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3 steps to expand higher education in India

Higher education has given India access to the world economy. Now the Indian government is taking steps to give more students access to a college education. The goal now is to more than double the number of 18 - 23 year olds who enrol in higher education, from the current estimated 12 percent to 30 percent. According to the HRD Ministry, to achieve this goal, India will need to add more than 40,000 new universities and colleges in the coming decade.


Skilled labour: India’s asset

Studying in IndiaIndia owes its success in the global market to a growth in skilled labour. Unlike China, which depends on its manufacturing prowess, India’s main asset is human capital - most notably its increasing collection of scientists, technicians and engineers.

According to ICRIER New Delhi (Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations), India boasts of the largest pool of scientific and knowledge workers in the world. India’s higher education institutions graduate 400,000 engineers per year compared to 60,000 in the U.S.

To remain competitive, India must grow its pool of skilled workers by improving and expanding access to higher education. The venture firm Intelligence predicts that in order to support a 7 percent economic growth rate in the coming years, India’s gross enrollment ratio (GER) will need to rise to 20 percent by 2014. By 2020, the HRD wants nearly a third of the college-aged population to enroll in higher education. It’s an ambitious goal, but still well shy of the 55 to 60 percent enrollment rate that is common in developed countries.


Expand higher education for more opportunities

India’s bold ambitions call for India to triple its current fleet of universities and more than double its colleges to accommodate some 43 million more students. As the HRD ministry recognises, the central government cannot manage growth of this scale: "We will need another 800-900 universities and 40,000-45,000 colleges within the next 10 years. That’s not something the government can do on its own," said HRD officials.

The 3 strategies for expanding the Indian higher education system in the coming decades should focus on:

1. Encouraging partnerships with foreign universities
2. Promoting high-quality private Indian institutions
3. Improving access to education via distance and online learning

The hope is that deregulation and privatisation will have the same positive impact on higher education as economic liberalisation policies of the 1990s had on the economy as a whole.

The bottom line: More colleges and universities in India equals more opportunities for both Indian and non-Indian students to earn post-secondary degrees.


1.    Foreign universities

Foreign universities hold the key to increasing both the number and the quality of higher education institutions in India. In March 2010, the Indian government drafted legislation opening the door to foreign universities. The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, still pending approval by Parliament as of June 2012, will pave the way for foreign universities to establish independent campuses in India.

Foreign universities already have a presence in India, mostly in the form of research partnerships and dual degree and course programmes. Over 600 such institutions operate in the country today, a significant increase from the 144 foreign university partnerships active in 2000. These foreign players mostly hail from the UK, Canada and the U.S., and include big names like Duke University, Boston University and Schulich School of Business. In an effort to ensure the quality of these foreign programmes, the University Grants Commission recently introduced a new standard restricting partnerships to the 500 foreign institutions represented in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking or Shanghai Jiaotong ranking.

Both the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill and the recent UGC partnership regulations are designed to increase students’ access to high-quality post-secondary education in India.


2.    Private institutions

Private Indian universities, including for-profit and corporate sponsored institutions, are also part of India’s future plans to expand the higher education sector. The Planning Commission for the 12th five-year plan period beginning April 2012 announced plans to encourage private sector involvement in higher education, with a particular focus on bolstering technical programmes. Possible incentives include tax and other financial benefits, as well as government support for public-private partnerships. Studying in Private Indian Universities

Again, the challenge for the Indian government is to grow the quantity of private post-secondary programmes without sacrificing quality. Private universities already have a strong presence in India. A 2006 study by the National Knowledge Commission reported that a little over half of students enroll in unaided private higher education institutions, mostly in professional programmes. But many of these institutions suffer from uneven quality, operating outside the purview of government regulation or accreditation.

By bringing for-profit and corporate private institutions into the regulatory fold, the Indian government can help the private sector grow the number of colleges and universities while raising academic standards.

Improvements to public institutions

The Indian government also plans to grow the national system by allocating more funding to higher education and building new college and university campuses. Higher education funding stands at an estimated 0.6 percent of GDP (2009), significantly lower than the 1.5 percent recommended by the National Knowledge Commission. The government’s 2011-2012 budget increased higher education funding by a third, bringing the annual total to 130 billion rupees. Future budgets should bring further growth in funding to support new college campuses and expanded programmes in existing institutions. For example, the HRD Ministry plans to add almost 200,000 seats in engineering, 80,000 new seats in management and 2,200 seats in architecture courses in coming years.


3.    Distance education and online education
Online education in India
Finally, Indian institutions are exploring the use of online information and communication technology (ICT) to improve access to education. In addition to reaching a broader population of students, including those in remote rural areas, ICT reduces the cost of education.

The Indian government’s Distance Education Council sets and enforces academic standards of Open and Distance Learning programmes, publishing a list of recognised programmes and subject areas. Between 2000 and 2007, the number of institutions offering distance education doubled to 144. Among India’s online programmes is the National Programme on Technology-Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), created “to facilitate the competitiveness of Indian industry in the global markets through improving the quality and reach of engineering education.” Sponsored by the seven IITs and Indian Institute of Science, NPTEL currently offers 260 courses, with more than a 1000 new courses proposed in Phase 2. The vision is to eventually offer degrees or diplomas to students enrolled in this virtual university programme.


Conclusion

Together, these efforts to expand higher education in India stand to bring access to a new generation of college students in India. The country has already shown that it can dramatically improve college access. The number of colleges increased from 700 to 31,324 since 1950, taking the enrollment rate from 1 to 12 percent. Creative solutions like online courses and foreign university partnerships put India in a position to grow its higher education sector dramatically in the coming years.

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