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India’s higher education revolution?

By Dr. Anand Kulkarni

The Modi Government’s “200 Days: New Vision New Approach” released earlier this year laid down some important achievements in human resource management, and markers for the future, including especially for higher education. In essence it calls for an overhaul of the anachronistic tertiary education system that has evolved over many decades, marked by concern over quality and access, lack of autonomy for Institutions, the absence of a research eco-system, mismatch between tertiary delivery and skill needs of industry as well as concerns over the absence of Indian institutions in the upper reaches of International University Rankings.

For example, despite rapid growth in the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in recent years and the explosion of private providers, India’s GER when taking into account the vocational sector is around 24%, in comparison with China (26%), and well short of developed countries such as Germany (61.7 %), Australia (86.3%) and the U.S (94.2%) (UNESCO). In terms of International rankings, which increasingly drive student and staff decision making about where to learn, teach and undertake research, India has 10 ranked Institutions in the top 700+ (compared to China 30) in the QS rankings, 17 in the top 800 according to the Times Higher Education Ranking (compared to China 37) and 1 in the top 500 under the Shanghai Jiao Tong Ranking scheme compared to 44 in China. Clearly there is much work to do in India in building quality, reputation and International standing.

The Government’s 200 day review and forward outlook (which to be sure builds on initiatives underway) can be divided into critical themes:

  • Connectivity to encourage linkages between education bodies and industry, through an Education Skills Council and Centres of Applied Excellence (Kaushal Kendras), so that skills development meets the needs of industry and connectivity in the sense of leveraging Information and communications technology to enhance pedagogy and learning experiences;
  • Access through investments in establishing 19 new Institutions, and to expand online delivery to increase the GER;
  • Quality enhancements via investments in teacher training, consolidation of the National Skills Qualification Framework, and mandatory accreditation of institutions;
  • Flexibility to enhance mobility within the vocational education system and between the vocational and higher education systems through the “Skills Assessment Matrix for Vocational Advancement of Youth (SAMVAY)”, and the introduction of a Bachelor of Vocational Studies, among other things;
  • Evidence base including greater emphasis on performance and outcomes, data collection and analysis and the establishment of “Know your College” portal to help students make informed judgements about which College to attend;
  • Internationalisation through reaching out to scholars abroad via the Global Initiative for Academic Network (GIAN);
  • Solutions focus by orienting Institutional research and technology development activity to address critical challenges in areas such as health care, urban design, water management, environment and so on via the “Imprint India” program; and
  • Addressing Grass Roots needs by enabling educations institutes to “adopt” villages and develop and diffuse appropriate technologies for sustainable development in rural India.

These ambitious goals and activities still give rise to a number of lingering questions:

  • How realistic is India’s goal of GER of 30% by 2020?
  • Will enough skilled jobs be created to match the growth of the labour force?
  • How can commercial outcomes from research best be facilitated?
  • How can a shift to a more entrepreneurial culture in institutions take hold?
  • Is it possible for India to become attractive for foreign students to learn and research?
  • Is India’s approach to tertiary education still somewhat focussed on “Bricks and Mortar” Institutions?


Academic Ranking of World Universities (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) 2015 www.shanghairankings.com

Government of India: Ministry of Human Resources and Development 2015 “200 Days: New Vision New Approach”.

QS World University Rankings 2015-2016 www.topuniversities.com

Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016 www.timeshighereducation.com

UNESCO Higher Education Statistics 2015 www.uis.unesco.org

Dr Anand Kulkarni is Senior Manager, Planning and Research, at RMIT University, Australia

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