Transforming Higher Education In India: Newer Imperatives To Increase Relevance Of Higher Education In Today's World

The growth and scope for higher education and technical education in the country have the potential to make this sector one of the most innovative and market-responsive domains.

The higher education space in India has never been more robust and diverse as it stands today. According to some reports, the higher education system in the country is the third-largest in the world when the number of students is considered. The higher education sector has especially witnessed massive growth since 2001, with the country having more than 993 universities and 39,931 colleges along with 10,725 stand-alone institutions at present. (As per a report of the All India Survey on Higher Education, MHRD 2018-19). The growth and scope for higher education and technical education in the country have the potential to make this sector one of the most innovative and market-responsive domains.  

The paradox, as per present realities, however, paints a different picture. A recent report published by the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) puts the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education as a dismal 26.3 per cent for 2018-2019. While the figure itself isn’t strong, further disaggregation of the data into gender, caste divisions and other inequities make it even bleaker. However, the greatest issue that plagues higher education in India is not its GER alone. 

Despite the potential and numerous institutions, our higher education system has been unable to ensure employability for its students. The National Employability Report for Engineers, 2019 indicates that 80 per cent of engineers trained in India continue to be unemployable for available jobs. This plagues other disciplines as well, which is unsurprising when we consider two key factors. The first is the fact that most of the emphasis within higher education in the country is towards ‘academic’ or the perceived learning of what is considered essential, as opposed to focus on learning that is based on praxis. To add to this, teachers that impart higher education in the country are almost all academics themselves and not practitioners of the discipline.

The above factors affect directly the ability of students to be able to respond to emergences as professionals and also dominates pedagogic approach and tools. Curricula and its methods, in most institutions of higher education, continue to remain unchanged and archaic, leading to relevant industries remaining hesitant to engage and retain such students. More importantly, this dated pedagogic approach views students merely as ‘receivers’ of knowledge and learning, rather than as co-creators and innovators.  

As part of a team that has been delving in higher education for a few years now, we are also privy to the fact that for a large number of individuals that enrol in the domain, the expected outcome remains a degree. The cruciality of learning, the journey itself, reflective spaces within the discipline and the willingness to immerse themselves in strengthening, challenging or reinventing the discipline remains missing. A lot of the students one has mentored continue to be lost and confused even after pursuing these degrees, with none of their 'teachers' willing to mentor or guide them in the journey ahead. Unfortunately, degrees don’t create careers, mentors and advisors do. 

Interestingly, a large majority of the accredited institutions of higher education in India today do not play significant roles in strengthening the body of knowledge for the domain. The emphasis on rolling out educational programmes outweighs the need to create substantial research in the area, or in arriving at newer realms and untouched segments that can widen the space.  

And perhaps, one of the most intimidating aspects of higher education in the country is our reluctance to re-visit assessments. Not only does this affect GER ultimately, but a unidimensional approach towards assessments for students keeps them being slaves to rote learning, afraid of applying themselves. By using the same prism to assess a very diverse cohort of students (diverse contexts, interests and aspirations) we are simply cloning individuals without egging them onto innovations and analysis.  

For all of us in the higher education sector, regardless of private or government institutions, the present episteme and global challenges are calling out for a systematic overhaul. We need to break the shackles of the well-travelled road and dive deep into uncharted waters that will help this enormous higher education system to create learners who immerse themselves, apply themselves and become pioneers in their domains.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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