Higher Education Challenges in India

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Higher education in India is fraught with challenges and the country needs to up its ante as far as regaining an edge is concerned.

A few years ago when my niece decided to do her under graduation abroad I quizzed her why took this decision and her immediate reaction was the lack of the combination of subjects that she wanted to study being available in India. Indian students in fact are the largest community of expat students in universities abroad and the primary reason is the lack of higher education options within the country.

Education Scenario

Higher Education is a broad category comprising of diploma/degree courses provided at college, university, academies, seminaries, and institutes of technology level. India is the third largest Higher Education provider in the world after United States and China. In India, University Grants Commission (UGC Act 1956) under MHRD determines and maintains the standards of higher education. The Indian Higher Education System is itself complex and challenging. “As per the World Bank, Gross Enrolment Ratio is the ratio of total enrollment, regardless of age, to the population of the age group that officially corresponds to the level of education shown. GER in higher education (for age group 18-23) is 25.2% in India, which is half compared to countries such as US, Australia. That means out of 4, only 1 person is able to get higher education here,” says Sanjay Jagarawal, Co-Founder, Madguy Labs.

Autonomy Woes

The biggest issue that higher education faces is that of over regulation and very little autonomy. Institutions lack the autonomy in making their curriculum globally competitive.  The best institutes in the world are those who are quick on their feet and can tweak their curriculum to meet the needs of the market. “We in India cannot do that and most often than not, our curriculum becomes dated.  Employability arises from this and the reason that our educated do not have jobs is because there is a huge gap in what they are taught and what the industry needs. Industry readiness comes only with the focus on topicality, which we are not allowed to do,” says Dr. Yajulu Medury, Director, Mahindra Ecole Centrale, an international technology school. Tarun Anand, Co-Founder, Universal Business School adds, “the regulatory challenges with respect to archaic accreditation standards which do not reward non-Ph.D exceptional faculty with 20 plus years of corporate experience to be hired as professors is an extremely retrograde step which ensures that the quality of faculty will not improve.”

Funding Issues

There are very few institutions of excellence of the quality and standards of an IIT or IIM, and these therefore offer limited seats. The number of applicants far outweighs the number of places available at reputed institutions. Abroad the foundation of any higher education, especially at Post Graduate level, is research and development. “There are substantial grants and funding given to individual subject-departments at colleges and universities abroad, so that during one’s post graduate education, one has the opportunity to be involved in meaningful work that is seeking solutions to real world problems. This aspect of higher education is sorely underdeveloped in India. Funding for research is minuscule, so are the opportunities,” says Kartik Bajoria, Writer, Educator and Moderator. Opportunities for research in India are limited and there are not enough resources or grants to allow students to pursue them. “Also, there is a dearth of jobs for Ph.D. qualified students and the education system has not been able to retain deserving candidates who have eventually moved into other sectors for better chances of employment,” says Cecil Antony, Chief Mentor & Managing Trustee, NSHM Knowledge Campus.

Control Cues

Concentration of complete authority in the hands of the University Grants Commission (UGC) is one of the biggest issues for the higher education system in India. “While its main purpose was to bring standardization in the education sector, the UGC’s authority on areas such as standards, curriculums, faculty salaries, student fees, and the like has resulted in a muddled approach that has defeated its purpose. This was also done to serve political ends. With a large number of students serving as a vote bank, a dilution of academic rigor was done to keep all constituencies suitably contented. This centralization of power has resulted in Indian colleges and universities becoming woefully inadequate centers of learning by world standards,” says Prof. Indradeep Ghosh, Associate Professor and Faculty Dean, Meghnad Desai Academy of Economics (MDAE). Yogesh Mehra, MD/ CEO, Tribe Student Accommodation has another take. “In India there is a huge dearth of decent and secured exclusive student accommodation which certainly leads to many parents not feeling comfortable in sending their children to other cities to study even though there might be a better opportunity for the student in another city university. Today the basic standard of living has risen hence it is very difficult for students or parents to move cities unless they do not get bare minimum facilities and amenities as the stay is not short it can be minimum of a year going upto 7-9 years for medical students.”

Skill Disconnect

The higher education system in India is churning out millions of graduates and post graduates with very little knowledge, skill or attitude required by the industry. “The curriculum designed by the universities is either outdated or a poor copy of syllabus being taught in universities abroad. The students are in the digital age while the course designers live in the ‘chalk and talk’ era. There is little interaction between the faculties and the industry,” says Dr. Sandeep Bhardwaj, Dean Academics, VESIM business school. Many industrial experts complain about the quality of students that are seeking a job in the industry. What they majorly lack is job skills. “Sadly, In India, more than 60 per cent of the working population is engaged in low skilled jobs in the unorganized sector. Hence, bridging this gap is a major challenge that needs to be addressed earliest. In fact, nowadays industry requirements are not given enough space in the educational training of students. A lot of attention is given to theory and books and practical knowledge is completely ignored,” adds Amit Agrawal, Founder & Chairman, Times & Trends Academy.

Overcome Challenges

To overcome these challenges the system should initiate process that enables enhancing the quality of education being provided. “The professors should change their way of giving lectures. The teaching style should include the methods that might help the students to understand the world along with the curriculum. New age learning tools will definitely bring a paradigm shift in the country’s education system. Most importantly bringing equality in education will act as a powerful tool in eliminating the income disparities amongst various classes of the society,” says Dr. Nikhil Chandwani, Founder Writers Rescue Centre, Mentor, Speaker. Nikhil Barshikar, Founder & Managing Director, Imarticus adds, “higher education should build employability skills and focus on practical learning. Industry and academia connect is necessary to ensure that curriculum and skills align with industry requirements.” The remedies for the above challenges are within the challenge itself but that might take some time to resolve.  “Thanks to the Indian startup ecosystem, hundreds of private institutes have been established to help you learn practical necessary skills and become a pro at the job at hand. Entrepreneurs and Startups and Businesses are looking for dynamic individuals who are multi-skilled instead of a person who’s good at one specific task only. For example, digitization is on the rise and so it has become important to become tech-savvy and learn digital skills,” avers Karan Shah, CEO & Founder of Indian Institute of Digital Education.

Focus Areas

The focus needs to be on how we can make what higher educational institutions in India offer to be more valuable, more industry relevant and makes the students employable. “Make research here more relevant and more practical. We have among the world’s largest young population so there will be many who will still go overseas but that is for a reason. It should not happen for lack of better or equal alternatives in India. That should be our goal and objective,” says Dr. Sandeep Pachpande, Chairman at ASM Group of Institutes. Dr. Bala V Balachandran, Founder, Dean and Chairman, Great Lakes Institute of Management & J L Kellogg distinguished professor of Accounting & Information Management, Northwestern University says, “the west follows a meritocratic approach to education. People who are genuinely interested in learning from a course only apply and are admitted to the programs. If they learn and perform well, they are amply rewarded. There is also ample flexibility in choice of courses, instructors, transferring to other majors/programs/school systems.” Personalised learning at one’s own pace speed and flipped classrooms increased use of online quizzes, group projects and group discussions for examination purposes can help. “The teacher is no more the repository of knowledge and information and thus a role change becomes mandatory. There will be increase in the level of student ownership during the learning process and the student would take more responsibility. Also, teachers will help in clarifying and problem solving. Mentoring will become more important,” avers Prof R.S.S. Mani, Vice President – Institutional Development, ITM Group of Institutions.

This story first appeared in Spice Route April 2019 issue here:

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