Indian Higher Education –Gross Enrolment Ratio and Beyond Posted: June 6, 2011, 6:22 am
“The most important and urgent reform needed in education is to transform it, to endeavor to relate it to the life, needs and aspirations of the people and thereby make it the powerful instrument of social, economic and cultural transformation necessary for the realization of the national goals. For this purpose, education should be developed so as to increase productivity, achieve social and national integration, accelerate the process of modernization and cultivate social, moral and spiritual values.” -Radakrishnan Commission on University Education, 1948-49
The above were set as the governing goals for developing Higher Education after India achieved its independence. It has been more than half a century since then and we should reflect on how far have we been able to achieve those goals and what more needs to be done. One of the simplest means of measuring India’s success would be to ascertain the ratio of students enrolled in institutes of higher education versus the number passing out of secondary schools or Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER). The results are hardly encouraging; India has a GER of 15% compared to a world average of 23.2%. It is even lower than the average GER of developing countries 36.5% and is in no comparison to the 45% the developed countries have.
India cannot achieve its ambitions of becoming a knowledge power with 85% of its young people being denied higher education even after 60 years of independence. This inequality in access to education is in some ways a reflection of the disparity in wealth distribution and a deep rooted social disparity that divides India. The Government seems to have at last woken up to this reality and we have heard a lot of buzz around doubling GER by 2020. The Government has a huge task in hand if we have to achieve this target and would need massive capacity building, both in infrastructure as well as human capital. This would also involve increasing access to all sections of the society, improving quality, leveraging technology and a significant jump in spending on higher education.
We would now discuss each of these areas in some details below:
• Infrastructure Capacity Building: As of 2009 India has 20 central universities, 215 state universities and 100 deemed universities along with 16000+ colleges. Over and above the existing institutions we need 500 odd universities, 15,000 colleges, 10,000 technical institutions, 75,000 engineering colleges to reach the target” if we have to achieve the GER targets for 2020. This is something which the government alone cannot do and would need private players to play an important role. Corporate houses and Industrial Conglomerates would have to take a lead in setting up new universities or collaborating with government to support higher education. The government would also have to revisit at the antiquated regulatory framework which stresses on “not for profit” requirement if it wants to attract serious private players and investments in higher education.
• Recruiting and Retaining Faculty: According to the latest report on “HIGHER EDUCATION IN INDIA: Issues Related to Expansion, Inclusiveness, Quality and Finance” by UGC more than 51% of vacancies in the universities were lying vacant with central universities reporting 36% vacancies, state universities 58% and deemed universities 33%. Teaching as a profession has to be more attractive to recruit and retain talent by higher education institutes. Offering a competitive salary package is only one of the criteria, other areas like career growth and research opportunities should also be highlighted. The other important issue would be improving the quality of teachers and focus should on faculty development.
• Improving Access to Higher Education: There are major disparities in enrolment ratio between rural and urban area with GER in 2003-04 being around 7.76% in rural and 27.20% in the urban areas. The access to higher education is also low for girls as compared with boys. The GER being 15.25% for male and 11% for female. There are also significant differences in enrolment rate among poor and non-poor; the GER for the poor was almost twelve times lower compared with non poor. This indicates that not only do we require more institutes we need to ensure that we make education more accessible and affordable to all sections of the society.
• Generating funds for higher Education: The public spending on higher education per student as per figures released by UNESCO stood at $400 in 2007-08 compared to $9,629 in US and $8.502 in Britain. India was at the bottom of the pyramid even among the BRIC countries with China, Russia and Brazil spending $2,728, $1,024 and $3,986 respectively on higher education per student. Government should endeavor to increase funding through public-private partnerships and also look to attract foreign investments in the higher education sector.
• Improving Quality in Higher Education: Quality and accountability are the two most important aspects of higher education. Curriculum in institutes of higher education in India is irrelevant and obsolete. Even the so called centers of excellence like IITs and IISC do not figure in the global list of best colleges and universities. There is hardly any industry-academia collaboration. A lot of substandard colleges and universities have mushroomed all across the country having no affiliations or accreditation. It is high time that National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) is finally implemented thus removing the web of multiple regulatory bodies that exist.