Answered: “There is a crisis in higher education in India which runs deep. The quality of most higher education institutions in India is abysmal.” Critically examine this statement.

A little more than 8% of the Indian population are graduates (Census data). Planning Commission estimated that only 17.5% of India’s graduates were employable.

  • India has reasonably succeeded in providing low-cost higher education to the masses, with the rate of increase in graduates rising faster in rural areas in the past decade (From 26 lakh graduates to 67 lakh graduates in a decade).
  • Institutions such as IITs, IIMs, IISc are acknowledged as institutes of excellence, with IISc finding a rank in the top 100 institutes globally.

However, these successes are few and far between, and mostly quantitative. Higher education in India suffers from a crisis due to various causes:

Non-institutional factors

  1. Disparities among various sections – Just over 4% of Scheduled Castes are graduates, whereas the figure for Scheduled Tribes is below 3%, even lower for women, and far below the national average (~8%)
    2. Early marriages prevent females from enrolling in higher education, and the pressure to earn after getting married diverts such males towards low-paying jobs in the unorganized sector.
    3. Lack of access due to proximity issues, safety issues for females as well as less avenues for convenient travel to and from the institutes.

Institutional factors

  1. Proliferation of private colleges that charge high capitation fees, effectively making higher education unaffordable for the masses. Problem is compounded by lack of sufficient public institutes.
    2. Low teacher:pupil ratio and the presence of “temporary” teachers who are unqualified for the job, which hampers both the teaching quality and the ability of students to get their doubts and questions addressed.
    3. Political interference in the administration of these institutions hampers the quality.
    4. Incompetence of regulators and presence of conflict of interest in some of them affects the educational outcomes due to lack of oversight. TSR Subramaniam Committee recommended scrapping the UGC and AICTE. The MCI corruption scandal is an example of the malaise.
    5. Out-of-sync syllabus is the biggest detriment to the quality of graduates.
    6. Poor industry-academia collaboration leads to graduates who are of no use to the industry, resulting in lack of skilled workforce as well as rise in unemployment.
    7. India spends only 0.7% of GDP on R&D, far lesser than developed economies. This results in low innovation as well as low research in all sectors.

Way forward:
Government has taken several steps to address some of these problems –
1. GIAN – foreign experts to impart domain-specific knowledge to Indian graduate students.
2. SWAYAM – MOOCs to provide equity, access, and quality to students from 9th grade to post-graduation.
3. HEFA – to fund the infrastructural needs of higher educational institutions.
4. INSPIRE Scholarship for Higher Education – to encourage youth to pursue science intensive courses.
5. New education policy as well as new National women policy lay stress on increasing female graduates.
6. Increased impetus to vocational training via Skill India, which includes collaboration with industry.
7.  Tinkering labs and Atal Innovation Mission in order to foster innovation.

Some steps that can be taken, in addition to the government initiatives –
1. Make in University campaign as suggested by Tarun Khanna committee.
2. Increasing public spending in education to at least 6% of the GDP.
3. Tax exemption to institutes and enlisting tax exemption to individuals for higher education as a separate section in the IT Act.
4. Leveraging technology further, and increasing the exposure of students with global best practices.
5. Allowing foreign universities to open either standalone campuses, or in collaboration with domestic universities.
6. Devising better minimum standards for universities, revamping the regulators and strengthening the oversight.

India, if it has to reap the demographic dividend, needs to improve its higher education statistics by a substantial measure. Only then will it become the knowledge capital of the world, and be able to provide skilled workforce to the increasingly ageing world.


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