Higher Education in India

By Tara Panjwani

UK India Business Council's Tara Panjwani takes a closer look at India's ever-growing higher education sector

These are challenging and exciting times for higher education in India.

The challenge, basically, is how to meet demand for university places and for graduates with the skills and knowledge for the 21st century economy. The excitement is the changes taking place within the sector, and the emerging opportunities for UK universities.

The last 30 years have seen a proliferation of private educational institutions and a growth in the number of national Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), along with other state level institutions. However, the growing youth population and a steady expansion of the enrolment ratio from 6% in 1983 to 23% in 2016 means challenges remain. These include:

The unmet demand for higher education

• By 2030, India will have the largest number of people of college-going age – a staggering 140 million. Currently 736 universities educate 28.6 million students, so India will need at least another 1500 institutions to accommodate this huge influx of students.

Despite strong growth in enrolment, India’s participation in higher education at 23% is still low when compared to 26% in China, 36% in Brazil and nearly 50% in the UK. The Indian government have now set a goal to increase the gross enrolment ratio to 30% by 2020.

The low quality of teaching and learning

• The majority of Indian colleges and universities continue to be hampered by issues of quality across the spectrum – a chronic shortage of qualified faculty, mediocre levels of teaching, outdated and rigid curricula, poor governance, lack of accountability and quality assurance, and a needless separation of research, teaching and vocational skills training. The situation is exacerbated by unequal geographic and social access to education, low levels of industry-academia engagement, and deeply ingrained negative perceptions towards pursuing vocational skills as a career.

Unemployability of graduates

• Quality of higher education delivery is uneven across India. There is a shortage of qualified faculty, a counter-productive separation of teaching, research and practical vocational skills, and the curriculum is too often not geared towards what today’s (and tomorrow’s) employers are seeking.

As a result, too many graduates are ill-equipped to meet the challenges of the future. Of the one million young people who enter the labour market every month, less than 25% are considered are considered employable as per the National Employability Report in 2013-2014.

India’s regulatory landscape

• There are restrictions on how foreign universities can operate in India, for example they cannot set-up campuses and they are limited in how they can partner with Indian institutions. Foreign faculty staff are also not allowed to take up full-time positions at Indian higher education institutions.

To address these challenges, the Indian government is putting in place measures to transform higher education in the country in a way that balances the trinity of cost, quality, and scale, while delivering the employment outcomes that young people and employers need.

At the same time, Prime Minister Modi has set the ambitious goal of making India a world class education hub and a knowledge superpower.

To this end, the government is drafting a new education policy that puts internationalisation, innovation, and international standards of quality at the heart of its agenda.

This opens exciting new opportunities for UK higher education institutions to meet India’s demands for high-quality teaching, research, and technology. Given India’s quest for internationalisation and appetite for collaboration, UK universities are ideally positioned to collaborate with Indian Institutes to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes.

Until quite recently, most UK universities focused primarily on student recruitment with India. However, the new opportunities in India have triggered a desire to forge deeper and more meaningful links with Indian institutes and with Indian corporates.

This collaboration could take the following forms:

• Joint degree programmes with Indian universities;
• PhD projects with research intensive organisations;
• Research collaborations in STEM;
• Digital learning technologies which can take the form of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and blended learning programmes;
• Twinning arrangements – teaming up with overseas institutions to offer degrees. Usually twinning programmes enable the students to spend a period of time studying at the campus of the foreign partner;
• Business consultancy to Indian universities;
• Faculty and student exchange;
• Industry engagement (including management training for executives, internship agreements, and leadership training);
• Enterprise education, entrepreneurship, and linking HE with vocational skills training; and
• Carefully targeted student recruitment by establishing partnerships with employers in the UK (particularly Indian-HQ’d employers)

There is already considerably UK-India higher education collaboration with local partners, for example:

Lancaster University with the JD Goenka Institute
Imperial College Business School with the BML Munjal University
London School of Business with Indian School of Business (together with Kellogg and Wharton)
• Indian School of Design and Innovation with WPP and Parsons
Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Amity University

However, there is much more that can be done to leverage the untapped potential.

Our international competitors are arguably ahead of the UK – particularly in the area of research outreach. UK institutions are advised not to wait for legislation from the centre, but to be flexible and creative, and take a long-term view to building closer, multi-dimensional relationships with Indian higher education stakeholders, especially private universities and colleges.

The private sector, which currently accounts for 59% of all tertiary enrolment, continues to grow rapidly, and is expected to play a significant role in the future expansion of higher education in India. It is important, though, to find the right partner. Not all private sector universities are equal.

Looking to the medium term, digital learning technologies will be the catalyst for transforming the Indian higher education landscape and meeting the expanding future student demand.

With India on the cusp of an education revolution, UK universities need to be engaging now to make sure they are an integral part of the India story.

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