Education satisfies human needs, desires and aspirations. It empowers people by providing necessary knowledge and equipping them with requisite skills. The economic value of education is well-acknowledged. It is widely demonstrated that higher education contributes to the economic growth of a nation and the welfare of people. Moreover, research conducted in higher education institutions (HEIs) conduces to the technological development of a nation and the productivity of people. Higher education also adds a significant value to the social mobility of people. It creates rich human capital. Moreover, it has immense intrinsic ends. People all over the world invest in a big way in higher education to increase their employability and earning capacity. Investment in education is as beneficial as or even better than the investment in physical or financial capital. In the knowledge society, the importance of higher education is paramount. Further, the knowledge society necessitates the continuous upgradation of higher order thinking skills of people and innovation in organisations. Human capital or competencies are the defining characteristics of a knowledge society. An industrial society does take some time to transit into a knowledge society and requires substantial investment, both public and household.
International Higher Education Landscape
Most people in developed countries are educated in the HEIs. Developed countries have a large number of the HEIs, many of which are committed to research and innovation. They’ve a huge pool of highly trained researchers, scientists and technocrats. In addition, there’re numerous knowledge enterprises, providing knowledge workers suitable jobs and further developing them. Emerging economies, like China and India, are growing their higher education fast to achieve economic growth and development. China has done commendably well. However, India is at least four decades behind developed countries in higher education.
The developed countries on an average spend more than 6% of their GDP on education. The United States invests 4% of its GDP on higher education, while China invests 4.3% of its GDP. The European Union spent 6.2% of its GDP on higher education through public and private sources in 2009[i]. In contrast, India spent only 1.22% (in the year 2010-11) of its GDP on higher education[ii].
The participation of youth in higher education is measured in terms of Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER). It is the percentage between the age group of 18-23 years of total population. The GER of the United States is 70%, while it is 27% for China. India’s GER is 18.8%. Thus, the United States has reached the universal higher education phase. China has entered the phase of mass higher education. On the other hand, India is transiting from the elite higher education phase to the mass higher education phase.
A project sponsored by Universitas 21 and conducted by University of Melbourne[iii], 2013, on the ranking of National Higher Education Systems, studied 22 desirable attributes clubbed into four categories, i.e., resources, environment, connectivity and output. It researched in total 50 countries. Overall, the United States and Sweden were ranked number 1 and 2, respectively. India was ranked 41st on resources, 45th on environment, 48th on connectivity and 45th on output. Overall, India was ranked 49th, just before Indonesia.
Quality of human capital is an important contributor of economic growth. South Korea has highly skilled personnel in its labour force (50%). On the other hand, its proportion is 16%, 14%, 7% and 6.5% for Brazil, Russia, India and China[iv], respectively.
A robust indicator of effectiveness of higher education is student-faculty ratio. Sweden has a student-faculty ratio of 9.5, China 16.8, while it is 24 for India. It implies that India has a lot to catch up in the quantity of teachers in higher education.
Thus, the international higher education scenario shows that developed countries have reached the mass higher education phase. Developing countries are in a race to catch up with them. They’ve to invest substantial resources to achieve it. They’ve to train and develop their knowledge workers over a long period of time to be at par with developed countries.
Indian Higher Education Landscape
Demographic Dividend: India has experienced demographic dividend in past few decades due to better public health. The swelling population that was considered a bane has now emerged as a boon. Population growth is positively related to the socio-economic growth of a country. India’s proportion of young population to the total population is significantly large. The ratio of working population (15-64 years) to non-working population is in India’s favour.
In July 2013, the population of India was 124 crores. It is more than 17% of world population. The current population growth rate is 1.53% per annum. The population is likely to reach 1.53 billion by 2030. Literary rate of India was 74% in 2011. More than 50% current Indian population is under the age of 25 years. In 2030, average age will be 40 years, 33 years and 29 years for the United States, China and India, respectively. By 2020, India will have a young population of 116 million (Age group 20-24 years) against a population of 94 million in China. In the next 20 years, the labour force is likely to go down by 4% in the industrialised world and 5% in China. However, it will go up to 32% in India[v]. It is evident that India would remain a young country in the near future. It’s, therefore, important that the nation takes an advantage of its demographic dividend. The emerging demographic dividend can’t be taken for granted. The demographic dividend has to be leveraged by educating and skilling young people. Otherwise, demographic dividend can turn into a demographic disaster.
Development of Higher Education in India: At the time of independence, India had a humble higher education. There were 26 universities and 695 colleges. However, the scenario is dramatically different today. In 2012-13, she’s 700 universities and 35,539 colleges[vi]. A study of growth of higher education shows that there were two tipping points: 1991 and 2001. Basically, liberalisation led to a massive increase in the number of higher education institutions. In 2005-2006, the GER was 11% that increased to 18.8% in 2012-13. The higher education sector size in 2008 was US$20 bn and it reached US$ 31.47 bn in 2012[vii]. Different Indian states have wide variations in the GER. The range is between 9% (Assam) to 49% (Delhi). At present, India has the third largest enrolment of students in higher education. It’s an enrolment CGAR of 6.2% in the last two decades. The Planning Commission plans to increase the GER to 30% by 2020. It’s an ambitious target and sound policies are required to realise it.
In India, the percentage of students passing out from higher secondary education is increasing. Likewise, there’s a consistent increase in enrolment in higher education. Arts, commence/management and science are disciplines with maximum enrolments. They are followed by engineering and medicine. However, the first preference of students is a professional course.
Various higher educational institutions can be divided into three major categories: central institutions, state institutions and private institutions. Before liberalisation, most students were studying in state institutions. After a massive increase in private institutions that basically provide technical education, the pendulum has swung in favour of private institutions. Today 2.6% students are studying in central institutions, while 38.5% students are studying in state institutions. A whopping 58.9% number of students are studying in private institutions.
Higher education landscape in India is bright. The GER is growing continuously, though it’s way behind the GER of developed countries. Professional education is preferred by students as it leads to better employability. The most significant trend is the emergence of private education, especially in professional education field.
Private Higher Education
As state governments have been constrained for funds, they’ve allowed and encouraged the establishment of private universities and colleges with a view to increase access to higher education. It has been felt that government efforts in higher education have to be complemented and supplemented by private sector initiatives. Recently, household spending on higher education has increased and surpassed government spending. In real terms, India spends almost 3% of GDP on higher education (1.2% from government sources and 1.8% from private sources). It is more than the United States that spends around 2.6% on higher education. However, the total quantum spent on education is lesser in comparison to developed countries.
Today, private institutions have left government institutions behind in student enrolment. By the end of 11th Five Year Plan, the share of private institutions in higher enrolment reached 58.9%. During the 11th Five Year Plan, 98 private state universities, 17 private deemed universities, and 7,818 private colleges were established. The 12th Five Year Plan envisages a preeminent role for private sector in higher education. It even suggests allowing the operations of for-private higher education institutions for pragmatic consideration.
The Narayan Murthy Committee on higher education proposes that the government must invite private sector to meet the swelling demand of higher education. The outlay for higher education is so tall that the government can’t meet it alone. One recommendation of the Committee is to upgrade 75 top-of-the-class universities. The Committee further recommends that the government should allot land free of cost on a lease for 999 years. Another important suggestion is to create clusters where universities, research organisations and business organisations can work together for knowledge creation and innovation. Another significant proposal is to promote entrepreneurship among students. Skill development is also recommended at postgraduate and doctoral level programmes.
Most private universities are in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. They’ve jurisdictional limitations. They can’t operate beyond their state geography. Further, they can’t affiliate any institution. In many states, they can’t fix their fees or regulate their admissions. They’ve some academic autonomy. Thus, it’s half-baked. They don’t resemble their Indian state government counterparts. Nor they look like their western peers.
Professional education, such as engineering, medicine, architecture, pharmacy, management and law, has emerged as the flagship education in the last two decades. Most of the new private institutions are in the field of professional education. As private educational institutions depend primarily on tuition, they’re concerned with the return on investment for their students. Of course, there’s a greater return on professional education than liberal arts and science education. Undoubtedly, employability is a watchword for private educational institutions.
The mass influx of private universities has also created a quality problem. Not all private institutions are able to provide quality education and fail to follow the high standards of education. Some of them even indulge in the commercialisation of education. They’ve adopted a mercenary approach over a missionary approach. They suffer from poor governance and unprofessional management. However, a few private universities are exemplary in their provision of higher education and contribution to the society.
Strong presence of private sector in the higher education field is a fact of life. It has provided more choices to students and created competition among higher education institutions. However, many private higher education institutions have de facto gone for the commercialisation of education. Non-profit private universities also have their governance and management challenges that they need to address on a priority basis. Nonetheless, it’s critical to realise that over-regulation of higher education can’t stop profiteering institutions, but it can stunt the growth of genuine non-profit institution.
Research and Innovation in Higher Education
Research and innovation are the essential components of the university education system. The technological advances and productivity are stimulated by research and innovation activities conducted in universities. Developed countries have highly benefitted from research and innovation taking place in their universities. Countries like Brazil, Russia, Taiwan and South Korea have also shown that university based research and innovation can play a critical role in industrial growth and technological advancement. Interestingly, Brazil, Russia, India and South Korea are increasingly impacting the research landscape[viii]. Unfortunately, the performance of Indian universities in research and innovation has not been encouraging.
The western world has been a leader in research-based education. The United States is the undisputed leader. The US today produces 20.3% of total PhDs in the world. China has picked up quite fast. It matches the United in the production of research articles and PhDs. It produces 20.1% of all PhDs. In contrast, India produces only 2.2% of total PhDs. There are several reasons behind such poor performance of India in the field of research and innovation. As India focussed little on globalisation during the pre-liberalisation era, it didn’t concentrate on research. Both government and industry invested a pittance in research and development. After the post-liberalisation era, there was some spurt in funding for science research, but it was probably too little and too late. India lags behind countries, like Russia and South Korea. Further, we believed in the Russian model of non-university based research laboratories. Universities were more for teaching than for research. As a result, India’s publications and patents are far smaller than many emerging economies. It’s so widely known that it doesn’t require further elaboration.
Universities yield both public and private good. Learning and development of students leads to the creation of both public and private good. Educated youth contribute to societal prosperity and development. They, however, also personally benefit from their education. However, research and innovation directly add to the public good. Thus, funding for research purposes is the responsibility of the state. If the government wishes to promote research productivity in the country, it has to liberally fund research in both public and private universities. The funding has to be outcome based. Those universities which are more productive should be given higher funding, irrespective of the nature of ownership. Of course, they can also mobilise additional research funds from business organisations and other sources.
In the 12th Five Year Plan has earmarked greater amount of fund for research in the university system. However, it isn’t clear how the conduct of research in private universities shall be encouraged. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has not clarified its facilitative role in research funding to private universities. Unless these universities receive research grants from different government agencies for research and for creating research infrastructure, they would not be able to quality research.
Research and innovation are the hallmarks of great universities. The reputed HEIs heavily invest in research and are known by leading researchers they’ve on their campuses. The research funding in India is scant. There’s also an ambiguous commitment to research and innovation from educational leaders. Although there’s an apparent increase in research productivity, it must accelerate. Appropriate research ecosystem is a sine qua non for the effectiveness and excellence of researchers.
Regulatory Framework of Higher Education
Regulatory framework for higher education is complex, ambiguous and sometimes even conflicting. Both central and state governments regulate and control higher education as education is in the concurrent list of the Indian Constitution. The Indian Constitution mandates that every citizen has the right to establish an educational institution. However, education can’t be used for commercialisation or profiteering purpose. It’s out of bound for business. The Supreme Court judgements delivered in 2002, 2005 and 2007 further confirmed the resolve of the state that the core formal education is not meant for “the for-profit education” in India.
The central government promulgates educational laws from time to time. It also regulates HEIs through the UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). In addition, it is indirectly involved with the conduct of entrance examinations through its different bodies, such as the CBSE, the MCI, and the AICTE. Almost 11 education related bills are hanging fire in the Parliament. The nature and impact of regulation would become much clearer once these bills are passed.
Besides central and state governments, different regulatory bodies control the conduct and operations of different programmes. For example, the Bar Council of India (BCI) is the regulatory body for law education. Similarly, the Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) regulates the pharmacy education. The AICTE is both the regulatory and recommendatory body for the technology and management education.
Challenges before Higher Education
Higher education in India is faced with a host of challenges and problems. In the 12th Five Year Plan, they’re described in terms of expansion, equity and excellence. While the first two challenges are national level challenges, excellence is basically an institution level challenge. Expansion is related to the increase in seats in higher education in the different parts of the country. Equity implies access to higher education for the different sections of the society, such as SC, ST, OBC, rural youth and female students. Finally, excellence is about the quality of education. It consists of issues like learner-centric approach, teaching-research synergy focus, faculty development, internationalisation and institutional networking. These challenges are generally considered to be complementary. But they can sometimes be contradictory.
The biggest challenge before the HEIs is the employability of their students. The majority of students join an educational institution to develop their careers. Thus, the predominant objective of an HEI is ensuring the employability of its students. A study by McKinsey[ix] amply shows that there’s a wide gap between education and employment. The HEIs aren’t able to develop the competencies required by the industry. There’s a lack of practical knowledge among university graduates. The study further reveals that the educational providers think that they’re developing the requisite skills, but the recruiters and students think that the reality is otherwise. It implies that the objectives of the institution and the industry aren’t fully integrated. It is indeed a serious issue. Without high employability potential, the HEIs are mere degree mills. The HEI, therefore, has to critically reflect at its orientation and operations to meet its real objective, i.e., employability.
Another related daunting task for the HEIs is industry involvement. If the main purpose of higher education is employability, it’s to be hinged with industry requirements. Unless an institution is closely involved with industry, it can’t be focussed on industry needs. The institution has to be industry-centric. Self-orientation and introversion are the sure path to irrelevance and redundancy. The industry has to be involved in everything from curriculum design to course development to instructional delivery to student assessment. Industry professionals need to be involved in mentoring students and setting the research agenda for institutions.
The future economic growth can’t ensure jobs in the formal sector for all graduating students. Almost 47% graduating students will be unemployed in 2020 because of the lack of job opportunities. The answer to this disturbing issue is the development of entrepreneurship among students so that they only not support themselves but also create jobs for others. Today entrepreneurship training is placed at the sideline of most HEIs. It’s to change in the national interest. Entrepreneurship education is a must for each and every student. Along with basic entrepreneurial education, students should be informed about the business opportunities in different industry sectors.
Development of employability and entrepreneurship is possible when students are imparted high quality education by high quality professors. There’s no way low quality professionals can groom high quality students. Unfortunately, higher education suffers from both the poor quantity and quality of faculty. There’s not sufficient numbers of qualified professors. Those who are available are less productive and effective by international standards. Even the IITs and IIMs are short by 40% faculty members. Further, the shortage is severe at senior levels. As most HEIs have young faculty with limited exposure, they suffer from the global standards of competencies. Both teaching and research skills have a huge scope for improvement among faculty.
Thus, the next challenge before an HEI is the attraction, development and utilisation of competent faculty. Focus on faculty development, research and development and skill upgradation are enumerated as the chief challenges for higher education by the present Education Minister[x]. The stress on content in higher education is high. Faculty are generally not trained in the learning-teaching processes. They don’t understand the principles and practices of active learning. Most instructors are a product of the conventional instruction system. So, they adopt the traditional chalk and talk method. Lack of active learning in institutions weakens the learning of students. Conventional pedagogy helps students develop lower order thinking skills. But they fail to inculcate higher order thinking skills. They, thus, lag behind their global counterparts. Further, faculty don’t devote sufficient time on student mentoring and development. They don’t see it an important part of their role set. Lest not forget that the purpose of education is not only learning but also the development of a student.
Sadly, the HEIs haven’t developed requisite structures and systems to develop faculty competencies. The utilisation of faculty for high quality instruction and research is a major challenge. Since most HEIs were in the government sector, they inherited government like performance management system, which was ineffective and retrograde. The productivity and effectiveness of faculty aren’t systematically measured in the government system. As a consequence, the faculty management processes are haphazard and bureaucratic. Full job security and poor performance management system result in lower faculty effectiveness. Faculty aren’t incentivised to excel, nor are they penalised for unsatisfactory performance. The higher education system at best fails to meet the new demands and expectations from different stakeholders. In some institutions, promotion can be given on the basis seniority and social background. Thus, performance management system is not totally merit-based.
Most teachers have not been trained as full-time researchers. They don’t undergo the rigorous training in research and publications. The standards prescribed by the UGC for PhD work were lax till recently. The working teachers needed a PhD degree so that they could grow in their career. They mostly went to the distance mode PhD programme. They were naturally not in frequent touch with their guides. They didn’t experience advanced subject training in exploring the emerging frontiers of knowledge, defining research problems, methodology and writing. Thus, they adopted an imitation strategy rather than an innovation strategy. They copied the existing works, resulting in the lack of originality and ingenuity. There’re rampant cases of plagiarism and reproduction in several scholarly publications.
Internationalisation and international networking are the other important concerns of the HEIs. We live in a global village. Therefore, educational standards have to be global in nature. Student competencies have to be global. They should be able to work in any part of the world. They should acquire cutting-edge knowledge and skills. In addition, they should be familiar with most recent theoretical, applied and practical developments. Further, students need to network with global peers to get a rich exposure to the global realities. Students also aspire to get global placements. Institutions have to develop infrastructure and facilities so that they are able to provide them with global placements.
International networking has become a necessity for the HEIs. It can serve the purposes of student exchange, faculty development and joint research. Institutions follow one of the two models of international networking: deep relationship model and wide relationship model. In the former model, the HEIs develop relationships with a limited number of foreign institutions, but it is intense, active and comprehensive. In contrast, in the latter model, the HEIs have relationships with many institutions. These relationships are thin, and often sporadic.
Last but not the least infrastructure is a big issue, requiring immediate attention. Most institutions are small and do not have wherewithal to invest in good infrastructure. They lack adequate physical infrastructure, labs, classrooms, libraries, electronic resources, sports facilities and ICT facilities. They don’t have sufficient study group areas and conference halls. The Indian HEIs are generally smaller on physical and financial dimensions than their American and Chinese counterparts. Thus, they don’t have the economy of scale. They, thus, suffer on both efficiency and effectiveness counts.
Anup K. Singh, Ph.D.
The images are not mine.
[ii] University Grants Commission statistics, 2013
[iii] U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems, 2013
[v] Valedictory address by Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for HRD,
4th Indian Management Conclave, 3rd August, New Delhi
[vii] Indian Higher Education Sector by Deloitte, 2012
[viii] Building BRICKS: Exploring the global research and innovation impact of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea (February, 2013) by Jonathan Adams, David Pendlebury, & Bob Stembridge, Thomson Reuters
[x] Quality is a weak area by Mr. P. Raju, Edu Tech, June 2013