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Mr. Kapil Sibal, Please drop your political agenda and improve our Higher Education system

Indian Higher Education infrastructure is touted as one of the largest in the world with over 600 Universities and 30,000 odd colleges. It is, however, severely inadequate for our huge population and Indian Higher Education Gross Enrolment ratio (GER: Number of enrolments/ Population in the age bracket eligible for Higher Education) is very low at only 12% compared to the Global average of 26%. We have the “demographic dividend” but we also need to train the manpower else the unemployed youth will join the anti-social gangs and not be a positive contributor to the economy. We need to more than double our capacity to reach a GER of 30% (around global average) by 2020 and we are busy tinkering with the admission process of 10,000 odd seats offered at IITs; I wonder WHY ???

Capacity is a major constraint; we however, are not great at quality as well. Our higher education system has not much to be proud of “NOT EVEN THE IITs AND IIMs” as reflected in low ranks secured by these institutions in the global rankings.

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No Indian institution featured in the top 200 list prepared by Webometrics in 2011 and Times Higher Education in 2010. IIT Madras is India’s top entry in 2011 with a global ranking of 454 😦

In a country of more than a billion people, we select few thousand odd best students in IITs and then go on to say that since majority of IIT graduates are high achievers, these institutions must be great. This is not great logic as we are not differentiating between good raw material and good production process.

Indian GER in comparison to that of other countries is shown in the graph shown below:

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Our GER is not comparable to any of the benchmarks i.e. BRIC average, Global average as well as Developed World Average GER and there is a huge scope of improvement for our country. Looking at the above graph, it looks like a gone case. However, we are very fortunate in the sense that the problem faced by us has already been solved by a number of countries in the past (most recently China). YES CHINA AGGGGAIN 🙂

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In fact, China was behind us in 2000 and has been able to triple its GER from 8% to 23% in a short span of time (2000-2007) on back of favorable policies for private investments in Higher Education space.

Why is GER Important

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GER has a direct correlation with the GDP per capita and is a strong indicator of prosperity in any country/state.  As can be seen, the states with low GER including Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, Chhatisgarh, West Bengal and Rajasthan are well below par in terms of development as well. Looking at the scenario, at an international level, again, it can be seen that the countries with higher GER have higher GDP per capita.

We need to improve our GER

Indian Government has set a target to achieve GER of 30% by 2020 which looks very daunting given the tight fiscal position of the Indian Government (which is running fiscal deficits of over 5% of GDP) and the kind of capital required to double the Higher Education capacity in India. It looks imminent that majority of the capacity expansion in the future (as has happened in the last 5-10 years) will come on the back of private capital. The highly regulated environment, however, is the biggest impediment in attracting committed and well meaning private capital to the Higher Education space in India. Setting up a University is a highly capital intensive project with long gestation period so the Government needs to attract well meaning and long term committed business groups into the space so that both quality as well as capacity issues can be addressed.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Setting up a University is highly capital intensive with requirement for investment in both physical and soft infrastructure. Physical infrastructure comprises of land and buildings while the soft infrastructure comprises of curriculum, lab solutions, computers, software, vehicles, furniture, books, power equipments and IT infrastructure. Debt Financing should be facilitated at liberal terms for setting up Educational Institutions.
  • Shortage of quality faculty is one of the major constraints for Indian Higher Education sector so that needs to be solved by improving faculty salaries and making the profession more attractive.
  • Quality of the institutions should be monitored through measuring output rather than the arcane infrastructure requirements mandated.

Please share your comments on how the higher education system can be improved in India. Lets Keep Sharing 🙂

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About Deepak

An Engineer and MBA from IIT Roorkee and IIM Ahmedabad. Interested in doing something for the country in my own little way.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “Mr. Kapil Sibal, Please drop your political agenda and improve our Higher Education system

  1. Well written. But is the corporate sector having capacity to absorb the incremental flow of graduates (most of which are anyway touted as un-employable!)? Corporate demand can grow only with growth of economy. Simply adding supply won’t solve the problem, but would create even more frustrated force of unemployed students (who have invested significantly for education). I think most imp. task for govt. is to create demand for students, and of course improve quality (and then quantity) of students.

    Posted by Tarun | July 7, 2012, 8:49 PM
    • Tarun, You are correct that it is both quality and quantity that we are lacking. But as per my understanding, both problems originate from the fact that the sector is highly regulated. This has been done to provide benefit to a class called politicians as almost all colleges/Universities are started by Politicians. These people generate a lot of black money => this is logically invested in land. Education is highly profitable given the demand supply gap and requires huge physucal infrastrucure so they decided to open colleges. They had connections => Received All Approvals (even though they did not meet a large number of regulatory requirements). They didn’t have any propensity to invest in educational infrastructure (curriculum, labs, teachers etc) and had no experience in providing education => Quality Suffered.

      Private capital is effectively shut out so that the demand supply gap persists and super normal profits can be extracted by these people. If the regulatory ambiguity is reduced and long term committed capital is welcomed by the Government then both quality and quantity can be taken care of.

      And regarding, the demand for students in corporate sector, I can assure u that it is a non-issue.

      Demand for students is already there as the corporates feel huge shortage of manpower in almost all areas.

      Posted by Deepak Jain | July 8, 2012, 8:49 AM
  2. But how do you ensure quality even if the sector is opened up? Why won’t the investors look for making moolah rather than making sure that the graduates are quality students?

    Posted by Saurabh Jindal | July 9, 2012, 11:31 AM
    • Saurabh, Higher Education is a long gestation period business which takes at least 5 years for becoming profitable. Breaking even, itself, takes 8-9 years so any sane investor would not look at it as a fly by night operations and would rather build a strong brand based on quality (that is only way to enter into a positive cycle: Adding Value => Attracting Better Students => Adding more value and so on).

      Posted by Deepak | July 9, 2012, 2:54 PM
  3. I guess- at the same time there is a burgeoning number of private universities and colleges coming up in the country – where the quality of students and education is really poor. The main aim is to just provide degree certificates for which huge money is charged. These places don’t care about the quality of their students and are more interested in getting money. The Lovely Professional Universities, Amity’s, Pratap universities, Sharda Universities and tonnes and tonnes of pvt engineering colleges are the examples here. What I am trying to say is that even if the govt opens up the sector – how can quality be maintained?

    Posted by Saurabh Jindal | July 9, 2012, 3:45 PM
    • Quality will be maintained by 1) Market Forces 2) Better Regulations from Government.

      Hundreds of these colleges are already being shut down due to not getting enough students (as they were dishing out bad quality).

      Saurabh, I am not saying that opening up the sector will solve everything; it will just improve the chances of right people entering the sector. Scores of other things need to be done including improving faculty salaries and collaborations with foreign Universities (who have done that and been there). IIM Ahmedabad is a prime example of benefits of foreign collaborations.

      Posted by Deepak | July 9, 2012, 6:18 PM

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