Why the 25% seat increase for higher education institutions will adversely affect teaching
The seat increase in higher educational institutions without funding can adversely affect the quality of education.
Last month, the human resource development (HRD) ministry announced a 25% increase in seats in higher educational institutions (HEIs). This will ensure that there is no reduction in the absolute number of open seats after the 10% reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS) in the general category comes into effect. The ministry order allows for this increment to be spread over a two-year period in case of financial, infrastructural, or academic constraints. This is similar to the 54% seat increase which was implemented when the 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) came in during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. However, unlike at the time of OBC reservations, there is no clarity yet whether budgetary allocation for HEIs will be increased to finance the additional infrastructural requirements. An HT analysis shows that this might make things even more difficult for HEIs, which have been facing a resource crunch due to a significant expansion in number of institutions and students in the recent period.
The pace of increase in total budgetary allocation for higher education under the HRD ministry was significantly higher under the UPA government than the present government, both in nominal and real terms.
See Chart 1: CAGR of higher education under UPA I, UPA II and NDA II
These headline numbers might suggest that the additional needs of HEIs to implement seat increase under the UPA period were taken care of. A disaggregated analysis of numbers suggests otherwise. Bulk of the additional funding is in the form of plan grants (meant for one-time spending such as building classrooms and hostels), whereas non-plan grants (meant for recurring spending such as paying salaries and maintaining laboratories) increased by a very small amount.
See Chart 2: Break-up of additional allocation under plan and non-plan grant
Lack of non-plan allocation for HEIs has created problems for maintaining teaching and research facilities. For example, Jawaharlal Nehru University cited lack of funds to discontinue access to online journals in the library (https://www.hindustantimes.com/education/jnu-denies-75-fund-cut-in-annual-library-budget/story-0mSHrEzIHlUdUtTYTvg44J.html). This shows a lack of funds to take care of recurring expenses.
The most important ill-effect of lack of resources to take care of recurring expenditure seems to be a rise in student-teacher ratio in HEIs in 2016-17 and 2017-18, the last two years for which data is available from the HRD ministry.
See Chart 3: Student teacher ratio
A Rajya Sabha reply from the HRD ministry on 27 December, 2018 admits that lack of resources for central universities might have led to a worsening of the student-teacher ratio. The HRD ministry said that one-third of all sanctioned teaching posts in central universities were lying vacant as on 1 April, 2018. The ministry cites space constraints, lack of development of campuses of new central universities etc. among the reasons for vacant teaching posts in central universities.
Lack of proper funding could be an important reason for universities established after 2006 not taking off, said Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a member of the erstwhile National Knowledge Commission. The skewed nature of additional allocations towards plan grants meant that the burden of increased seats came on existing resources (including personnel) and facilities, leading to a negative impact on both teaching and research, Ghosh added.
Should the proposed expansion not happen then? World Bank statistics show that China’s Gross Enrolment Ratio in tertiary education was 48.4% in 2016, while this figure was only 27% in India. This dearth of quantity in higher education is compounded by a lack of quality as well. According to the 2019 QS World University Rankings, nine Indian universities featured in the top 500 compared to 22 Chinese universities. If funding of educational institutes is not increased, it is likely to hurt both the proposed expansion – as evidenced in the slow growth of new HEIs – as well as the quality of the institutes.