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Higher Education Sustainability in India

This means that opportunity is huge despite the small challenges which are being faced by Higher Education in India.

Education Post20 May 2019 05:54

Higher Education Sustainability in India

Problem Statement

Ravi got the job after completing his MBA. The salary was 4.5 Lacs and the loan amount taken was 12.5 Lacs. Ravi was happy but at the same time not satisfied with the return on investment. There were many more like him. Then there were students who were not able to secure jobs. This situation is an early warning signal for Higher Education Sustainability in India.

If we look at macro scenario, we will find that Gross enrolment rate for higher education in India was less than 10% till 2000. After year 2000 it has grown to 27% in 2015. However post 2015 the progress is slow. It is likely that India will not be able to meet the target of 30% by 2020.


What gives hope is that economies like United States and South Korea have Gross enrolment rate of more than 80% for higher education. Some might argue that these economies were able to do so because their population is relatively smaller. However comparable size country China has Gross enrolment rate of 48%.

This means that opportunity is huge despite the small challenges which are being faced by Higher Education in India.


Issues with slow growth of Higher Education

Gross Enrolment for Higher Education of China and India were both at around 22-25% in 2011. China has drastically improved its Gross enrolment rate to 48% whereas India remained around the same number. There are various issues which are responsible for slow growth. Some of the critical issues are:

  • Job Opportunities

Job opportunities were the key driving force for growth in higher education. Post liberalization, focus shifted from public sector jobs to private sector jobs.  Most of the companies during this period were struggling to find graduates with basic management competencies (Analytical reasoning, Critical thinking, Communication, Decision making, Problem-solving). Higher education institutes invented MBA. They started imparting these competencies through MBA and became drivers of the growth.

Over the period of time, MBA degrees became basic criteria for job application. Large number of institutes came into existence to monetize the opportunity. Degrees were getting printed and Industry desired competencies took the back seat. When industry realized that desired competencies were not being delivered by higher education institutes, the growth plateaued.

Social Status

Initially, most of the Higher Education jobs were not only getting higher salaries but also were based out of cool AC offices. This was another social factor which was driving growth of Higher education.

Contact Centres disrupted the social status. Contact centres came up with even cooler offices. And Contact centres were not looking at education; they were focusing on communication skills and basic computer skills. The cool office environments which were being enjoyed by the higher education holders were now available for anyone with pre-graduation education also.

Earlier focus of Indian society was on education. Knowledge based jobs were respected more. Skill or attitude based jobs were treated as second level jobs. If you have done higher education, you will get a good job and you will get a good spouse.

As time passed by, Indian society started developing respect for skill and attitude based jobs.  This has positively impacted society but at the same time impacted the growth of higher education.

  • Salary Differential

Initially when there were fewer higher education institutes and they were delivering students with desired competencies. Companies were ready to pay premium. There was a time in early 2000s; MBA degree holders were getting twice the salary than the median salary of the graduates.

Increase in number of institutes and absence of desired competencies brought down the demand. Salary differential between an MBA and Graduate jobs narrowed. At the same time cost of higher education rose drastically. The return on investment on the higher education came down.

To further complicate the situation, gig economy stepped in. Companies like Ola, Uber, Swiggy, and Amazon created opportunities where people can work at their own convenience.  Jobs created by Gig economy were not only flexible; they did not demand any education. They were completely skill or attitude based jobs. Earning potential of these jobs depended on how much individual wants to work.

Gig phenomenon has put another hurdle in path of gross enrolment.

  • Distance Education

Distance education came as an alternative. In the beginning, distance education was not valued by the companies. Companies had their own doubts on the effectiveness of distance education. It was perceived as a stamp.

Most of the desired competencies cannot be acquired just by reading course material. After 2015, with the improvement of technology and connectivity in India, methods of learning changed. You tube became one of the popular learning channels. Khan academy took the experience to the next level. Coursera formalized the experience and created branded channel for higher education.

Availability of this channel has also started denting the growth of higher education.


  • Faculty

Faculty brings effectiveness to the Higher education. In past five years, number of colleges and number of students have increased. However faculty has not increased in the same ratio. In fact, total numbers of faculty have come down from 1.37 million in FY14 to 1.29 million in FY18. Students per faculty have deteriorated from 21 to 25 in the same period.

Apart from availability of faculty, competence of faculty impacts higher education in a big way. Hence continuous up gradation of knowledge base of faculty is a must requirement. That comes from exposure to industry, visiting other educational institutes, researching the problems faced by industries and society. Faculty exchange with foreign universities is another method of providing exposure.

Somehow, Availability and Development of faculty is another factor which impacts quality of education and creates a vicious cycle for lower enrolment.

  • Branding

India is a brand conscious market. Indian higher education has not seriously invested in branding itself. Only few Indian Educational institutes appear in world top 500 (QS Ranking). The reason lies in the assessment methodology.

QS Ranking assigns 30% weightage to Academic Reputation. Academic Reputation is determined by academics by voting the leading universities in their own subject area.  Tie ups with international academic community plays an important role in improving the rank. Faculty to student ratio, proportion of international students and faculty, exchange programs account for another 15%.

Employer reputation has 30% weightage. Alignment with employers and quality of students determines employer reputation for the institute. Remaining 25% accounts for Research.

  • Research

Limited Research not only pulls India down in the QS ranking but also limits the growth of higher education. Industry partnerships are not getting formed because Industry Academia relationship is single threaded to placement of students. Industry prefers to go to consultants for research work instead of coming to Higher Education Institutes. In India, government funds 60% of R&D, while the corresponding share in China and USA is only 16% and 11%.

One of the reasons for limited partnerships between Industry –Academia is that faculty is not equipped with research methodologies. Second is the incentive for research work. Hence research opportunities are limited, that limits number of research papers as well as number of citations. Indian Institutes get 12.6 citations per million whereas the benchmark is 267.6 citations per million.

  • Curriculum and Pedagogy

Lack of research keeps the industry away from institutes. This impacts Curriculum as well as pedagogy. Students are not able to apply the theoretical concepts in practical situations effectively.

I will narrate a story to explain. I was teaching my niece table of 2.

Two Tooja Four. My niece asked me what is Tooja? I was lost. I checked in the dictionary. There was no explanation. Then my niece taught me that it is not Two Tooja Four. It is Two Twos are Four.

Our education system has been teaching us to mug up things. Questions are asked in the exam. You remember answers and write them down. When as with advent of Google. Now it is more important to ask questions than to know answers.

After privatization of primary education, India witnessed a change in how A, B, C, D is taught to children at primary schools. India was expecting the same change after privatization of higher education. However pedagogy changes in higher education are not visible yet.

This impacts quality, repels industry, slows down job creation resulting in lower enrolment.

  • Secondary Enrolment

India has made significant progress in primary enrolment. However India falls short on secondary enrolments with 69%only. China has done of better job of keeping the secondary enrolments at 94.3%. One of the major reasons for dropouts in economic. Students drop out as they need to earn for the family. Another important reason on the academic side is that students struggle with basic mathematics. Hence motivation to continue education goes down.

Opportunity for Indian Higher Education

India is at a very interesting point. Large numbers of people are available. There is enough awareness about importance of education. Recently India has improved its digital infrastructure and has become the largest consumer of mobile data in the world. The technology has given a strong backbone to the Higher Education system. It has bridged the gap, which physical infrastructure approach would have taken few decades to bridge.

How Technology helps

Technology not only changes delivery but also presents the opportunity to change the delivery framework. Whole focus will get shifted towards created the need and creating the content. Transfer of knowledge will become a pleasant experiential process instead of standard classroom discussions.

Ideas to sustain Higher Education in India

  • Groom Faculty as Consultants

India has already taken a step towards ensuring that faculty at Higher education Institutes must have PhD. Next recommendation should be that Education institutes should start grooming their faculty as consultants. Instead of cutting costs on salaries of faculty, Institutes should invest in training faculty on consulting skills and focus on return on investment just like consulting organizations.

Consulting approach will keep the faculty up to date. Academia – Industry partnerships will flourish. Live industry problems will increase the scope of research. Quality of teaching will improve. Industry appreciation will improve placements as well was Branding.

  • Leverage Digital Backbone

Technology has given India an advantage. How we use this advantage totally depends on us. Digital approach will require different mind-set and overhauling of the current method of teaching. Just by recording lectures of faculty and putting those on e-learning will not help.

Technology comes with certain disadvantages as well. Student span of attention has drastically reduced due to technological advancement. Educational institutes will need to re-think pedagogy. Education system would need data scientists, game designers, App designers, Artificial intelligence experts, and Augmented as well as Virtual reality experts to design the curriculum and learning interventions.

  • Funding

Consulting arm of Education institutes should be a primary earning source for education institutes. Content should be another stream of revenue. The current primary source of revenue which is education fee from students should rank third as a source of revenue.

Higher Education institutes should make serious efforts in enrolling foreign students from countries which look up to India for education. Exchange program for faculty as well as students should be another stream of revenue for the education institutes.

  • Focus on Life skills

As technology is growing, jobs of tomorrow are going to change drastically. Socio-economic conditions can pose unprecedented challenges. Focus of Higher education should NOT be to provide knowledgeable or skilled people. Focus should be to develop people in such a manner that they can help themselves to be employable. Teaching life skills will be a must requirement in the time to come.

  • Life skills will help people to come back to education institutes again and again, physically or virtually to re-skill themselves and keep themselves relevant.

Gross Enrolment for Higher Education of  China and India were both at around 22-25% in 2011. China has drastically improved its Gross enrolment rate to 48% whereas India remained around the same number.






Higher Education might be showing some sluggishness for now, however Higher education is at the cusp of next big transformation. Opportunity is huge. Government is favourable. People are sensitized and technological advantage is there.

This transformation will require Higher education institutes to invest in their faculty so as to build relationships with corporate and participate in problem solving. This will not only improve research capability but also generate funds for the institute.

However this transformation will not come easy as teaching methods will change. Technology will play a major role is redefining skill sets as well as the education process. Content creation and creativity to deliver content as experience will determine success.

In short, future is bright if we see it right.


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