How higher education in India is transforming into broader education
Home to the world’s largest youth population (about 500 million in the age bracket of 5-24 years), India is also a country with the world’s largest higher education system. Riding on the demand, the higher education sector in the country has witnessed a phenomenal growth in student enrolment. From 25.2 per cent in 2017 it now stands at 25.8 percent this year.1 Estimated at US$ 91.7 billion in FY18 and expected to reach US$ 101.1 billion in FY19, the growth of India’s education sector is a result of the growth in number of universities, aided by an increase in awareness of the value of higher education. Moreover, the Government of India’s target Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 30 percent for higher education by 2020 is expected to drive investments in this domain. But increased access and investment in human capital is only one part of the equation – as the higher education sector in India continues to mushroom, capacity building will have to go hand-in-hand with quality, inclusion and a whole new way of thinking.
It is now a truth acknowledged in many quarters that our young graduates will have to live and work in a steadily more automated and disruptive world. The ability to think well, and think fast, will assume greater significance than it has thus far. The India Skills Report of 2018 states that “With the changing nature of work and workplaces, business activities … the traditional silos of departments are being questioned and this will mean a new set of skills are required at individual contributor and manager level. The desired skill sets of most occupations are likely to comprise of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today. As per certain estimates Cognitive Abilities, Systems skills, Complex Problem Solving, Content skills, and Social skills are … likely to be a growing part of the core skills requirements for many industries.”
With many reports and studies coming up with similar indicators, there is a need for the higher education system in the country to respond accordingly. The colonial system of specialized education, set up to serve a specific need, is no longer adequate for those who are in a race to be future-ready and acquire 21st Century skills. Whether it is B-Schools, Institutes of Technology or universities offering various other courses in the humanities and social sciences, all will have to be increasingly multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary in their approach.
This move away from silos in education and towards more collaborative and innovative learning is being reflected in the slowly growing engagement with the Liberal Arts in India. India had a tradition of liberal arts education, with internationally respected centres of learning at Takshashila and Nalanda. The curriculum at these grand institutions of the ancient world included grammar, philosophy, ayurveda, surgery, politics, warfare, astronomy, commerce, music, dance and much more. The success of such educational institutions was evident in their graduates – Takshashila’s alumni included the philosopher and economist, Chanakya; the father of Sanskrit grammar, Panini; and the Chinese traveler and Buddhist scholar, Hiuen Tsang.
Today’s institutions are not just drawing upon such a tradition, but enhancing it with best practices from around the world. Efforts are on to incorporate the best of content, courses and knowledge that India has to offer and unite it with the best in contemporary pedagogy in terms of experiential learning, use of technology, grass-roots immersion and mentorship. As more and more students seek international exposure, many Indian universities and colleges have entered into joint venture agreements with international universities. The Indo-French agreement to facilitate Mutual Recognition of Academic Qualifications between the two countries is also a case in point. Through faculty and student exchanges, collaborative research, and the chance to study abroad for a semester or a year, students get the opportunity to broaden their perspectives and engage with a more global arena.
Year 2018 was a time when we witnessed the growth of these interesting trends in higher education. For instance, many institutions have been focusing on a multi-disciplinary approach, along with diversity and inclusion, to drive private education in India. There has been a small but steady growth in programmes and universities focusing on such an education, with many Asian leaders and educators investing in them. The long-held belief that Asian students and parents would not see value in such an education has been overturned, as institutions like NUS in Singapore and Ashoka University in India showed the steady increase in enrolments.
This interweaving of disciplines and blending learning between the sciences and arts has also resulted in better prospects for students. This year, the employability score has taken a big leap as compared to the last, reaching a new level of 45.60% which has a sharp hike of 5.16% over the previous year’s employability score as per the India Skills Report 2018. All of this indicates that while debates may ensue about the costs and relevance of such an education for the real world, Indian institutions are showing an innovative path forward. Robust demand, increasing investments, competitive advantages, and policy support are the factors driving the exponential growth in the Indian higher education sector – and will pave the way for private universities to continue to soar into the new year.
(The author is Deputy Dean, Young India Fellowship, Ashoka University. Views expressed are personal)