Friday, January 3, 2014

Higher Education: A Macro View

Total Unit Subgroup 2001 2011
Literacy rate (age 7+) Per cent Persons 64.84 72.99
Literacy rate (age 7+) Per cent Males 75.26 80.89
Literacy rate (age 7+) Per cent Females 53.67 64.64

Literacy Rate, 7+ years. (% of the Total Population in the State)
Kerala: 94%
Madhya Pradesh: 69.32%
Uttar Pradesh: 67.68%
Andhra Pradesh: 65.38%
Bihar: 61%

Higher Education In India: Challenges and Concerns

As per ILO, India has 116 million people in the age group r 20-24 years (China has 94 million).
By 2020, average age will be 29 years.
We have 60% of people in the age group of 15-59 years (demographic dividend).
68.8% of Indian population lives in rural areas.

The dropout out rate after school in high in rural areas. Also, rural areas have low Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) in Higher Education as compared to urban areas. Average GER across States in India is nearly 18% (2012). The GER figures for SCs, STs, OBCs, Muslims and Women lie below the National average. In rural areas, the situation is even more adverse.

Also note that, 94% of students are enrolled to States Higher Education Institutions. Only 6% are enrolled to Central Institutions of Higher learning. The Central funding is highly skewed [* figures will be added later].

The UGC is the apex body to grant funds to the institutions of Higher education but it is constrained to allocate funds only to certain institutes which fulfil some criterion. This leaves many institutions crippled. Out of total 623 Universities and 33, 093 colleges only 171 universities and 6,417 colleges are eligible for grants from the UGC. There is one more issue of addressing the needs of such a large pool of universities and colleges through one body. This problems calls for creation of more such bodies and including more and more colleges and universities in the umbrella of central funds, so as to improve the capacity and infrastructure.

The State Universities raise funds through the institutions affiliated to them. The funds are raised in the forms of affiliation fees and examination fees. The universities have the burden of conducting examinations, setting curriculum and proving degrees. In such a situation, the administrative burden leaves the universities with less resources and time to reform education. The same curriculum is circulated to all the affiliated institution and there is less scope of keeping up with the global best practices. This is the main reason behind the poor show of Indian Higher Education institutes in the world rankings, with not even one college or university making up to the top 20 list. The administrative burden on the universities, need to be removed.

Number of research papers and patent claims from Indian researchers has been falling. India's share in world research stood at only 2.2% in 2007. Indian's global share of scientific publications stands at 3.5%. Number of PhDs that India produces annually is half that of the USA.

Affiliated institutes many a times higher hire teachers on ad-hoc basis. Many a times the salaries are not paid in time. This takes away the incentive for quality teaching. In such a scenario the students are the direct victims. Though Higher Education is the State subject, but if the lives of the students is affected because of lack of funds and administrative hurdles, ultimately the country is affected. To address such problems, there is a need of standardization of quality of education

There is a mechanism currently of granting accreditation to the institution through NAAC and through NBA to their programmes. But so far the institutions have not shown enough zeal to seek accreditations. Out of 612 eligible universities only 171 and out of 22, 500 eligible colleges only 452 have applied for such accreditations so far (2011 - 12 figures).

Then there is another issue of employability of Indian graduates and employer satisfaction. Both are low as per survey (not citing any source for the time being).

Another side of the story is that the central government released Rs. 22, 891 crore for Higher Education from 2007- 12 out of which the States could spend only, Rs. 7, 656. This point to the bottle necks in the system. To reform the education system we don’t just need to flood the States with funds but we need to address the issues fund utilization. Funds can be utilised only if there is a basic infrastructure available at the grass-root level. The bureaucratic control and political influence in the matters of Universities hampers reforms. On one hand there is a need of making the universities immune from external influences, on the other hand there is a need of making the internal decision making process of the universities more democratic. All the stakeholders – students, teachers, parents should be involved. In the same line, there is one important issue of favrotism and ad-hocism in the process of recruitment of teachers and election of vice-chancellors or registrars. All such decisions affect the functioning of the universities to a great extent and thus the processes should be made more transparent and open to public scrutiny.

Of the total funds that go for improvement of Higher Education, less than 10% goes for capacity building. Most of the fund goes for meeting the salaries of the staff and teachers. This perpetuates the problem at hand. With ever growing population and expectations of each successive generation, this can lead to a crisis situation if not addressed. More and more funds need to be devolved and to make sure that the funds are used, mechanism should be made to make the implementations smooth. Also, any expansion in Higher Education should be concerted effort, maintaining a quality level throughout the country.

The fifth five year plan was focused towards creation of infrastructure. The sixth towards consolidation and quality. Whereas seventh talked about expanding research. Eighth gave emphasis on differential funding. Ninth talked about the use of technological advances in Higher Education. Tenth plan talked about quality and management of finances. 11th talked about making Higher Education accessible, inclusive, quality, expansion and consolidation on the same line the 12th plan is focussed on the issue of quality, excellence and expansion of Higher Education in the country.

All these plans get their tone and tenor from the Radhakrishnan Committee on University Education, 1948 - 49 or Kothari commission on Teacher Education, 1964 – 66. The recommendations of these commissions where incorporated in the National Policy of Education, 1986 (which was revised in 1988 and 1992). Since then several recommendations have been coming from several sections of society. As India grows the changing socio-cultural needs call for reforms and more flexibility at the institutional levels.

There is a crying need of administrative and regulatory reforms in the Higher Education sector.

The State Higher education institutions have meagre resources and lag behind the Central Universities and colleges. Most State governments have not given enough share to education. The State Universities and colleges get only a small fraction of GSDP. States of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and West Bengal have very low GERs and very low % spends on higher education. States such as Goa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerela, Tripura and Mizoram have shown high per capita expenditure on higher education with reasonable GERs as compared to national average.

There is not just a need of addressing the present problems but also of expanding the spectrum of courses that and higher education institute provides to its students so that the potentials of the student can be fully tapped.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Rastria Madhyamic Shiksha Abhiayan are focused on primary and secondary education. The Rashtriya Uchchhatar Shiksha Abhiyan is aimed at strategic interventions of the State in Higher Education to address some of the aforementioned issues.


I have not talked about the Private investment in Higher Education and RUSA here. Also, I did not talk about different fields of higher education separately here (viz. Engineering, Medicine, Law, Mass Communication etc). In future articles we can talk about specific issues.

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