education sector accounts for 15.5% of the government’s expenditure. There is scope for this to increase. Also, caste-based reservations by the government in choosing students as well as teachers have also contributed to bringing down the quality of higher education.

The government also needs to initiate the infrastructural development of the institutes and encourage global participation. All this together will result in an increase in GER and ensure that students’ study in India.

Prof (Dr.) R. K. Choudhary

Some of the regulatory schemes already at play include Rashtriya Uchattar Shiksha Abhiyan which aims to develop state university by central government funding. The scheme for Integrating Persons with Disabilities in The Mainstream of Technical and Vocational Education provides 50 polytechnics with grants-in-aid to facilitate the participation of persons with disabilities in higher education. The Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Training is aimed at raising the quantity and quality of teachers across schools and colleges in the country.

The importance of keeping our scholars back in the country is directly related to an increase in the country’s wealth. With India progressing towards possessing the highest percentage of the tertiary population in the world, we can’t afford to let go of our human resource. Our scholars should be encouraged to study and conduct research in the country. It will at once, impact innovations, increase employment, boost indigenous industry and result in overall economic development and growth of our nation.

Vice- Chancellor
Alakh Prakash Goyal Shimla University,
Mehli-Shoghi Bypass road,Shimla,
Himachal Pradesh 171009


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