Indian Higher Education: Envisioning the Future


Pawan Agarwal

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  • Praise for the Author's Work*

    It is first-rate…well written and organized…, it gives the empirical overview…yet also does so in nice int'l perspective, gives both a macro/aggregate vision and shows variation. In short this ranks in my judgment among the top of recent single-country higher education system reports.

    Prof. Daniel C. Levy, PROPHE Director and Distinguished Professor, University of Albany, SUNY

    …besides the ideas, arguments and suggestions contained, it is virtually a reservoir of precious data that will be immensely useful for everyone, who may be interested in understanding the state of higher education in India as well as the global trend.

    Prof. V.C. Kulandaiswamy, Former VC, IGNOU and two other universities

    …comprehensive and solid work. Best overall discussion of higher education in India in some years.

    Prof. Philip G. Altbach, Director, Center for International Higher Education, Boston College

    …outstanding document.

    Prof. P. Rama Rao, Chairman, IIT Review Committee, Formerly Secretary (DST) & VC (Hyderabad University)

    …this will be a very valuable base on which to build a progressive and forward looking policy on higher education.

    Prof. P. Balaram, Director, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

    …paper has come out at a very appropriate time, when policy makers, academics, students and their parents and the community at large are looking for solutions in a sector…useful base document for opening a fresh debate on HE policy.

    Mr. B. S. Baswan, Former Education Secretary, Government of India

    …paper is well structured. It covers a large spectrum of issues relating to higher education. It contains valuable and relevant national and international data. ….… presentation is lucid. ……. paper will be a distinct contribution to stimulating further discussions and beneficial actions.

    Prof. M. Anandakrishnan, Chairperson, Madras Institute of Development Studies

    It is indeed an excellent, comprehensive paper with some thought provoking recommendations.

    Dr. Shashi K. Shrivastava, Senior Education Specialist for the South Asia Region (World Bank)

    *Higher Education in India: The Need for Change, ICRIER Working Paper Number 180. The book is based on this working paper.


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    List of Tables

    • 1.1 Types of institutions 2
    • 1.2 Number of DAIs 3
    • 1.3 Capacity expansion 17
    • 1.4 Student enrolment in distance and conventional mode 23
    • 1.5 Higher education enrolment 28
    • 1.6 Different types of providers of higher education 34
    • 2.1 New institutions, locations and outlays 43
    • 2.2 New AICTE approvals during 2004–05 45
    • 2.3 Programme-wise enrolment (2004–05 as on 30.9.2004) 55
    • 2.4 GER in higher education and per capita net SDP 56
    • 3.1 Ownership and financing of institutions 70
    • 3.2 Growth of arts and science, and engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu 75
    • 3.3 Different modes of delivery by foreign providers 82
    • 3.4 Professional higher education institutions: Growth and private share 88
    • 3.5 Growth of engineering colleges in India 89
    • 3.6 Higher education institutions and enrolment (by type of management) 91
    • 3.7 Private enrolment and private institutions (various years) 101
    • 3.8 Different paradigms on fundraising 103
    • 3.9 Current status and growth prospects by type of institution 112
    • 4.1 Education expenditure by departments and plan/non-plan (2005–06 BE) 120
    • 4.2 Central government—priorities in spending 120
    • 4.3 Central government expenditure by level of education (2005–06 and 2008–09) 121
    • 4.4 Higher education expenditure (2005–06 BE in Rs billion) 122
    • 4.5 Central government—Eleventh Plan outlay 123
    • 4.6 Higher education expenditure in 2005, or latest year available 125
    • 4.7 Education/higher education expenditure in terms of GDP 126
    • 4.8 Funding of higher education institutions 128
    • 4.9 Funding of higher education from the central government 129
    • 4.10 Relative expenditure on education by major states 136
    • 4.11 Expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP by source of fund 137
    • 4.12 Growth of student loan portfolio, (1990–91 to 2005–06) 156
    • 4.13 Expenditure on higher education by nature of expenditure (per cent) 161
    • 5.1 Computerisation and three task categories 175
    • 5.2 Employment by sector/industrial category (various years) 180
    • 5.3 Output, employment and productivity in various sectors 182
    • 5.4 Employment in software and services sector 187
    • 5.5 Unemployment (UPS) and level of education (in per cent) 194
    • 5.6 Projected graduate demand in various sectors 197
    • 5.7 GER and skill distribution 197
    • 5.8 Main workers by occupations, qualifications required and growth 199
    • 5.9 Stock, enrolment and outturn of graduates and above, India, 2005 202
    • 5.10 Graduates by fields of education (as per cent of total) 204
    • 5.11 Transition from campus to corporate sector 216
    • 5.12 Coping with skill shortages 220
    • 5.13 Hiring of computer professionals by top six companies 222
    • 5.14 Graduate workforce–estimates and projections 226
    • 6.1 Global R&D spending 252
    • 6.2 Contribution of private sector in research 254
    • 6.3 Research outlays—by socio-economic objectives 256
    • 6.4 Research manpower, 2000–04 257
    • 6.5 Number of PhD degrees awarded 258
    • 6.6 Publications and citations, 1994–2004 (10-year period) 260
    • 6.7 PCT applications (by nationality of first applicant) 264
    • 6.8 Academic ranking of world universities, 2006: top 500 268
    • 6.9 S&T indicators for four top economies (various years) 271
    • 6.10 Major multinational R&D labs in India, 2007 276
    • 6.11 University and industry R&D—different approaches 288
    • 7.1 Regulatory and statutory bodies for higher education 310
    • 7.2 National regulatory frameworks—six models 337
    • 7.3 India's offer—key elements and comments 342
    • 7.4 Five regulatory functions 352
    • 8.1 Various benefits of accreditation 359
    • 8.2 Facilities in NAAC accredited colleges, 2002–04 366
    • 8.3 Accreditation status of universities and colleges—states/UTs 367
    • 8.4 Status of NBA accredited programmes 369
    • 8.5 Higher education system in the United States and India 378
    • 8.6 Number and distribution of teaching staff by category, 2006–07 387
    • 9.1 Middle/High income households (in millions) 411
    • 9.2 Potential benefits from higher education 417

    List of Figures

      List of Figures
    • 1.1 Higher education enrolment—various sources 8
    • 1.2 Indian students studying overseas 15
    • 1.3 Growth of institutions and enrolment in higher education 18
    • 2.1 Disparities in enrolment 54
    • 3.1 Typology of public and private institutions 68
    • 4.1 Resource flows to and from a tertiary education institution 117
    • 4.2 Universities and colleges with/without central and public funding 132
    • 4.3 Per cent cost-recovery through tuition fees (2004–05) 142
    • 5.1 Total workers in 1991 and 2001 as per industrial category 178
    • 5.2 Work participation by education level, India, 2001 193
    • 5.3 Total workers and graduate workers by sectors 196
    • 5.4 Going deeper in the graduate pool for employment 227
    • 6.1 Percentage share of world publications 261
    • 8.1 Trend of NAAC accreditation 364
    • 8.2 NAAC accreditation status (June 2005) 365
    • 8.3 Linkages between different units in US higher education 375
    • 8.4 Linkages between different units in Indian higher education 376
    • 8.5 Use of technology in higher education—a framework 396

    List of Boxes

    • 2.1 Higher education in the Eleventh Plan 42
    • 2.2 International experience in affirmative action 62
    • 3.1 Private aided institutions in Bihar 72
    • 3.2 Chhattisgarh private universities 81
    • 3.3 Georgia Tech in India 84
    • 3.4 Engineering seats go a-begging in Tamil Nadu 89
    • 3.5 National Law School in India—a model for public–private partnership 106
    • 3.6 Spending on advertisements by educational institutions 107
    • 4.1 UGC funding—inadequate and skewed 132
    • 5.1 Enterprise-led approach to skill development in Ireland 237
    • 5.2 Community colleges in the United States and Canada 241
    • 6.1 Funding of flagship universities in China 283
    • 6.2 Four important library consortia in India 292
    • 7.1 UGC rules, regulations and notifications (illustrative list only) 314
    • 7.2 Statutory bodies and list of their regulation in India (illustrative list only) 318
    • 7.3 Regulating private higher education in Korea 324
    • 7.4 Regulating foreign higher education in Hong Kong 338
    • 8.1 Definitions 360
    • 8.2 SAQS—a transnational quality assurance initiative in South Asia 371
    • 8.3 Accreditation in the United States 375
    • 8.4 IIT—a global brand 385
    • 8.5 Serious faculty shortages in engineering institutions 390


    PAWAN Agarwal has done a significant service to the international higher education community by writing an informative, up-to-date and analytical book about Indian higher education. Internationally, little is known about Indian higher education—and what is known is not particularly favourable. Indian Higher Education: Envisioning the Future will also be immensely useful for Indians—policymakers, the academic community and the public—because it provides an overview of the complexity of the academic system and analysis of the problems facing higher education.

    It is surprising that India has no major higher education research centre and no group of researchers focusing on this key subject. Higher education as an academic subject is not taught in Indian universities, and the large cadre of administrators in India's sprawling higher education system have no training about how universities function, their role in society, or the finances or academe. This is in sharp contrast to China, which has an extensive network of higher education training programmes attached to universities, several excellent higher education research centres, and a general understanding that policy and management of higher education is a matter of considerable national importance.

    Pawan Agarwal's book is important because it provides the beginning of a dialog about higher education that can inform policy discussions. It discusses most of the central issues facing India's higher education establishment—the immense challenge of funding the massive system in ways that can provide quality and access, regulation and quality assurance, workforce development, the role of research, and others.

    The fact is that India's higher education system is well below the standard of the countries with which it is competing globally. India has no universities anywhere near the top in any of the international rankings. Only the IITs, which of course are not universities but are small technologically focused institutions, show up in the rankings. Only one or two of the universities are anywhere near the quality of competitors in China, Korea, Singapore and other rapidly developing countries. Some argue that while India graduates large numbers of engineers and other technologically oriented people, many do not have the skills needed for the global economy. Many bright Indians choose to study abroad in part because they cannot get the quality that they want at home—and a large majority does not return home.

    India has several competitive advantages. The widespread use of English, some innovative high tech and other companies that can absorb well-trained graduates and a large population of bright and energetic students, all contribute to India's potential. Yet, without careful attention to improving the universities, providing more adequate funding, expanding the top-quality sector of the system, eliminating corruption and ensuring that students who get access to higher education can successfully complete their studies, India's academic potential, and eventually its economic success, will be put in jeopardy.

    Philip G.Altbach, Monan University Professor, Director, Center for International Higher Education, Boston College


    THIS book really began on 26 October 1998. After 13 years in the civil services in West Bengal, when I joined the Government of India, I was assigned the higher education bureau in the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). I was a bit disappointed. Prized postings in the undivided department of education were in the elementary education and adult education bureaus. These bureaus had large and increasing budgets, interesting job content and the bureaucrats posted in these bureaus enjoyed occasional trips abroad. In contrast, higher education was then a low priority.

    A year ago, a white paper on public subsidies had declared higher education as a non-merit service. The University Grants Commission (UGC) pay commission had put a huge burden on the state exchequer. Despite a decent bounty, academic community was aggrieved. Higher education budget was shrinking. New central institutions of higher education were a strict no-no. Government was suspicious of the private providers. After a fierce debate on the private universities bill initiated in 1995, it was almost written off. All foreign providers were seen as fly-by-night operators and the government had no clue what to do with them.

    Thus, it was not the best of times when my association with the policy and practice of higher education in India began way back in 1998. Things were however set to change. Indian IT strategy: NASSCOM–Mckinsey Report released in December 1999 predicted that the IT sector would be the country's engine for economic growth. During the 1980s and 1990s, private engineering colleges and private IT training sector had grown large despite government ambivalence. Acknowledging the contribution made by them in feeding trained manpower to the IT sector, severe skill shortages in IT sector were projected. This gave a boost to further private expansion, but government apathy for higher education continued. A high-powered task force constituted to look at the IT manpower needs noted that while the numbers were sufficient, quality would be a bottleneck. Several initiatives were conceived, but no funds were provided. The general feeling was that private expansion would take care of the increased demand.

    Meanwhile, with the economy continuing to grow at 9 per cent per annum, other sectors of economy began to face skill shortages. This was attributed to the inadequacy of higher education system. Tiny quality sector, low employability of graduates, declining interest in science and low base of enrolment in doctoral programmes were identified as concerns. The prime minister constituted the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) to look at the knowledge sectors, including higher education. In 2006, there was a nation-wide agitation, mainly against, but also in favour of, the numerical-based quotas in central higher education institutions, which paralysed the country for months. The crisis went out of control; it required the Supreme Court to intervene. While the crisis was unfortunate, it brought to focus higher education and its concerns.

    At the same time, NKC came out with its report on higher education advocating massive expansion, significant increase in financial outlay and restructuring of regulatory arrangements. It was in this backdrop that the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007–12) for the country was finalised. There is a nine-fold increase in outlay for higher education with proposals for many new central institutions. The prime minister has called the Eleventh Plan as the National Plan for Education with focus on higher education and skill development. As they say, there was an opportunity in the crisis. Fortunately, the opportunity was not missed. Though, many believe that mere increased outlay and new institutions would not help much. Further action is required on several fronts.

    Nevertheless, higher education moved from government's peripheral interest to a key agenda. Higher education is now seen as critical to India's emergence as a major player in the global knowledge economy. Role of higher education in support of overall education is clearly seen as the country moves from the universalisation of basic education to the progressive massification of secondary education. It is now widely accepted that the country had found and created an advantage in skill-based activities on the strength of its large pool of qualified manpower. This is fed by its large and growing higher education system. Growing prosperity and rapid advances in communications and mass media have resulted in raising the aspirations of the people. Higher education enables upward social and economic mobility. Access to higher education is rightly seen as an effective means to meet raised aspirations. Thus, higher education today enjoys solid political support.

    I have watched these developments closely over the years. From the higher education bureau, I had shifted to the technical education bureau in 1999 and continued there until 2003—responsible for premier institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology and IT education, those were interesting times. All India Engineering Entrance Examination was established. Indian National Digital Library for Engineering, Science and Technology (INDEST) was set up. National Programme Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) was initiated and exclusive education channels, Gyan Darshan and Eklavya were started.

    During this period, the Regional Engineering Colleges were upgraded to National Institutes of Technology with greater academic autonomy and financial muscle. A policy framework for post-graduate education and research in engineering was put in place. Indian Institutes of Technology were funded liberally based on the newly devised performance matrix. There were several unfinished tasks, failures and controversies. Systematic collaboration between research labs and academic institutions and networking between IITs and NITs could not be operationalised. Public opinion was against the ministry's decision of routing of donations through Bharat Shiksha Kosh and regulating fees in the Indian Institutes of Management. Working of the ministry of HRD was seen as intrusive.

    On completion of my tenure with the ministry of HRD, I shifted to the UGC as a financial adviser. I found the UGC financing very complex with glaring fallacies. Funds were grossly inadequate and skewed in favour of select universities and colleges. Input-based deficit financing was inefficient and promoted status quo. Apart from streamlining funding arrangements, the then Chairman, Professor Arun Nigavekar allowed me to work on several new initiatives. A national repository of theses and dissertations, national students data repository and development of higher education information system were planned. Disclosure standards to curb deceptive practices by institutions of higher education were drafted. Policy for protection and management of intellectual property rights in the university system was in put in place and a research handbook was published to nurture research culture. The UGC took initiatives to promote Indian higher education abroad. These were however uncertain times for the UGC. Amidst this uncertainty, several of these tasks could not be concluded.

    In the year 2000, going beyond the traditional bilateral exchange format, Fulbright had established the New Century Scholars programme for multilateral engagement and multidisciplinary research collaboration in order to examine topics of global significance. Reflecting the importance of higher education as a global issue, the topic for the year 2005–06 was ‘Higher Education in the 21st Century: Global Challenges and National Response’. Long association with the sector enabled me to successfully compete. I was chosen as one of the 31 New Century Scholars from 20 countries for collaborative research on the topic for the year 2005–06.

    I was exhausted and confused with continued long association with policy and practice of higher education. I needed a break. I wanted to understand the manner in which higher education relates to the economy, society and polity and what could be the way forward. I needed to deepen my understanding of the challenges faced by countries around the world in higher education and the manner in which they respond to them. I decided to take a sabbatical during my Fulbright tenure. I had a chance meeting with Dr Rashmi Banga, a researcher at the Indian Council for International Economic Research (ICRIER), who introduced me to the then Director, Dr Arvind Virmani. Dr Virmani, now the Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India, agreed to host me. I continued to get support from Dr Rajiv Kumar, who succeeded him a few months later. He has a deep personal interest in higher education.

    On a high growth path, country's economy was the envy of the developing world. The ICRIER was in its sliver jubilee year. Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia as its Chairperson was keen that ICRIER seizes the opportunity to emerge as the country's top think–tank shaping her economic policies. There were numerous seminars and events and several important visitors. Interactions with highly qualified in-house researchers and important visitors from around the world were intellectually stimulating. Having collegial atmosphere with excellent research facilities, ICRIER provided the right setting to think through the issues with a clear mind. I had an obligation to write a research paper as a New Century Scholar. However, I was inadequately prepared. My engineering education and tight job schedule as a civil servant left me little time for social sciences and writing research papers. Dr Rashmi Banga, an accomplished researcher herself, taught me the intricacies of writing research papers and was a continuous source of inspiration and encouragement.

    In 2006, ICRIER published my working paper, Higher Education in India: The Need for Change (WP No. 180). Despite some gaps in data and analysis, the paper was well received both in India and abroad. I got many helpful comments. Substantial comments were received from Mr B.S. Baswan, Senior Consultant in the Planning Commission and earlier Education Secretary, Government of India, Professor M. Anandakrishnan, Chairperson of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Professor Philip G. Altbach, Director of the Centre for International Higher Education at Boston College, Professor Stephen Heyneman, formerly Lead Educator with the World Bank, Professor Daniel C. Levy, PROPHE Director and Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Albany, Professor V.C. Kulandaiswamy, former Vice Chancellor, IGNOU, Professor P. Rama Rao, Chairman, IIT Review Committee, and Dr Shashi K. Shrivastava from the World Bank. These comments led to some significant revisions.

    Over the next two years, I conducted several studies, wrote many reports and published numerous articles. I participated in many seminars and conferences on higher education both in India and abroad. All this contributed significantly to my understanding of the higher education sector. An intense engagement with fellow New Century Scholars as a part of the Fulbright programme gave me a global perspective. I realised that countries around the world face similar challenges in higher education.

    Now I needed to synthesise the material in the ICRIER working paper with various studies and reports that I did subsequently, insights and learning from interactions with many people. I decided to publish it as a book. SAGE enthusiastically agreed to publish it. This book was thus born. It has a comprehensive review of the Indian higher education, particularly developments over the past couple of years. Considering the country's outward orientation in the recent years, the review is done in a global context, factoring in the changes in economy, demography and society. The book breaks several myths, assesses the needs, identifies the gaps and provides several useful ideas. While, it does not provide a single vision for the future, but the analytical framework and data provided in the book would hopefully stimulate insights and new trains of thought to envision future of the country's higher education and enable informed policy debate.

    Like complete disagreement among the blind men touching different and only one part of an elephant to learn what it is like, its various stakeholders, depending on their own perspectives, view higher education differently. I had the occasion to work at the policy level in higher education for many years, therefore, though I tried to write this book as a detached observer, it brings my own views on the subject, shaped by my experience. I need not apologise for this, but the readers are entitled to form their own opinion on the issues discussed in this book.

    As the book goes for print, the country, like the rest of world, is passing through a major slow down. Rather than skill shortages, media is reporting job losses and weak placements even for the graduates from the Indian Institutes of Management. In these times of recession, many people are opting for post-graduation and research. With the pay hike in 2008, faculty is now paid more than group ‘A’ officers in the government at the entry-level and enjoy several perks. Several universities are reporting at least 25 per cent increase in applications for post-graduate programmes. Several new central institutions, including those with focus on science education and research, are also functional. Many others are proposed. Existing institutions are more liberally funded. With increased demand for higher education, private providers are upbeat and are on an expansion spree. This appears to be a good time for Indian higher education. As the new national government with a decisive mandate takes up the task of nation building, this book would help it to create a new vision for the Indian higher education under the changed realities.


    THIS book has evolved over many years. During the slow and often interrupted evolution of this book, I have accumulated many debts, only a few of which I have space to acknowledge here. During my years with the higher education sector in the government, many of my superiors and colleagues encouraged and supported me. I would like to specially mention the following: Education Secretaries Maharaj Krishen Kaw, Kumud Bansal, B.S. Baswan and R.P. Agrawal, and Joint Secretaries, Vijay Shankar Pandey and V.K. Pipersenia in the Ministry of HRD; Chairman, Professor Arun Nigavekar and Secretary, Professor Ved Prakash, Dr Pankaj Mittal, Dr Dev Swarup and Diksha Rajput at the UGC; and Chief Secretary, Amit Kiran Deb in the Government of West Bengal. I would like to express my sincere thanks to them.

    Participation in the Fulbright New Century Scholars (NCS) Programme gave me an opportunity to understand higher education in a global perspective. It enabled me to work together with many experts, visit new places including some of the best universities in the world and attend very intense seminars on the future of higher education. In doing so, I appreciate the help I got from the Executive Director, United State-India Education Foundation, Professor Jane E. Schukoske and her colleagues, in particular Sarina Paranjape; the Director of the Center for International Exchange of Scholars, Patti McGill Paterson and her staff; and Director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, Professor Philip G. Altbach and his staff, in particular Laura E. Rumbley. Fellow NCS scholars were a pleasure to work with and always very helpful. I thank them all for their support.

    During my study visit to the United States, Professor Jagdish N. Sheth was my host at the India–China–America Institute in Atlanta and Professor Richard B. Freeman at the Labor and Work Life Programme at the Harvard University. They were excellent hosts and interactions with them and their colleagues, particularly Professor Robert De Haan at the Emory University, Professor Elaine Bernard and Professor Jack Trumbour at the Harvard University were very invigorating and gave useful insights.

    Mark Hutcheson at the India–China–America Institute coordinated my seminars and visits to Georgia State University, Kennesaw University and Georgia Tech. Professor Robert Kennedy and Ajay Sharma invited me for a seminar at the William Davidson Institute under the University of Michigan. Deepti M. Nijhawan coordinated my interactive meeting with researchers under the MIT-India Program. Professor Sugata Bose invited me for a seminar under the South Asia Initiative at the Harvard University. Professor Daniel C. Levy invited me for a seminar with his colleagues in the Program for Research on Private Higher Education at the State University of New York at Albany. Dr Shashi K. Shrivastava organised a seminar with the education team at the World Bank headquarters. All these visits, interactions and seminars were intellectually stimulating and gave new insights. I thank them all.

    The sabbatical at ICRIER was fun and a great learning experience. The Chairperson, Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Directors, Dr Arvind Virmani and Dr Rajiv Kumar and senior faculty Dr Shankar Acharya and Professor Nitin Desai were very supportive. Intense discussions with learned colleagues, Dr Rashmi Banga, Nisha Taneja, Dr Arpita Mukheree, Dr Danish Hashim, Dr Rajiv Ahuja, Dr Suparna Karmakar and Dr Surabhi Mittal were always useful in getting an alternate perspective. I am thankful to all of them.

    Apart from the above, in the course of my work and while writing this book, I met many people whom I admire for their vision and understanding of higher education. I would like to mention a few of them: Sam Pitroda, Kiran Karnik, Rajendra Pawar, F.C. Kohli, Professor Arvind Panagariya, Professor Suman Bery, Professor Devesh Kapur, Arun Maira, Dr James Tooley, Sushma Berlia, Professor Govardhan Mehta, Professor A. Gnanam, Professor K.B. Powar, Professor Amrik Singh, Professor Yash Pal, Professor G.K. Chadha, Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Professor Bibek Debroy, Professor D.P. Agrawal, Professor Deepak Pental, Professor K.K. Agarwal, Professor Subimal Sen, Professor Suranjan Das and Vivek Bharati. There were researchers from abroad like Professor Nicholas Barr, Dr Neil Kemp and Vivek Wadhwa. And then there are many others whom I never met, but whose work I read in course of writing this book. The list is long and their names are included in the endnotes and references, but here I would like to mention three: Gurcharan Das, Rafiq Dossani and Nandan Nilekarni. Their insights have added immeasurably to the content of this book. I wish to acknowledge their contribution and convey my gratitude to all of them.

    Several professional acquaintances of these years are now personal friends. I shared my passion for higher education with them. I would like to specially mention Professor Sanjay G. Dhande, Dr Jagdish Arora, Professor Sudhir Jain, Professor Furqan Qamar, Professor Binod Khadria, Dr Kavita Sharma, Dr Meenakshi Gopinath, Professor Sudhanshu Bhushan, Professor Ashok Ranjan Thakur, Professor Rupa Chanda, Dr Usha Munshi, Dr Xavier Alphonse, Dr Asha Gupta, Dr Sheel Nuna, N.V. Sathyanarayana, K. Satyanarayan, Suren Rasaily, Dr Jaganath Patil, Dr Jamshed Siddiqui, Pervin Malhotra, Dr Veena Bhalla, Dr M.D. Tiwari, Dr Yamini Gupt, Dr Vijaya Khandavilli, Dr Yaj Medury, Rajesh Jain, Ajay Mohan Goel, Sanchita Chatterjee, S. Shekhar Singh, Nitu Jain, Ajay Bohora and Shobha Mishra. They all assisted me one way or another, especially in challenging me with alternative views. I am indebted to all of them.

    My wife Monika, daughter Ayushi and son Arnav were very patient with my late nights. Monika, herself a teacher, read through the manuscript, served as a willing sounding board and voice of moderation for her book-obsessed spouse. I love them for their faithful support. Dr Sugata Ghosh, Rekha Natarajan, Anupam Choudhury, and their colleagues at SAGE Publications were uncomplaining when I missed my deadlines in the course of production of this book. They worked diligently to see that this book finally got published.

    Professor Philip G. Altbach is highly respected for the study of higher education globally. My association with him began as the New Century Scholar under the Fulbright programme, which he ably led as its Distinguished Scholar Leader. It continued beyond that. He was a Fulbright professor in India way back in 1968 and has a continuing interest in the Indian higher education. Over time, he became my guide and mentor. He continually pushed me to conclude this book that he jovially referred to as a magnum opus on Indian higher education. When I requested him to write the foreword for this book, he readily agreed. I am deeply indebted to him for guidance, support and encouragement.

    Writing of this book has been truly a joint enterprise and a collaborative exercise. Apart from names mentioned, there are many others who contributed. I could not give all the names for want of space. They have contributed to my understanding of the complexities of Indian higher education. I appreciate their help and thank them for their support.


    Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.

    — Aristotle

    India has seen a consistently high rate of economic growth in the recent years. It has now become a major player in the global knowledge economy. Skill-based activities have made significant contribution to this growth. Such activities depend on the large pool of qualified manpower that is fed by its large higher education system. It is now widely accepted that higher education has been critical to India's emergence in the global knowledge economy. Yet, it is believed that a crisis is plaguing the Indian higher education system. While, the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) set up by the Prime Minister calls it a ‘quiet crisis’, the Human Resource Minister calls higher education ‘a sick child’. Industries routinely point towards huge skill shortages and are of the opinion that growth momentum may not be sustained unless the problem of skill shortages is addressed.

    There appear to be endless problems with the Indian higher education system. The higher education system produces graduates that are unemployable, though there are mounting skill shortages in a number of sectors. The standards of academic research are low and declining. An unwieldy affiliating system, inflexible academic structure, uneven capacity across subjects, eroding autonomy of academic institutions, low level of public funding, archaic and dysfunctional regulatory environment are some of its many problems. Finally, it is widely held that it suffers from several systemic deficiencies and is driven by populism, and in the absence of reliable data, there is little informed public debate.

    More than 35 years ago, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, while analysing the crisis in Indian education, rather than attributing the crisis in Indian education to administrative neglect or to thoughtless action, pointed out that the ‘grave failures in policy-making in the field of education require the analysis of the characteristics of the economic and social forces operating in India, and response of public policy to these forces’ (Amartya Sen, ‘The Crisis in Indian education’, Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Lectures, 10–11 March 1970). He emphasised that ‘due to the government's tendency to formulate educational policies based on public pressure, often wrong policies are pursued.’ Unfortunately, it is believed that policy-making suffers from similar failure even today. Rather than pragmatism, it is populism, ideology and vested interests that drive policy. It seeks to achieve arbitrarily set goals that are often elusive and, more than that, pursued half-heartedly.

    Worldwide Higher Education Reforms

    The emergence of a global economy due to increased trade, investment and mobility of people and, more recently, work across borders has forced nation states to adapt their systems of higher education to the changed global realities. Rather than continuing with their inward looking policies, several countries are reshaping their systems of higher education for making them globally competitive. Pragmatism rather than ideology is driving this change. The United States of America has major plans for investment in higher education. The United Kingdom has injected new dynamism in the higher education sector through competition and incentives. China has undertaken a package of comprehensive reforms in higher education for over the past two decades. The government in China has declared education, science and technology to be the strategic driving forces of sustainable economic growth. Pakistan has embarked upon wide-ranging systemic reforms.

    Despite the fact that the United States has the finest system of higher education in the world, it had set up a commission to examine the future of higher education in September 2005, with a mandate to ensure that America remains the world's leader in higher education and innovation.1 While the report of the commission has been received and is being processed for implementation, the US government has already committed to invest USD134 billion in higher education over the next 10 years. In the United Kingdom, where higher education is primarily in the public sector, faced with problems of deteriorating standards due to inadequate funding and failing accountability, several innovations in financing, such as performance-based funding for teaching and research and portable students’ aid, and so on, were introduced over the past decade. This helped the UK higher education system to become one of the best systems of higher education in the world again. In a highly sensitive and bold decision, the UK government has now allowed the universities to compete for students and charge variable fees, bringing an end to the regulated fee regime in the UK (DfES, 2003).

    Higher education reforms in China were initiated along with wider economic reforms to become a market economy in the year 1978. Prior to that, higher education was in the public sector. There was no tuition fee. The government even took care of living expenses of the students. Since then, the system of higher education has radically changed. The concept of cost-sharing and cost recovery was introduced in the early years of reforms. Tuition fees have now been made compulsory. The higher education institutions in China were expected to diversify their revenue sources and, therefore, allowed to have affiliated enterprises (Sanyal and Martin, 2006).

    Apart from increased support from alternative sources, higher education received increased financial allocations from the government. Thus, in spite of massive expansion in enrolment, average funding per student did not go down. Through a national legislation in 2002, China proactively involved the private sector to contribute and invest in higher education. This accelerated the growth. To nurture excellence, a selective approach in funding was adopted. In 1993, special financial allocations were provided for China's top 100 institutions to upgrade them to international standards. In the year 1998, an even higher-level funding was provided to nine top universities to make them world class.

    Australia initiated comprehensive reforms in higher education in 2003. Government funding was significantly enhanced along with increased provision for subsidised loans and scholarships for students. The reform package included areas as diverse as teaching, workplace productivity, governance, student financing, research, cross-sectoral collaboration and quality (Commonwealth of Australia, 2003). Apart from the advanced countries, many developing countries took up ambitious programmes to reform their higher education sector. It was realised that though primary and secondary education is important, it is the quality and size of the higher education system that will differentiate a dynamic economy from a marginalised one in the global knowledge-based economy.

    Based on the recommendation of the Task Force for Improvement of Higher Education, neighbouring Pakistan replaced its University Grants Commission (found ineffective) by a proactive Higher Education Commission that initiated wide-ranging systemic reforms in 2002. Public funding for higher education was increased significantly from Rs 3.8 billion in 2002 to Rs 33.7 billion in 2007. To bring in a degree of transparency and accountability, recurrent funds were allocated amongst universities on the basis of a funding formula. To address faculty related issues, changes in the salary structure of academics under the tenure track system were made. Salaries of active research scholars were increased significantly. Stringent requirements for the appointment and promotion of faculty members and strict quality control of PhD programmes were put in place. The reform programmes also addressed the issue of access to quality teaching, learning and research resources (Agarwal, 2008b).

    Changing Policy on Higher Education in India

    From the early 20th century, there have been several high level commissions set up to provide policy orientation to the development of higher education in India. On the basis of the report of the Sadler Commission (1917–19), also referred to as the Calcutta University Commission, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) was set up to define the general aims of educational policy and coordinate the work of various provinces and universities by guarding against needless duplication and overlapping in the provision of the more costly forms of education. The University Education Commission, presided over by Dr S. Radhakrishnan, in its report in 1949 recommended that university education should be placed in the Concurrent List so that there is a national guarantee of minimum standards of university education. The constituent assembly did not agree to it. It was much later, in 1976, that education was made a concurrent subject with the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution.

    The Kothari Commission (1964–66) examined various aspects of education at all levels and gave a very comprehensive report full of insight and wisdom. This report became the basis of the National Policy on Education, 1968. With this, a common structure of education (10+2+3) was introduced and implemented by most states over a period of time. In the school curricula, in addition to laying down a common scheme of studies for boys and girls, science and mathematics were incorporated as compulsory subjects and work experience assigned a place of importance. A beginning was also made in restructuring of courses at the undergraduate level. Centres of advanced studies were set up for post-graduate education and research. Detailed estimates were made to meet requirements of educated manpower in the country.

    In 1985, a comprehensive appraisal of the existing educational scene was made. This was followed by a countrywide debate. It was noted that while the achievements were impressive in themselves, the general formulations incorporated in the 1968 policy did not, however, get translated into a detailed strategy of implementation, accompanied by the assignment of specific responsibilities and financial and organisational support. It was further noted that problems of access, quality, quantity, utility and financial outlay, accumulated over the years, had assumed such massive proportions that these required to be tackled with the utmost urgency.

    In the background explicated previously, the National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986 was put in place. It was noted in the preamble to the policy that education in India stood at the crossroads, and neither normal linear expansion nor the existing pace and nature of improvement of the situation would help. It was also noted that education has an acculturating role. It refines sensitivities and perceptions that contribute to national cohesion, a scientific temper and independence of mind and spirit—thus furthering the goals of socialism, secularism and democracy enshrined in our Constitution. Education develops manpower for different levels of the economy. It is also the substrate on which research and development flourish, being the ultimate guarantee of national self-reliance. Accepting the fact that education is a unique investment in the present and the future, a very comprehensive policy document was approved in 1986. This was supplemented with a Programme of Action (PoA) in 1992.

    On review now, one sees that many of the recommendations of the NPE, 1986 read with PoA, 1992 have been only partly fulfilled. Moreover, there has been no effort to modify the previous policy prescriptions or to develop a new one. After the economic reforms were undertaken in the early 1990s, their influence on development of higher education has been ignored. With the economic reforms of the 1990s, the private sector has come to occupy a central role in the economic development of the nation. There is a need for a holistic review of the instruments currently available for managing the higher education system such as the University Grants Commission (UGC) Act, the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) Act, and so on, which have become outdated in the present context. In this context, it is important to develop a new national policy framework for higher education in the current and emerging contexts. Such a policy framework should not be developed by political processes, but by an independent, high-powered commission.

    Recent Developments in Indian Higher Education

    Higher education has received a lot of attention in India over the past few years. There are four reasons for this recent focus. First, country's weak higher education system is being blamed for skill shortages in several sectors of economy. Second, reservation quotas in higher education institutions, particularly the more reputed ones that provide access to high status and best-paid jobs became a highly divisive issue, central to the policy of inclusive growth and distributive justice, and hence politically very important. Third, in the backdrop of the first two developments, it began to be argued that the country would not be able to sustain its growth momentum and maintain competitiveness unless problems with higher education are fixed. Last, demand for higher education continues to outpace the supply due to growing population of young people, gains in school education, the growing middle class and their rising aspirations.

    It is widely believed that technological advances and a shift in demographic provide India with a window of opportunity to productively engage its huge pool of human resources, and become a leader in both the rapidly expanding sectors of services and highly skilled manufacturing. This would, however, require revamping the higher education sector. Hence many steps have been taken to augment supply, improve quality and fix many of the problems faced by higher education. The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) that was set up to examine the higher education sector (amongst other things) made several useful and important recommendations. The Government of India has increased funding significantly during the Eleventh Five Year Plan. Many new institutions have been planned and some of them are already operational. There are many good ideas in the plan document. All these efforts, however, appear to be somewhat disconnected. Some even appear to be at cross-purposes with each other. Several suggestions appear to be merely impressionistic views of individuals, rather than being supported by data and research. Overall, these efforts do not give a sense of an integrated reform agenda for Indian higher education. And in absence of credible data and good analysis, the media continues to perpetuate and exacerbate certain fallacies and inconsistencies.

    With ambiguity in defining its purpose and vagueness about its quality, debate on higher education is usually full of rhetoric. As pointed out by Kapur and Crowley, for the higher education ‘sector whose main purpose is to train people with strong analytical skills, it is ironical that its own self-analysis is replete with homilies and platitudes, rather than strong evidence’ (Kapur and Crowley, 2008). Institutions of higher education today are an integral organ of the state and economy. They are embedded in the history and culture of a nation and are shaped by its contemporary realities, ideologies and vested interests. India's large size, long history and diverse culture and the complicated nature of Indian polity and policy process make Indian higher education a very complex enterprise.

    This book unravels this complexity by taking up a comprehensive review of the Indian higher education system, assesses its needs, identifies gaps and provides perspectives for the future. In doing so, it takes into account several measures planned or taken and provides a glimpse of a vibrant emerging private sector. Evolving an integrated reform agenda for higher education in India (or, for that matter, anywhere in the world because of the various sensitive issues involved) with a long-term perspective is both complex and difficult, but by looking at the big picture that the book presents, one could think strategically about it.

    The Plan of This Book

    To intervene in complex systems like ecologies, economies, societies and nations, it is necessary to first understand how the system is put together. Thus, the first chapter of the book maps the size, structure and growth of higher education in India, both in terms of enrolment and institutions. In doing so, the book also examines trends about Indians enrolled overseas and international students in India. While analysing overall growth trends, the book notes the transition from elite to mass higher education and compares the enrolment pattern with countries around the world, and discusses the emergence of new providers and new forms of delivery.

    Issues of access and equity are central to higher education in most countries around the world, particularly in democratic societies. Chapter 2 examines these issues. The chapter also examines the impact of growth in private finance on access and equity.

    Higher education in the private sector has grown fast over the past two decades. This has not only increased capacity and enhanced students’ choices, but also affected the dynamics of regulation. Its impact on financing arrangements has been very significant. With this in view, Chapter 3 has its focus on the growing and vibrant private sector in higher education, its growth and prospects.

    Chapter 4 deals with the financing issues. It analyses the funding of higher education from both public and private resources. It also examines overall funding patterns and trends, issue of institutional funding and student financing (student aid and loans). Keeping the trends in mind, it offers suggestions on sustainable funding arrangements, with a particular focus on student financial aid. There is an organic link between financing and management of higher education, and thus the chapter also discusses issues relating to institutional management in the context of new public management philosophy.

    Chapter 5 analyses the role of higher education in the development of workforce, to meet the domestic as well as the global demand for qualified manpower. It specifically addresses the issue of transition from education to work and the disjunction between them, which calls for specific action and the problem of skill shortages. The chapter also provides a brief outline of the vocational education and training sector. The two complement each other in skill development, and therefore a holistic treatment of the subject makes it necessary to cover this sector as well.

    Chapter 6 benchmarks Indian research performance globally and then evaluates the critical role of academic research in fostering innovation. On review of its weaknesses, the chapter suggests action on several fronts.

    Chapter 7 discusses the regulatory environment for higher education as it exists in India today. It identifies specific areas of concern, taking into consideration the emerging market structure for higher education and the peculiar nature of competition in higher education. The chapter proposes a new regulatory environment to address minimum regulatory concerns, taking care of information failure and facilitating coordination.

    Chapter 8 analyses the progress made on accreditation in India and points out that accreditation, as it exists today, serves little purpose. Specific suggestions for changes in accreditation system have been made.

    Chapter 9 examines the conclusions reached in the context of changing socio-economic and political realities and growing optimism. It analyses three conceptual issues—purpose, diversity and competition, and examines the status and prospects of Indian higher education in terms of three key cross-cutting themes—access and expansion, equity and inclusion, and quality and excellence. Finally, this chapter looks at the changing nature of policy support and the imperatives for systemic governance in the changed scenario.

    The focus on data in this book is deliberate, in order to sieve reality from myth. Perceptions, ideology, vested interests and policy debate have not been missed either. The evolution of economic purposes of higher education has been the single most important development in the education sector in the 20th century, and it resulted in enormous expansion of higher education in countries around the world, including India. It shaped debates over equity and access, social and economic mobility, curriculum and courses, innovation and competitiveness. The emphasis in this book on the economic role of higher education reflects this contemporary reality, though civic, moral and intellectual purposes of higher education are important and will continue to be so.

  • Epilogue

    There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.

    — Niccolo Machiavelli

    This book describes the higher education landscape in India, identifying gaps and needs, and based on the lessons learnt from the experiences of other countries, the book provides perspectives to shape its future. The framework in the book enables clear understanding of the complexity of the system. The book looks at Indian higher education in a holistic manner and adopts a comparative approach for analysis. While reviewing various facets of the Indian higher education, the book adopts a systems approach to achieve coherence and multi-level coordination required to address its genuine concerns on a long-term basis. Changes in higher education are related to the transformation taking place in the economy, the demography and the society. Small order behavioural changes at the micro level are connected to the changes at the macro level. These are shaping the realties of Indian society, economy and the Indian higher education.

    As India is a land of oddities, puzzles and paradoxes, so is its higher education system. Indian higher education is complex, with many contradictions. Instead of coming to an understanding of this complexity by actual data and research, policy is often based on the impressions of a few people. In this book, therefore, there is a deliberate focus on data in analysis. It is hoped that good data will sieve reality from myth and allow informed decision making. However, quantification is not always possible and perceptions play an important role, thus the discussions in the book also take into account common perceptions.

    Despite its weaknesses, the country's recent visibility in the knowledge sector has created a distinct brand of Indian higher education. Indian graduates, particularly from some of the prestigious institutions, are sought after globally. The Indian brand of higher education can be creatively used to the country's advantage. Such perception has helped the country to achieve success in some areas. Continuous reinforcement of this success, however, clouds many perceptions of reality and we tend to fall into the trap of ‘persuasion-bias’. This bias continues to perpetuate and exacerbate certain fallacies and inconsistencies.

    There are several such myths. The first myth is that while there is an irrational exuberance about India shining, many people see Indian higher education in very poor light. The fact, however, lies somewhere in between. India's large and comprehensive higher education has over time built a huge pool of qualified manpower, providing the country an edge in competition in global knowledge economy. There is now the need to build in more diversity, provide greater flexibility and widen student choice. Second, it is often believed that elite institutions like the IITs are the backbone of the Indian higher education. It needs to be understood that these institutions contribute only a tiny fraction (less than half a per cent) of the overall pool of qualified manpower, even though their strict admission procedures have set in motion a competitive process with large positive spillovers.

    Three, private higher education is treated as peripheral, though it is already the most dynamic and growing sector of Indian higher education. In professional areas, private institutions constitute four-fifths of the number of institutions and enrolment. The belief that the current policy and regulatory framework does not permit private participation is wrong. Had this been the case, professional, technical and medical education would not have been dominated by private players. In fact there are several ways in which the current system provides for private participation. Affiliated colleges and institutes could either be privately run government aided colleges or the self-financing private colleges. Private universities can be set up through deemed university route or there could be private universities under separate state legislations. Despite entry barriers, private investment over the past five years has been about five times that of public investment. Unpredictable and non-transparent regulatory environment however prevents more investment and is the main cause of declining academic standards.

    Four, it believed that private and independent accreditation would improve academic standards. While the fact is that the key to effective accreditation would be to have clear and tangible consequences for accreditation. Neither private nor independent accreditation without consequences would serve any purpose. Five, the fee levels in public institutions are believed to be ridiculously low, even though in reality, faced with financial limitations, most public institutions have raised fees substantially, at least for professional courses—with the exception of central universities and universities in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

    Six, it is felt that the problem of skill shortages in the country can be effectively addressed by increasing enrolments in higher education. The country aspires to increase enrolments significantly to reach the levels of enrolment in advanced countries or emerging economies on a medium-term basis. Specifically, it is targeted to increase enrolment to 15 per cent (from the current 11 per cent) by 2012. This goal is desirable and even needed to meet growing demand for higher education with rising prosperity and improvements in school education. But, from the labour market point of view, current enrolment levels by and large adequate and match the country's occupational structure. Having more graduates of the same type would accentuate problem of graduate unemployment and underemployment. There is a greater need for manpower with diverse skills. The skill shortages are at the low end, where graduate skills are not required, or where the need is of blue collar skilled workers. People fail to distinguish between the general situation and specific, narrow, local needs. As a result, there is a widespread misperception about general skill shortages and higher education expansion addressing that problem.

    Seven, it is believed that increased public spending would automatically result in better higher education. In term of percentage of GDP, estimated at 1 per cent (with almost the same contributed through private finance), level of spending on higher education is not low. In fact, relative effort expressed in terms of per student expenditure as a proportion of per capita GDP at 95 per cent is one of the highest in the world. However, in absolute terms and on per student basis, funding levels are very low. While the increased funding in the Eleventh Five Year Plan may help a small number of institutions under the national government, the bulk of the system under the state government would continue to face financial hardships, particularly to meet recurrent expenses. Rationalisation of the fee structure is thus important. This should however be accompanied with liberal student financial aid. This could be grants, but largely loans with income contingent repayments as increasingly used in countries around the world for student loans. This would make higher education free at the point of use. In the interest of efficiency, public funding should be performance-based to promote both equity and excellence.

    Seven, it is commonly understood that the lack of academic autonomy prevents universities from changing curriculum. The fact is that all universities have total autonomy in academic matters. However, there are little or no incentives for the teaching community in the universities to keep their curriculum up-to-date. In many cases, the number of teachers in each faculty is small and their capacity is limited to be able to do so. There is a need to improve ability (autonomy) of institutions and put pressure on them to perform (accountability) including change of curriculum.

    And, finally, it is seen that the existing regulatory bodies—UGC, AICTE, and so on—have failed to maintain standards. Thus, a new regulatory body is being considered. The fact however is that instead of a new regulatory body, a new way of regulating higher education that promotes both autonomy and accountability and fosters private investment is required. As the continuation of the UGC is an ‘anachronism’ today, so would be the setting up of the IRAHE. Such central structures to govern a complex and increasingly diversified system would serve little purpose. The entire regulatory arrangement has to be overhauled keeping in mind the increasing professionalisation of various occupations. Rather than a single agency, multiple agencies would be required, each with clearly defined role and some kind of tribunal to resolves disputes between them. Public funding arrangements have to be divorced from the new regulatory framework.

    Public policy for higher education in India faces the dilemma of the legitimacy of ever-widening ends and reality of limited resources. There is not only the demand for more opportunities for higher education, but also greater diversity, not in just subject range, but in terms of institutional arrangements as well as how subjects are taught and the research is done. Equity and quality must not be seen as two independent and conflicting objectives. These should be seen as complementary. In all, the change in the higher education system requires a paradigm shift in our thinking.

    A fundamental problem faced by Indian higher education is that public policy assumes that all institutions are homogeneous and therefore treats them equally and regards all programmes as equal, while large system of higher education as India has is incompatible with this model of higher education. In reality, Indian higher education is heterogeneous and need to regard this heterogeneity as proper. Policy needs encourage diversity, varied forms of provision and quality comparisons between them. Even public funding policy needs to support a diverse and decentralised system. Issues of social cohesion are of paramount importance at the school level, but in higher education, there is brutal competition. Central planning in funding of diverse system or in matching the skills of graduates with their preferences and the demands of the labour market would not serve the purpose in a very dynamic situation today. Market forces can do a better job.

    Recognising the fact above, the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said in his Civil Services Day Speech on 21 April 2006:

    Public policies are often not based on long-term concerns. These do not carefully weigh the trade off between seemingly contradictory goals and ignore that the markets are now the main arbitrators of resource allocation. The role of the government is to create an open environment and more demanding standards of transparency and accountability so that the markets function efficiently. The government has to strike a delicate balance between growth and an equitable and inclusive development taking into account the forces of globalization and the prevailing socio-economic realties.

    The government has to play a steering role in higher education that focuses on policy outcomes and tries to structure the market to realize those outcomes are met.

    Based on the arguments above, the book has several suggestions to shape the future of Indian higher education. However, without going into the nitty-gritty of each of them, an attempt has been made to define the options and solutions at a level of detail that underscores the practicality of each suggestion and more importantly provides a broad direction for change. The country has a unique opportunity to convert demographic surplus to its economic strength. This would require the creation of a competitive environment in higher education that ensures both public and private institutions develop and become more responsive and innovative. This may require radical change and comprehensive reforms. However, considering the nature of Indian polity and society, strategic intervention with an incremental approach would be the best way forward.



    1. More details at may be found at

    1. This survey on geographical diversity of students in Indian universities was done by the author in the year 2004.

    2. This is based on the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) data. As per AIU 2003–04, this number was merely 7,753. However, author found this number at 12,263 for 2003–04 merging the data from 82 universities collected by the AIU with the projected data for another 83 universities collected by the UGC for 2001–02. Out of 308 universities (that existed in 2003–04), 109 universities reported no international students and 34 universities did not respond. Overall, there is a great deal of confusion on the issue of international student enrolment in India.

    3. IUB was renamed as Association of Indian Universities (AIU) in 1973.

    4. This is based on the fact that by 2011, India will have about 150 million people in the 18–23 age group.

    1. In 1829, a group of mechanics and workingmen in New York City declared, ‘Next to life and liberty, we consider education the greatest blessing bestowed upon mankind.’ Borrowed from the Grubb and Lazeron's book by the same name.

    2. Refers to Ramamurti Committee that issued its report entitled ‘Towards an Enlightened and Humane Society’ and Central Advisory Board for Education (CABE) Committee.

    3. Organised by the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) at New Delhi.

    4. At the Foundation Day Lecture of NUEPA ‘Alternative Perspectives on Higher Education in the Context of Globalization’ in 2007.

    5. Rahul Gandhi on 17th July 2007 (The Indian Express, 19 July 2007).

    6. HRD Minister, Arjun Singh while addressing media persons in Bhopal on 30 March 2008 (The Hindu, 31 March 2008).

    7. Block is a smaller administrative unit within a District. Usually, a District would have 10 to 20 blocks.

    8. The government has approved an outlay of Rs 103.28 billion (60 per cent on capital costs alone) on 22 May 2008.

    1. At the first convocation of Visva Bharati in December 1952.

    2. UGC (Establishment of and Maintenance of Standards in Private Universities) Regulations, 2003.

    3. Refers to 150th Report on Demand No. 58 of the Department related Parliamentary Committee on Human Resource Development.

    4. Writ Petition No. 19 of 2004 brought before Supreme Court through a public interest litigation.

    5. Information on this may also be found on the website of the Assam Government. Available at

    6. As per AP High Court in the Bharatidasan case, universities are not required to seek prior approval of the AICTE for starting professional courses, though they are expected to maintain standards as per AICTE norms.

    7. Details of institutional profiles and expansion plans have been taken from the institutional websites and from the article, ‘Higher Education: Let the Thousand Flowers Bloom’ that appeared in The Economic Times, Kolkata, 6 April 2008.

    8. This university has been set up by Lovely Sweet House at Jalandhar famous for its ‘laddus’, a traditional Indian sweet.

    9. Tax evasion of Rs 267.50 million was unearthed by the IT Department in the raids at nine premises of the coaching, foreign placement agencies, and such in Delhi and Mumbai in 2007 (The Hindu, 15 August 2007).

    10. Six of the top 10 and 3,500 of the overall 7,800 students selected through IIT-JEE 2008 were associated with numerous coaching institutions in Kota (The Times of India, 31 May 2008).

    11. There is international experience on this. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in USA has Guides for Private Vocational and Distance Education Schools (on advertising, promotion and marketing).

    12. Based on AICTE Advt. No. AICTE/Legal/04(01)/2007 issued in April 2007.

    13. Based on AICTE Advt. No. AICTE/Legal/04(02)/2007 issued in April 2007.

    1. At the Round Table of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) on Financing Higher Education in India, 4–5 June 2004, Trivandrum (unpublished).

    2. The Supreme Court in India laid down dual track fee policy for professional unaided institutions in 1992. This was declared as unconstitutional in 2005 by a bigger bench of the Supreme Court in 2005.

    3. This is based on survey on financing of universities by the author.

    4. By the author while he was working as Coordinator (New Initiatives) at the UGC.

    5. Revised model education loan scheme is available at

    6. Based on personal communication with Professor Nichols Barr at the London School Economics. He has worked on design of education loan schemes for a number of countries.

    7. A concept paper on National Graduate Students Repository was issued by UGC Expert Committee of which the author was member-secretary in September 2005.

    8. Extract from Higher Education in the Next Decades—Policy for the State of West Bengal.

    9. Many countries in the world (Australia, UK, Chile, and so on) have shifted to performance-based funding to get value for money from public spending on higher education.

    10. The federal government supports higher education in the US primarily through student grants. These grants are available to students studying all accredited institutions—whether these institutions are public or private. This is the single most important incentive for higher education institutions in the US to get accredited.

    1. Many college graduates work as security guards, maids and nannies in China. Five hundred new graduates applied for six traditionally taboo positions working with the dead at a Beijing Funeral home. In a widely publicised survey released by the China Youth Daily, 35 per cent of the youth said that they regretted their university experience and more than half said that they nothing of use (Melvin, Sheila. 2006. ‘China's College Revolution’, The Wilson Quarterly, 10(4): 37–44).

    2. The residual factor (factors other than capital and labour) is referred to as ‘Total Factor Productivity’ or TFP by economists.

    3. Other conditions responsible for differences in economic well-being of nations may include contribution of government policies, business practices, cultural norms like tendency to work harder, or other unmeasureable or immeasurable factors.

    4. Non-workers broadly constitute students not participating in paid or unpaid work, persons engaged in household chores, persons not even helping in unpaid work in family cultivation, etc., dependents—infants and elderly people, pensioners, beggars, vagrants, prostitutes, persons living on remittances and rent, and so on.

    5. As per the report titled ‘Some aspects of operational land holdings in India, 2002–03’ based on NSS (59th round), the average land holding was merely 1.06 hectare in 2002–03 reducing from 1.34 hectare in 1991–92 and 1.67 hectare in 1981–82.

    6. Figures for 2004–05 are derived from 61st Round Survey on the basis of data provided by NSSO. Employment in 1993–94 and 1999–2000 is as per the 2001 Report of the Task Force on Employment Opportunities (Planning Commission). The employment levels for the three periods derived by adjusting the NSS population to the census population.

    7. Enrolment for 2004–05 is from the Annual Report (2004–05) of the University Grants Commission and the Stock for 2001 is from the 2001 Census of India; Stock (2005) and Outturn 2004–05 are estimated by the author.

    8. See Grubb and Lazerson (2004). A one-year programme would typically comprise a dozen courses and students have the option to take larger number of courses in a particular field of study to major or graduate in that field.

    9. Whereas education is an open-ended process leading to the development of mind and involves inputs in the cognitive and affective domains, the specific goal of training is to impart technical skills and usually involves inputs in the psychomotor domain.

    10. Though there is some similarity, these are different from community colleges in the United States and Canada, where such colleges have open door admission policy, provide cheaper option and pathways for entry to regular four-year colleges.

    11. Based on personal communication with Dr Xavier Alphonse, Founder-Director of ICDRDE, Chennai, the organisation that is leading community college movement in India.

    12. As identified by the Task Force on Skill Development set up by the Planning Commission.

    13. On 17 October 2006 The New York Times reported that skills gap threaten technology boom in India. Referring to severe constraint in the supply of qualified manpower, The Financial Times, London on 20 July 2006 sounded alarm over educational failings in India. The Wilson Quarterly in its autumn 2006 issue carried an article by Philip Altbach, an international education expert, bringing out that India with its tiny quality education sector cannot sustain leadership in global knowledge economy.

    14. Recently a reputed columnist blamed the Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD), Government of India for the shortage of pilots due to inadequacies of Indian higher education in her column in the Times of India, while another story the same day was about the glut of pilots in the country with many private pilot training institutions coming up in recent years. In any case ministry of HRD does not have any role in pilot training programmes.

    15. Based on the US Secretary of Labour's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (or SCANS) in Grubb and Lazerson (2004: 5).

    16. Bulge mix is percentage of employees in 0–3 years experience over the total population of professionals.

    1. The Prime Minister announced the government's intentions to raise R&D expenditure to 2 per cent of GDP in the next five years at the 94th Indian Science Congress and reiterated in the 95th Congress at Andhra University.

    2. Project of UGC Research Handbook was coordinated by the author in his capacity as coordinator of new initiatives in the year 2005.

    3. This covers the top 21 of the most cited out of 149 countries in all fields from the ISI Essential Science Indicators Database (Online version). In the 10-year period (January 1994–August 2004), ISI recorded about 9 million articles, notes and reviews, published in roughly 9,000 indexed journals. ISI Essential Science Indicators categorises these journals into 22 broad disciplines. Each journal is assigned to a discipline. The number of citations received by these 7 million items for the period was roughly 53 million.

    4. This ranking and its methodology may be found at the SJTU website. Available on (last accessed on 6 July 2007).

    5. This ranking and its methodology may be found at the THES website. Available on (last accessed on 6 July 2007).

    6. According to Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz (May 2004), America may be able to maintain competitive advantage at the very top, the breakthrough research—the invention of next laser. But majority of even highly trained engineers and scientist are engaged in what is called ordinary science, the important day-to-day improvements in technology that are basis of long-term increases in productivity—it is not clear if America has long-term competitive advantage here.

    7. As per Dr R A Mashelkar, a former DG, quoted in ‘Public R&D Labs Face Attrition Heat’, Business Standard, Kolkata, 7 August 2007.

    8. Based on analysis of UGC data by the author.

    9. Jadavpur University (Kolkata), Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), University of Hyderabad, University of Madras (Chennai), University of Pune, Bombay University, Madurai Kamraj University (Madurai), North Eastern Hill University (Shillong) and Calcutta University.

    10. All 26 federal grant agencies in the United States post opportunities for competitive grants on the website offering single source of search and apply option for all researchers (Research Global, February 2005: 17).

    11. Refers to letter dated 26 December 2006 from Chairman, National Knowledge Commission to the Indian Prime Minister.

    12. On the basis of reply furnished to Lok Sabha in response to question no. 21606 in May 2007.

    13. This suggestion is based on ‘Pump Priming with US Horsepower’, The Economic Times, Kolkata, 17 September 2007.

    14. The author led this initiative as coordinator, new initiatives while at the UGC in 1999.

    15. United States National Security Language Initiative aims at increasing the number of US students studying languages deemed as ‘critical’. These include Arabic, Azari, Bengali, Chinese, Mandarin, Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Korean, Marathi, Pashto, Punjabi, Russian, Pajak, Turkish, Urdu and Uzbek.

    16. Professor Philip G. Altbach on research university while speaking to Fulbright New Century Scholars at Cairo in February 2006.

    17. Alison Richard, Vice-chancellor, University of Cambridge, quoted in The Economic Times (2008f).

    1. Noted in respect of the United States in the Fourth Issue Paper for the Commission on the future of Higher education (Schray, 2006).

    2. Entry 66 reads: ‘Co-ordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions.’

    3. Entry 25 reads : ‘Education, including technical education, medical education and universities, subject to the provisions of entries 63, 64, 65 and 66 of List I; vocational and technical training of labour.’

    4. Decision of the UGC not to include Amity University, a private university set up by an Act of the UP Legislature in 2005, was declared illegal by the Delhi High Court and the UGC was directed to include Amity University in the list of universities on its website (The Indian Express, 2007g).

    5. As on 16 August 2003, the UGC had specified 142 degrees.

    6. Andhra University has 405 colleges, Bangalore University has 400 colleges and Osmania University has 390 colleges affiliated to them.

    7. This was the finding of the survey ‘Understanding of private higher education in India: A stockholder's perspective’, conducted by a marketing consultancy and research company on behalf of FICCI in 2006.

    8. In the face of complaints on this account, AICTE issued pubic notice No. AICTE/Legal/04(01)/2007 issued in April 2007.

    9. In a non-collusive oligopoly, firms recognise their interdependence but do not collude with each other. They act in their own best interest. However each firm takes into account the output and price decisions of its competitor before making its own decisions.

    10. In J.P. Unnikrishnan and others versus State of Andhra Pradesh and others (1993) 1 SCC 645.

    11. Both tuition and development fees for merit and payment seats (not exceeding 15 per cent) for various professional programmes in private unaided institutions were to be fixed by the respective state governments.

    12. Eleven-Judge Bench in TMA Pai Foundation versus State of Karnataka, (2002) 8 SCC 481.

    13. Five-Judge bench in Islamic Academy of Education versus State of Karnataka, (2003) 6 SCC 697.

    14. In P.A. Inamdar versus State of Maharashtra, (2005) SCC 537.

    15. AICTE Public Notice issued vide Advt. No. AICTE/Legal/03(01)/2006–07. Available online at (downloaded on 15 May 2007).

    16. The full text of the Bill may be found on the PRS Legislative Research website. Available at

    17. Letter from the human resources development minister to the Left, quoted in The Indian Express (2007b).

    18. Report of the Indo-Malaysia Joint Study Group on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (June 2005).

    19. In Chhattisgarh Universities case relying on its own earlier judgement in March 1995 in Tamil Nadu and others versus Adhiyaman Educational and Research Institute. Quoted from Supreme Court's judgement of February 2005 in the Writ Petition No. 19 of 2004.

    20. Such a body is already being planned.

    21. Returns of information by universities and colleges could be mandated under the UGC Act read with Right to Information Act. These rules could also define misrepresentation and deceptive practices in advertising, promotion and marketing by higher education institutions.

    1. Definition provided in ‘Quality Assurance in UK Higher Education: A Brief Guide’ published in 1998.

    2. This information is based on contacts established with 177 countries by the GUNI Secretariat.

    3. Detailed guidelines can be found at the OECD website. Available at

    4. Details of the two-stage accreditation process may be found in Mariamma Varghese (2007).

    5. Teachers in higher education are expected to attend two refresher courses before they are eligible for career advancement or promotion.

    6. The AICTE adopted an objective criterion for reduction of seats. For faculty strength short up to 25 per cent, no additional intake was sanctioned; for shortage from 25 to 50 per cent, a pro rata reduction in intake was ensured and in case the shortage was more than 50 per cent, institutions were not allowed to admit any students (The Times of India, New Delhi, 8 June 2005).

    7. For this purpose Central Civil Services (CCS) conduct rules are being amended (The Economic Times, 2008b).

    8. This suggestion was given by the chief mentor of Infosys, Mr N.R. Narayana Murthy in the Fourth Ravi Matthai Memorial Lecture organised by the Academy of Human Resources Development at Bangalore in November 2005.

    1. As per Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, in an interview to The Hindustan Times (The Hindustan Times, 2007).

    2. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language has put the number of English language speaking people in India as 350 million—already the largest English speaking country in the world.

    3. Very Low Income < Rs 90,000; Low Income Rs 90,000–200,000; Middle Income Rs 200,000–1 million; High Income > Rs 1 million.

    4. Professional education is closely linked to growing importance of science and is distinguished from lower-level vocational education imparted in schools.

    5. It could be argued that products of higher education are ‘post-experience’ goods, whose quality can be accurately assessed only after the education is completed. Such goods would warrant even more rigorous efforts at consumer protection.

    6. The government, regulatory bodies and even courts seem to pursue uniform quality standards in higher education.


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    About the Author

    Pawan Agarwal is a civil servant from the Indian Administrative Services. He is currently Secretary to the Government of West Bengal. He has earlier served as Director in the Indian government's Ministry of Human Resource Development, as well as Financial Advisor and Coordinator of new initiatives for India's University Grants Commission—a position in which he developed substantial expertise in higher education policy and practice, and gained a broad understanding of the issues and challenges faced by India's colleges and universities.

    During the year 2005–06, he was a Fulbright New Century Scholar on Higher Education from India. He was also affiliated to the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). In course of his affiliation, he undertook a comprehensive review of Indian higher education, which was released by ICRIER as a working paper. He was a visiting scholar under the Science and Engineering Workforce Program at the Harvard University and at the India–China–America Institute at the Emory University, Atlanta (United States). During his Fulbright visit, he gave several seminars in the United States, including those at the Harvard University, MIT, University of Michigan and the World Bank. As a part of the New Century Scholars Programme, he studied higher education in a comparative perspective with his Fulbright colleagues from over 20 countries. He has received the prestigious 2009 Endeavour Executive Award from the Australian Government. For which, he shall be a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne during 2009–10.

    Apart from comprehensive review of Indian higher education for ICRIER, his other important studies/publications include private higher education for Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, higher education and labour markets for the World Bank. Indian higher education from Latin American perspective for Inter-American Development Bank, privatisation and internationalisation trends in South Asian countries for South Asia Network of Economic Research Institutions. His current research focuses on international student mobility, labour markets for higher science and technology professionals, and the behaviour of education services (particularly higher education) in the market place.

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