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More colleges, less learning
Monday, 19 November 2018 23:18

The annual Ficci-Ernst & Young report has shown interesting data about the situation of the Indian higher education sector especially the number of institutions that have come up in the country and in fact, are growing faster than the enrollment numbers! India has the largest higher education system in the world, with 31,000 institutes compared with 6,742 in the US and 4,297 in China.

So, while the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the number of institutions in India is 11% that of student enrollments is only 6%.

So lucrative is the higher education market that more than 5,000 colleges were added in the last one year alone. In the last decade, the number of universities in the country has grown at a CAGR of 7.5% as against the 4.7% growth observed from 1951-2001. The number of colleges has grown at a CAGR of 11% in the period 2001-2011 as against 6.1% in the period 1951-2001.

However, these numbers don’t see the light on the fundamental challenges of access, equity and the quality of education in many of these institutes.

According to a report by TeamLease Services, 57% of India’s youth suffer some degree of unemployability and these 82.5 million unemployable youth fall in three skill repair buckets—last mile repair, interventional and structural. The report explains that 90% of employment opportunities require vocational skills, but 90% of our college and school output has bookish knowledge. Further, the poor quality of skills and education shows up in low incomes rather than unemployment as 58% of graduates make less than R75, 000 per year. At present, the total cost of training for the youth comes close to R 4, 90,000 crore over a period of two years to train those that are unemployable or sub-optimally employable.

It is no doubt that we are producing more and more of unemployable graduates. How seriously it impairs the supply side of the university or college faculty market needs hardly to be emphasized.

Besides recruitment of quality faculty, a complex regulatory structure is another key deterrent. These reflect in a variety of factors like faculty, infrastructure and the number of accredited institutes. University and college infrastructural deficiencies were such that 45% of the positions for professors, 51% positions for readers, and 53% positions for lecturers were vacant in Indian universities in 2007-08.

Not only this, but the system is plagued with outdated curricula and ill-equipped libraries (an average nine books per student vs 53 in IIT Bombay). Government data shows that as of March 2011, only 161 universities and 4,371 colleges were accredited by NAAC.

The inherent weakness in the system leads to a situation where a large pool of youth, though willing to work, is unemployable due to various reasons, of which skills is one.

With such dismal quality standards, it is probably the private sector that can be the saving grace for the country’s higher education system.

The trend of the private sector assumes greater significance as the majority of institutions offering programmes in professional disciplines such as engineering, pharmacy, and hotel management, have been established by the private sector. As of 2006-07, private sector participation ranged from 50-95% of the total number of institutions for various professional courses.

Private sector involvement is also important because almost 44% of the central government spend on higher education is allocated to the UGC, which, in turn, assists colleges mainly in the form of grants for their maintenance and development, and not much is being pumped for capacity development.

Currently, 14.6 million students are enrolled in the higher education sector; an additional capacity of about 25 million seats would be required over the next decade to cater to the increased demand. This would need an investment of Rs 10 lakh crore by 2020 to create an additional capacity of 25 million seats. The private sector, which accounts for 52% of the total enrollment, would invest Rs 50,000 crore of this per year.

The report emphasizes the current not-for-profit structure of education, which implies institutions can be established only in three forms: trusts, societies and Section 25 companies. The government must consider allowing for-profit education while putting in place a regulatory framework to ensure that for-profit players impart education of a certain standard.

According to the TeamLease report, spending 10% of GDP on skill repair will generate extra income of 61% of GDP for the current unemployable youth. This is more than a 600% return on investment.

However, handing over education to the hands of people who will treat it as a business and not a social good may not be the best solution forward. In fact, the government itself has found an answer to its problem in the way of public-private partnership (PPP).

The ministry of human resource development is mulling different PPP models for higher education that would likely comprise concession agreements distinct from those for other areas of physical infrastructure like ports, roads and power. Different models are also being looked at in terms of basic infrastructure, outsourcing, equity or hybrid and reverse outsourcing.

A PPP for polytechnics and Indian Institutes of Information Technology is already on the cards but here, too, the private parties seek greater autonomy. It is the quality of higher education that is treading a thin line here and the future of 234 million young people (15-24 years) which hangs in the balance.

By,

KIRTIKA SUNEJA

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