Education is the strength of every country. The success of the nations is inevitably determined by their education systems. Since independence, India is contentiously progressing in the education field. There have been both enormous challenges and immense opportunities to overcome these challenges in order to make higher education system much better.
India’s Higher Education sector has witnessed a tremendous increase in the number of Universities and Colleges since independence. With the enactment of ‘Right to Education Act’, which laments free and compulsory education to all children within the age groups of 6-14 years, has brought about a staggering change in the higher education system of India.
Today the private sector promotes over 60% of higher education institutions in India. This has led to the accelerated establishment of institutes, making India home to the largest number of higher education institutions in the world. The number of Universities has increased from 20 in 1950 to 789 as of February 2017. Despite these numbers, Indian institutes find no place within the best by international education rating agencies. Sudden increase in number has failed India to produce world-class universities.
UGC and its functioning
University Grants Commission (UGC) is a statutory body that was established in 1956 through Parliament enacted law to play a pivotal role in the education sector. Besides co-ordination and evaluation, it is responsible for maintaining standards of higher education in India.UGC funded through Ministry of human resources (MHRD) is responsible for establishing central universities and recognizing Deemed to be Universities run by privately funded trusts and Universities established by the 28 Federal State governments across India. UGC has established statutory Councils to promote, provide grants, set standards which float through the entire structure of higher education system in India.
Figure 1 explains the overall structure of Higher Education system in India:
UGC and its educational development plans
There were 27 universities at the beginning of the 1st plan. The number increased to 32 by the end of the plan. The number of students increased to 7.20 lakhs receiving university education in 772 colleges. But the rapid increase of colleges as well as students greatly affected the standards of education. For improving the quality of higher education and discouraging wastage and stagnation of unqualified students, various measures were undertaken by the UGC under second plan.
The measures included that the institution of three year degree courses, improvement of buildings, laboratories, libraries, provision of hostel facilities, organisation of seminars, stipends and scholarships and increase in salaries of university teachers. In the third plan of UGC, various facilities were provided to divert students to vocational and technological education. Despite the measures taken by UGC, education system is still facing enormous challenges in the line of growth in higher education domain.
UGC and Challenges in Higher Education in India
It is our 71st year of independence still our education system has not been developed fully. Today, we see our country flourishing with a huge number of universities and colleges. The increase in number has become more of a problem than an advantage to the education system. The widespread of number of colleges and universities makes it difficult to monitor the quality of education. Recent years have shown a steep growth in the number of colleges. Despite the growth in number, we are not able to list a single university in top 100 universities of the world. The figure shows growth in increased number of Universities in India from 2007 to 2018:
Source: UGC, PWC, AISHE 2016-17
UGC has been working continuously on quality education in higher education sector. Still we are facing lot of problems and challenges in our education system. One of such problems is Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) and growing (CAGR) compound Annual Growth rate of colleges at the same time. GER of India in higher education is only 15% and CAGR of universities is 8.54%. Increase of enrolments at school level has made it difficult for higher education institutes to meet the growing demand in the country. Second problem is compromised quality of education. However, government is continuously focusing on the quality education but still large number of colleges and universities are unable to meet the minimum standards laid down by the UGC. Faculty shortages and failure of state educational system to retain efficient teachers pose challenges to quality education. Despite lot of vacancies, large number of NET/ PhD candidates are unemployed or underemployed which is the biggest blow to the higher education system. As a result of increased number of affiliated colleges, the burden of administrative functions of universities has significantly increased and resulted in the dilution of the core focus on academics and research.
Opportunities in Higher Education
India is a country of estimated youth population of around 150 million aged between 18 to 23 years. During the last seven decades, India has made tremendous growth in terms of number of colleges and universities. Higher Education sector offers immense investment opportunities in both non-regulated and regulated segments. If India’s huge population is properly educated, and knowledge is imparted using advanced digital teaching and learning tools, then it will emerge as one of the most developed nations in the world. This engagement is the source to strengthen relationships by increasing participation in platforms (seminars and conferences) which enables debate and dialogue on international platform.
Higher education in 2018
The Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) focusing on equity, access and excellence in higher education has observed very slow progress of below 25% in terms of fund utilisation. It is estimated that more than 1,000 additional universities are needed in the country to achieve the gross enrolment ratio (GER) target of 30% by 2022. On one hand, there is a stern competition to get admission in top notch institutions, on the other hand, many institutions are unable to meet students expectations and have to revisit their models to improve the quality. The government’s push with initiative like grooming 20 universities as “Institutions of Eminence” is a welcome step. This will enable Indian institutions to compete on a global level and enter the elite list of top 100 world institutes. Along with it, the present govt has announced to replace UGC with HECI.
Replacement of UGC
The Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry is likely to pilot the Higher Education Commission of India Act 2018 in the Parliament. Enactment of HECI brings in provisions to ‘mentor’ deficient institutes. If HECI is able to break out of the UGC shell and bring in practical solutions, it will have a great impact on higher education. Apart from this major development, education sector requires many reforms which can further give direction to expansion of facilities, quality part-time education, post-graduate education and research, education of women and inter-university collaborations. Steps taken to reform the system of education should be directed to bring the change that is relevant to the existing ecosystem.
Education is the process that brings head, heart and mind together and thus enables a person to develop an all round personality bringing out the best in him or her. There is no denying the fact that India is facing a great deal of challenges in various sectors but to tackle these challenges, a planned boost to higher education is of utmost important. UGC has played a significant role in India since independence. With passage of time, many limitations crawled into the system making the impact limited. Introduction of reformed committee HECI seems to be a new ray of hope to take India education system to new dimensions universally. Educational progress has the utmost potential to achieve the future endeavours.