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There has been a sea change

The evolution of India’s higher education system since independence Saumen Chattopadhyay Reports

education Updated: Nov 11, 2009 09:31 IST
Saumen Chattopadhyay

India has the world’s third largest enrolments in higher education, after China and the US. However, in terms of the number of institutions, it has the highest number of institutions in the world, four times that in the USA and Europe and seven times that of China . It implies, therefore, that the size of the institution in terms of enrolment in India is rather small.

The size and structure of India’s higher education system has witnessed a sea change since independence.

Growing institutes
The number of universities, including deemed and private ones, has risen from a mere 20 in 1947 to 440 as on September 2007, implying a 22-fold increase in 60 years. In 2007, there were around 24 private universities, around 114 deemed universities, 24 central universities and 251 state universities (MHRD 2007-08).

Colleges account for nearly 90 per cent of total enrolment with just around 1 per cent being enrolled in PhD programmes. The number of colleges has increased from around 500 in 1950 to 18,064 in 2006 and the number of students from 0.1 million in 1950 to 12.8 million at present, which amounts to around 12 per cent gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education.

But fewer enrolees
As India is envisaged to be one of the major global players in the realm of knowledge economy, this GER is low. The GER in high-income countries hovers around 67 per cent and the world average is 23 per cent. However, there are state-wise variations and rural-urban differences, with 7.5 per cent GER in rural areas compared to 23.8 per cent in urban regions. The target during the eleventh plan is to raise the GER to 15 per cent. The number of teachers, too, grew from 15,000 to 11.2 million in 2006.

Not much excellence
Only a little more than half (around 53 per cent) of those who pass 10+2, what is called effective enrolment ratio, enrol in higher education institutions. We have enough reasons to worry with the attainment of excellence in higher education. As per the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), only 10 per cent of the 2956 colleges and 32 per cent of 123 universities made available for assessment have been awarded A grade.

Bridging the distance
The University Education Commission in 1949 recommended that university education be placed in the Concurrent List and setting up of the UGC. Enrolment in distance education has grown from a few thousand in 1960 to 2 million in 2002-’03 constituting 22 per cent of total enrolment in 2002-’03 and it is rising rapidly.

Lingering question
Since independence, though there has been a democratisation of higher education institutions in terms of sheer growth, the burgeoning private sector may create a dent on the question of expanding access with equity.

The author is associate professor, Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi