Higher Education In India: Education Policy Provides Roadmap, Now We Need Govt & Private Sector To Invest On Priority

India is a young country and therefore needs significant investment in capacity for Higher Education, which is expected to be built in the private sector.

Education, particularly higher education, plays an important role in fostering growth, reducing poverty and bringing in shared prosperity. Currently, we have about 200 million students enrolled in higher education institutions in the world. As the youth population grows, we expect a continuous increase in demand for tertiary education. However, it is also being observed that many still do not have the relevant skills needed for integration into the labour market.  

India is a young country and therefore needs significant investment in capacity for Higher Education, which is expected to be built in the private sector.   

The situation is no different in India. 62 per cent of India’s population is in the working-age (15-59 years) and more than 54 per cent of the population is below 25 years of age. It is estimated that about 36.6 million students were enrolled in higher education with the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) of 25.8 per cent during 2017-18. 

Our education system is one of the largest in the world. The number of Institutes for Higher Learning has been expanding at a rapid rate as can be seen from the table below.  


Private and State universities account for about 53.1 per cent and 30.5 per cent of this increase, with the private universities now accounting for almost one-third of the total institutions in India, compared to less than 7 per cent in 2008. With a strategic push by the Government of India to liberalise the sector, the number of private universities is expected to double in the next five years to over 500 by 2023.  

By 2030 we will have close to 140 million people in the college-going age group and to meet this demand we will need at least additional 1,500 institutions by 2030.4 An increased demand for enrolment will imply that we will need an equally large investment in capacity for training teachers and researchers.  

India has many world-class teaching institutions but lacks research capability and the capacity 

It is now a received knowledge that India has many world-class teaching institutions at all levels (IITs, IIMs, Medical Colleges, Humanities Colleges, etc.), a vast majority of them were either set up prior to independence or in the 1950s and 60s. At the same time, India does poorly in research. No Indian University figures in the list of top 200 universities released by QS World University Rankings in 20205, the University of Delhi comes at 474. We do have IIT, Bombay coming at 152, followed by IIT, Delhi and the Indian Institute of Science at 182 and 184, respectively. 

The preface to the National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (2015) acknowledges this by calling out the paucity of a trained workforce and the non-employability of large sections of the conventionally educated youth. The reasons for this malaise are multifold a few of which are enumerated below:  

  • A chronic shortage of quality faculty, with nearly 30-40 per cent of the posts remaining unfilled at any point in time.  

  • Separation of research and teaching, and a lack of early-stage research experience, resulting in limited research output. Despite India producing the fourth-largest number of doctoral graduates in the world in 2014, only 1,500 articles were published in India. 

  • High Fragmentation of the higher education systems with too many silos and too much early specialization and streaming of students into disciplines. 

  • Lack of research at most universities and colleges and the absence of competitive peer-reviewed research funding.  

Draft Education Policy lays out the Roadmap for Capacity and Capability in Higher Education  

Considering the problems outlined above, the draft education policy lays out a roadmap for quality Institutes of Higher Education in India. As a first step, the policy has identified the following fundamental needs:  

  • Broad-based multidisciplinary education. 

  • Specialized knowledge with true disciplinary rigour. 

  • Engaging students and faculty with local communities to solve real-world problems. 

  • Developing abilities of independent, logical and scientific thinking, creativity, problem-solving and decision making. 

  • Generating capacity to build new knowledge and foster innovation. 

The recommendations of the draft policy seek to address/correct some of the lacuna in the current structure of institutes of Higher Education. The policy rightfully calls for the following: 

  • Moving towards a higher educational system consisting of large multidisciplinary universities and colleges. 

  • Moving towards a more liberal undergraduate education. 

  • Faculty and institutional autonomy. 

National Research Foundation will need a large consistent multi-year budget if it has to help increase India’s research output and its quality 

The most significant recommendation is the establishment of a National Research Foundation (NRF) which will grant competitive funding for research proposals across all disciplines. While it is necessary to have competition in granting funds for research, it is critical to encourage collaboration among researchers and institutions, which will allow India to scale up much faster. India needs to build deep research capability quickly, as we are a late starter in the research context and have not allocated enough public and private resources on research and development activity.  

The NRF will consist of four divisions – sciences, technology, social sciences and Arts and Humanities. In particular, India has a great opportunity to invest and lead the global social sciences research effort, given its diversity.  

NRF will be funded through an annual grant of Rs. 20,000 crores (0.1 per cent of the GDP) with the autonomy to set its own finances, governance, rules and statutes. The funding is expected to grow over the years. Its charter will include funding for the following proposals: 

  • Research projects to be conducted by a single principle investigator. 

  • Collaborative grants for inter and intra-institutional projects. 

  • Initial capacity building to push institutions that are already conducting research into a higher orbit. 

  • Well-envisioned consortia and conferences that are likely to move forward research in the country. 

  • Research facilities of national and international importance. 

The most important aspect called out in the policy is the need to create beneficial linkages among government, industry and researchers, which will help bridge the lacuna in our current efforts. 

The NEP brings to the fore solutions that can have a positive impact on our Higher Education systems, especially creating a scientific temper and innovation something, which has been sadly lacking over the years. NRF will play an important role in improving the quality of research and thereby teaching and it can do that only if it gets consistent funding at least for the next couple of decades. India spent about $65 billion on R&D during 2018, whereas China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) spent $499 billion in current PPP$, with the US topping the spending charts at $543 billion.10   

Building research and higher education capacity is a marathon and we do need the government and the private sector to invest at much higher rates than they have been done in the past. In India, we spent 0.60 per cent of GDP on R&D (2018) whereas China and the US spent 2.15 per cent (2017) and 2.79 per cent (2017), respectively.   

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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