Since independence, India as a developing nation is contentiously progressing in the education field. Although there have been a lot of challenges to the higher education system of India, but equally have a lot of opportunities to overcome these challenges and to make the higher education system much better.
It has now become an annual ritual in India to discuss the international rankings of higher education institutions (HEI) only when global ranking systems such as the coveted QS World University Rankings are announced.
While it is heartening to see that the number of Indian institutes among the top 1,000 globally has risen to 27 from 22 last year, and that the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, has moved up 31 places to emerge as the highest ranked Indian institute in the 2023 edition, there is no serious debate on the abysmal performance of Indian universities barring the Institutes of Eminence (IOE).
Challenges in Higher Education in India:
- Inadequate financial support provided by State governments to State HEIs: the financial support provided by State governments to State HEIs is far from adequate even though the number of under-graduate students is largest in State public universities (13,97,527) followed by State open universities (9,22,944) of the total students’ enrollment. State-sponsored HEIs barely manage to pay salaries and pensions.
- Enrolment: The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of India in higher education is only 15% which is quite low as compared to the developed as well as, other developing countries.
- Faculty: Faculty shortages and the inability of the state educational system to attract and retain well qualified teachers have been posing challenges to quality education for many years. The lackadaisical attitude we see in filling up faculty positions has further worsened the quality of teaching and research in HEIs.
- Step-motherly treatment to State-sponsored HEIs: the State-funded HEIs would not perform well in these rankings was a forgone conclusion. It is a consequence of the unequal and unfair system in the Indian higher education system, where State-sponsored HEIs are provided step-motherly treatment and positioned poorly vis-à-vis centrally funded institutions.
- Equity: There is no equity in GER among different sects of the society.
- Quality: Ensuring quality in higher education is amongst the foremost challenges being faced in India today. However, the Government is continuously focusing on quality education. A large number of colleges and universities in India are unable to meet the minimum requirements laid down by the UGC and our universities are not in a position to mark their place among the top universities of the world.
- Infrastructure: Poor infrastructure is another challenge to the higher education system of India. While the number of universities increased by almost 30.5% in 2019-20 compared to 2015-16, academic and administrative infrastructure has not been strengthened commensurate with this growth.
- Research and Innovation: there are very nominal scholars in our country whose writing is cited by famous western authors. There is inadequate focus on research in higher education institutes. Indian Higher education institutions are poorly connected to research centers.
- Structure of higher education: Management of Indian education faces challenges of overcentralisation, bureaucratic structures and lack of accountability, transparency, and professionalism. As a result of the increase in the number of affiliated colleges and students, the burden of administrative functions of universities has significantly increased and the core focus on academics and research is diluted.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and challenges in higher education in India:
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has envisaged all HEIs to become multidisciplinary institutions by 2040. The aim is to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education, including vocational education, from 26.3% in 2018 to 50% by 2035.
The NEP also aims to ensure that by 2030, there is at least one large multidisciplinary HEI in or near every district. This means that single-stream specialised institutions will eventually be phased out.
Multidisciplinary institutions vs single-stream specialised institutions
Prominent multidisciplinary universities such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, the University of Hyderabad, and Jamia Millia Islamia have slipped in the QS World University Rankings should compel national think tanks to revisit the NEP’s proposal in this regard.
A close study of the QS World University Rankings reveals that single-stream specialised HEIs such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and IISc have performed better than their multidisciplinary counterparts.
- A plan in the NEP for multidisciplinary education and research universities is also being contemplated in order to achieve the highest global standards in quality education. The idea of converting a specialised institution into a multi-faculty university does not seem to augur well for an economy driven by specialist professionals.
- Converting all HEIs into multidisciplinary institutions is not an idea that holds water given the unique conditions and demands in India. No study or data support the idea of transforming specialised institutions into multidisciplinary/multi-faculty universities either. A ‘one size fits all’ approach may not be of help to India.
The need of the hour is to build and develop our higher education system while taking into account Indian conditions and market demands. No ranking system seems to rationally rank institutions after examining their administrative challenges, infrastructural constraints and financial predicaments; they only pay attention to performance metrics based on academic strengths and other achievements.
For India to perform better on these rankings, we need to pay more attention to the State HEIs.
No doubt India is facing various challenges in higher education, but to tackle these challenges and to boost higher education is utmost important. India is a country of huge human resource potential, to utilise this potential properly is the issue which needs to be discussed.