Higher Education in India: An Analysis

ForumIAS announcing GS Foundation Program for UPSC CSE 2025-26 from 26th June. Click Here for more information.


The recent American investor Steve Woziniak’s opinion has highlighted the issues affecting Indian higher education system

Structure of Higher Education System in India

Fast Facts: Higher Education in India

According to AIHES 2016-17,

  1. Total no of universities: 864 as compared to 799 in 2015-16
  2. Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER): 25.2 as compared to 24.5% in 2015-16. (Calculated for 18-23 years of age group)
  3. State with Highest GER: Tamil Nadu (46.9%)
  4. State with Lowest GER: Bihar (14.9%)
  5. Pupil Teacher Ratio: 21
  6. College Density (No. Of colleges per lakh population): 28
  7. Only 1.7% Colleges run Ph.D. programme and 33% Colleges run Post Graduate Level programmes
  8. 277 universities are privately managed
  9. NIRF Rankings: IISc Bangalore ranked first, IIT Madras best engineering college

Critical Issues in Indian Higher Education


  • GER of higher education in India is much behind that of USA (85.8%) and China (43.39%)
  • Lack of capacity to absorb the increasing numbers of students coming out of secondary education into the college system

Issues related to Inclusiveness and Equal Access

  • Variation in GER between male -female, between SC, ST, OBC and other, between religious groups, economic groups, rural-urban divide
  • Inter-caste/ tribes disparities prominent. For Scheduled Castes, GER is 19.9% and for Scheduled Tribes, it is 14.2% as compared to the national GER of 24.5%
  • Muslims have the lowest rate of enrolment in higher education. According to AISHE 2015-16, Muslims accounted 4.4% of students enrolled in higher education although they comprise of more than 14% of India’s population
  • Caste-based discrimination in universities leading to suicides. Example: Rohit Vemula case


  • Inadequate funding in higher education
  • Budget for both IITs and UGC reduced in budget 2018-19
  • According to Economic Survey, only 0.6-0.7% of GDP has been spend on research in India in the last two decades. Most of the funding has come from government rather than private sector
  • This is very low as compared to 2.4% of USA, China-2.1%, Japan-3.58% and South korea-4.29%


  • Only 3 universities feature in to 200 of the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2018
  • Major reasons for poor quality:
  1. Faculty:
  • Vacant faculty positions,
  • Inadequate teacher training
  • High student teacher ratios
  • Overload (teaching as well as clerical)
  • Political interference in selections, appointments of vice chancellors and faculty
  1. Curriculum:
  • Outdated, irrelevant curriculum
  • Theoretical in nature; low scope for creativity
  • Gap between industry requirements and curriculum- low employability of graduates
  1. Inadequate physical Infrastructure and facilities


  • Poor fund allocation in research
  • Low levels of PhD enrolment
  • Few opportunities for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research
  • Low levels of industry engagement
  • Low quality of research work
  • Trends in quality of publications increasing slowly; India lags much behind USA and China


  • High control and low on support and facilitation
  • UGC has been accused of biased granting of funds
  • Undermining independence of autonomous universities
  • UGC’s flawed method of determining recruitment and career advancement of faculty: Academic Performance Indicator (API).

Private colleges and Deemed Universities:

  • Arbitrary nature of fees; “capitation fees”
  • Admissions manipulated- Management quotas
  • Ill equipped to organize courses
  • De facto management—the trustees of the sponsoring societies or trusts

Government Initiatives

  1. Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE):
  • Aim: Increase investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions
  • The RISE initiative will be funded by a restructured Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA)
  • Total investment of ₹1, 00,000 crore in next four years.
  1. Prime Minister’s Research Fellows (PMRF) Scheme:
  • Aim: to enhance the quality of technical research
  • Scholarship to 1,000 best BTech students each year from premier institutions to do PhD in IITs and IISc
  1. IMPRINT India:
  • Joint initiative of IITs and IISc to address major and science and technology challenges in India
  • Aims to boost original scientific and technological research in 10 fields: (1) Health care technology, (2) Energy security, (3) Rural urban housing design, (4) Nano technology, (5) Water/river system, (6) Advanced materials, (7) Computer science and ICT, (8) Manufacturing technology, (9) Advanced security and (10) Environment/climate change
  1. Global Initiative for Academics Network (GIAN):
  • Aim: To facilitate the partnership between Higher Education Institutions of India and other foreign universities
  1. Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM): E-education platform
  2. Saksham scholarship scheme: Scholarship provided to disabled by AICTE to pursue technical education
  3. Unnat Bharat Abhiyan: Higher educational institutions to provide solutions for transforming rural India.
  4. Ucchtar Aavishkar Abhiyaan: To promote industry-specific need-based research
  5. National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF): Ranking of higher educational institutions: universities, engineering, management and pharmacy.
  6. Swayam Prabha: telecasting educational programmes in higher education domain
  7. Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP)
Best practice:


· China has been funding nine of its top universities (called C9) to make them climb the global rankings.

· Tsinghua University, part of the C9, has a global rank of 25 and is placed sixth in Asia.

Way Forward:

  1. Adequate investment in education sector. Gap in investment to be filled by private sector
  2. Setting up/expansion of existing educational institutions; Full capacity utilization of existing institutions
  3. Providing necessary physical infrastructure; involvement of private sector in providing quality physical infrastructure
  4. Dilutions of selections standards for teachers to be checked; proper training for teachers
  5. According to Educationist P.Balakrishnan, API should be revamped to include only quality research and teaching. UGC should remove experience-related considerations for career advancement as it stagnates the best years of a faculty.
  6. Revamping curriculum- making curriculum industry-oriented, updated and practical
  7. Revamping traditional evaluation system. More focus on critical thinking, analytical reasoning,

problem-solving rather than memorizing and writing skills. Also, proper feedback to be provided to the examinee

  1. Innovations in classroom teaching- use of ICT, introduction of credit based system for classroom participation instead of compulsory attendance
  2. International collaboration to boost research and innovation
  3. UGC should act as a facilitator rather than a regulator. More autonomy to universities to be provided
Print Friendly and PDF