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Strategy for Higher Education Expansion

Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat
Higher education in India has expanded many folds during the past six decades. The number of universities in the country has increased from 20 in 1947 to 378 whereas the number of colleges, which were no more than 500 at the eve of Independence, has gone up to 18064. No less significant

has been the increase in the number of teaching staff which has gone up from a meagre 15, 000 to nearly 4.80 Lakhs during the same period. The number of students enrolled in higher education too has gone up from 1 Lkah in 1950 to over 112 lakhs in 2005. Obviously, the institutional capacity of higher education has increased by several folds. This has, in turn, enhanced access to higher education as we find that the enrolment ratio has increased from less than 1 % in 1950 to about 10 % in 2007. These developments notwithstanding, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in relative terms compares quite poorly with 60% in USA and Canada, over 40% in several European countries and more than 20% in many developed and developing countries. International experience shows that no country has been able to become an economically advanced country, if its enrolment ratio in higher education has been less than 20%. The foremost priority must, therefore, be enhancing access to higher education such that the GER is raised to a minimum threshold level of about 20 percent for sustained economic development. In immediate term, the 11 th Plan has set the target GER of 15 percent.

Such a substantial increase in enrolment would require multi-pronged strategy. In order to ensure that the facilities for higher education are available in enough number for all who aspire to get it, we may have to establish new universities and the colleges in order to cope with the increasing demand for higher education. Some announcements have already been made in this regard. These include establishment of 30 new central universities and establishment of new IITs and IIMs. Besides, capacity increase will also have to be attempted by strengthening and increasing the intake capacity of exiting colleges and the universities through increase in seats of existing courses as well as by introducing new courses. In this process, universities and colleges in specific area of low enrolment ratio (lower than a all India average) and also districts falling in remote, hilly, border area, small towns, and rural area and districts with concentration of SC, ST, OBC and minority will have to be proactively supported. This may require enhanced additional development grants to existing universities and colleges and higher education being in the concurrent list, this will call for joint efforts by the union as well as the state governments.

It cannot be overemphasised that expansion in higher education should be made in such a manner that it offers equitable access all. This will call for a conscious effort to ensure that the higher educational avenues and opportunities are made available to all and that the system does not suffer on account of disparities across region, gender, social groups such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward castes, minorities, physically challenged and poor. The 11th Plan strategy will focus on the inclusiveness in higher education with schemes for inclusive education with a focus on regions and groups with lower enrolment ratio.  

The strategy of inclusiveness has to focus on three imbalances, inter-regional, inter-social group and male - female and may include all such measures as establishment of higher educational institutions for easy access to these groups and also provisioning of special support mechanism to remove economic and affordability barriers for these groups. Removal of regional imbalances would call for support to colleges located in district having lower GER and also the district located in rural, small town, hilly, remote, tribal and border area and small towns. Simultaneously, the colleges located in districts with relatively high concentration of SC, ST, OBC, and Muslim population will also have to be provided enhanced support beside establishment of colleges with high concentration of SC, ST, OBC, Muslim minority areas in order to provide accelerated opportunities of higher education. The strategy for mitigating group imbalances will require support to socially disadvantage groups like SCs, STs, OBCs, Minorities (Muslims), Poor, and women. Besides, we will have to supporting universities and colleges in specific area of low enrolment ratio (lower than a all India average) and also districts falling in remote, hilly, border area, small towns, and rural area and districts with concentration of SC, ST, OBC and minority. Further, the strategy to reduce inter-social imbalance will have to include provision of fellowship, hostel, and remedial coaching and other specific schemes for girls. Even more important could be the establishment of Equal Opportunity Office in all Universities to deal with all schemes under one office related to SC, ST, OBC, minorities, girls, physically challenged and economically weaker section.  

It is obvious that increased access to higher education will not be sufficient unless we also ensure that the higher education system is able and made capable of providing quality education and achieve excellence in the arena of creation and dissemination of knowledge. Our higher education system is characterized by degree of inter-institution variations in quality and excellence. One of the starting points must, therefore, be to formally find out the current status of quality of higher educational institutions in the country. The UGC has developed a framework to assess and promote the quality and excellence and it helps us to know the current status by our own definition of quality and excellence. Quality assessment mechanism is relative new to India, but the UGC has been using a quality assurance mechanism even since its establishment in 1956.  

The UGC has been prescribing minimum norms and standards in term of physical facilities, infrastructure, human resource, particularly the teachers and financial viabilities. Universities and colleges are required to meet these norms in order to become eligible for recognition under section 2(f) and 12(b) of the UGC Act, and thus be eligible to receive development grants. It is through this mechanism that the UGC has historically been ensuring a base level of quality across all institutions of higher education. Based on this mechanism, we have some idea of the current status of quality in higher educational institutions. Of the total 14,080 colleges that are under the UGC purview only about 6000 are recognised under Section 12(b) and thereby making them eligible to receive development grants from the UGC. The rest of the colleges are not recognised because they do not meet the criteria of permanent affiliation, which is because they don't not meet minimum academic quality requirement prescribed by the affiliating universities. Similarly, only 167 out of 224 state universities are recognised under Section 12 (b) while the rest are not able to quality for recognition under this section for they fail to meet the minimum prescribed academic requirements under Section 2(f), and are, thus, deprived of the development assistance from the UGC. It is thus obvious that the self-financing colleges and institutes, and also the self-financing courses in public universities and colleges do not receive grants and are consequently not assessed for quality.  

Besides, The UGC had also developed a mechanism for identifying departments in universities who have been making special contributions in creation and dissemination of knowledge and depending upon their status has been awarding them special status in the form of DRS/ DSA/CAS. In recent times, the GC has developed a methodology to assess and promote excellence in universities, colleges and in the postgraduate departments of universities, which is called as: (1) universities with potential for excellence; (2) colleges with potential for excellence and (3) departments/centres with potential of excellence. Such institutions are categorised so on the basis of their academic capabilities and availabilities of physical facilities and infrastructure. (4) In addition to these, the UGC also grants special status to certain colleges and they are called the Autonomous colleges. The physical infrastructure and teachers related indicators used for identifying universities/colleges and departments for potential for excellence and for identification of Autonomous colleges are more rigorous than those used for quality under 2(F) and 12 (B). Based on these standards, we find that only about 10 universities, 100 colleges and 500 departments/ centres have so far been identified as universities with potential for excellence.

Besides, as many as 250 colleges have been identifies as autonomous colleges  

In addition to the above, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) is mandated to assess and accredit all institutions of higher education, particularly those that are publicly funded, and grade them on the basis of their academics, governance, physical facilities and infrastructure. The NAAC has developed an elaborate assessment mechanism under which it assess the universities and colleges and grade the institutions, which provide insight in to present quality of higher education system in the country. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) have so far accredited 140 Universities and 3492 colleges by March 2007. Thus the quality status is formally known for these many institutions only. A glance at the status of the accredited institutions reveals that 68% of colleges are rated as 'B' while another 23% colleges are rated as 'C' grade; and only the remaining 9% are A grade. The situations for colleges are no better as 68%% universities are rated as B grade while another 23% are C grade; and the remaining 31% are A grade.  

Poor quality in a section of higher education institutions can be attributed to a variety of reasons spanning from under-investment to inadequate faculty resources to deficiencies in the teaching -learning process. The NAAC assessment of colleges and universities indicate the reasons for inter-institutions variations in quality. Amongst the universities and colleges that receive development and maintenance grants from the UGC and the respective state governments, the dominant reasons for low quality of higher education is found in inadequate funding to universities and colleges. Inadequacy of funds has led to a situation where physical facilities and infrastructure are not only inadequate and inappropriate but also the paucity of funds has led to poor maintenance and upkeep of existing infrastructure. These are reflected in terms of shabby classrooms, barely equipped laboratories, and poorly maintained libraries. Substantial proportion of teachers in universities is colleges are not provided with independent workspace. Resource crunch, particularly those faced by the state universities, has been forcing them to compromise on their academic input. The academic expenditure in the form of books and journal, consumables for labs, teaching-learning materials etc have been the first casualty. The most affected has been the creation of faculty positions. There have been either official ban on the creation of new teaching positions or an unofficial restrictive approach creating hindrance in the process of recruitment of faculty members even on the sanctioned posts, presumably in order to save resources.

Unlike expansion, access enhancement, quality, excellence, equity and inclusion where policy formulation is still under discussion and in making, the policies concerning reforms in the arena of academics, administration and governance are already well formulated and publicly announced. These are all elaborated upon in details in the reports of Radhakrishnan Commission (1948), Kothari Commission (1968), National Education Policy (1986), Programme of Action document (1992), CABE Committee reports, Resolutions of the conferences of the Vice Chancellors organised by the UGC and the AIU, Gnanam Committee, Sunehri Committee, a whole lot of other committees constituted by the UGC and MHRD from time to time are full of recommendations on such reforms. While recommendations of these committees have been accepted nearly by all and there has been developed a national consensus, a whole lot of them have not been implemented and operationalised as yet. Some of these have been tried and failed while some others have been implemented on selective basis. As a result there is a lot of institutional variations in admission, examination, faculty and governance related practices. Given the fact that most such recommendations are reflective of the most prevalent, if not the best, global practices, it is high time that they are put into practice without further delay.  

As a nation we need to seriously consider as to how can we urgently translate as well as share selected experience that we have in implementing the agreed upon policies and recommendations into concrete actions. But more important is to identify the necessary pre-requisite and conditions for effective implementation of academic and administrative reforms. Still more important is to create those conditions to create an enabling environment for putting them into practice. This may require selective and stage-wise approach. This also requires sharing of experience of those who have tried and failed and those who are doing it successfully and those who have not tried at all. It is, therefore, proposed to take a comprehensive stock taking of all such recommendations made so far and revisit them to identify problems in their implementation and operationalisation.  

Financing of higher education and funding mechanism are perhaps the most crucial aspect for development of higher education and its capacity to reforms often impinges adequate and timely resource availability. While demand for higher education has grown by leaps and bound and, the central and state government financial support to the institutions of higher education has decelerated in real terms during the 1990s. This has had multiple ramifications. On the one hand the public-funded institutions suffered from under-investment, adversely affecting their quality. On the other hand, demand - supply mismatch prompted increasing participation private institutions. This has led to demand for revisiting the whole issue of financing and funding mechanism, which were addressed by appointing various committees. A number of recommendations have been put forward for improving the financing and funding mechanism for higher education. These include such important issues as increase public spending on higher education and also create enabling environment for private investment in higher education. Closely connected is the issue of reviewing fees structure in public institutions in order to develop an appropriate policy as suggested by the CABE Committee. As affordability to higher education could be a barrier, the issue of providing large number of scholarship and fellowship cannot be avoided. Simultaneously, the issues of deferred cost recovery in the form of students loan programme and setting up of Higher Education Loan Guarantee Corporation for covering education loan and also to provide for Loan and offering enhanced moratorium in loan repayment in order to increase affordability has to be taken on priority basis. Yet another important issue that is related with financing is that of the issue of fees in self-financing institutions and programmes and we will have to find ways and means of effectively regulating the fess structure of self-financing educational institutions including private universities, deemed universities and other self-financing institutions.  

The spread of higher education was achieved through active state support whereby public funding was considered necessary in order to provide equitable opportunities of higher education to all. It has, however, been a proclaimed policy of the country to also encourage private investment in higher education so long as they are driven by charitable and non-profit motives. While universities have largely been in the public domain, India has had a history of having large number of colleges established and maintained by private management. They largely fell into two broad categories namely (a) the private but government aided colleges - those that were established and managed by private individuals, societies or trust but received development and maintenance grants from the public exchequer); and (b) private unaided colleges - those that were established and managed by private individuals, societies and trusts and were run on self-financing basis.  

In recent times, the number of private self-financing institutions -colleges and other degree awarding institutions has gained prominence. At the same time, there has also been witnessed a tendency among the public funded institutions to start and run courses on self-financing basis. More recently, the private universities, either under state legislature or through the deemed university mode have also come to be established, though presently small in number, demand and tendency for establishing such institutions has been consistently on the rise. As situations prevail today, the system is characterised by rapid expansion in private self financing colleges specially in medical, engineering, dental and education, self-financing courses in government and government aided colleges, private universities and also in unrecognised private institutions offering diploma and certificate programmes  

We do need proper regulatory framework for the private sector, to ensure the quality of higher education and also the equity. It is, therefore, important that we develop regulatory framework for the private universities, particularly in terms of their admission, fees, teaching-learning process and governance. The regulation of self financing courses in government and aided colleges with respect to fees, quality and inclusiveness of girls, socially and economically deprived groups is imminent. Besides, the regulation of self financing courses educational institutions like private universities, Deem universities, self financing colleges and other institutions with respect to fees, quality and inclusiveness of girls, socially and economically deprived groups.    October 2007
The author is Chairman, University Grants Commission, India                                    Courtesy: PIB