NEW DELHI: India has the third-largest higher educational system in the world. In 2016, there were 799 universities and 39,071 colleges spread across the country. The growth of higher education in India over a little more than half a century has been even more staggering. Between 1950 and 2014, the number of universities in India increased by 34 times.
This quantitative explosion in higher education institutions has not been matched by the quality of the education they provide. To become such a leader, India needs to develop a world class higher education system. Two years ago, the Narendra Modi administration attempted to put some focus on quality in higher education with its introduction of draft regulations for a new initiative called the UGC (Declaration of Government Educational Institutions as World Class Institutions) Guidelines, 2016. By 2018, when the first six institutions were named under this initiative, they were designated as Institutions of Eminence as opposed to world class institutions. This is to elevate the status of these institutions. But enhancing the capacity of a few institutions, thus possibly enabling them to be rated a little higher in the world rankings of higher education institutions, does nothing for the many.
That’s not to say that India does not need world class institutions of higher education. India needs a world class higher education system. It is one where the student is the focus rather than the institution. It comprises certified and caring institutions that have the resources required and the core mission of ensuring that students/customers acquire the knowledge/skills/abilities and dispositions that they need to achieve their individual goals and to maximise their contribution to society. The current system has been almost exactly the opposite of that. The emphasis has been on a few institutions and individuals rather than embracing and addressing the needs of the whole.
There are many steps that must be taken to change this. They include:
– Increase public financing: The federal and state governments currently provide limited funding for higher education. As a result, over 70 per cent of the higher education institutions are operated by the private sector. These institutions are not well regulated and are of highly variable quality. Public sector financing could be used to support existing public institutions and to