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Managing Markets and Massification of Higher Education in India

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The higher education system in India is at a stage of revival. The sector experienced an unprecedented expansion in this century. The double-digit annual growth rate in the previous decade helped the higher education sector enter a stage of massification. With more than 700 universities, nearly 37,000 colleges, 1.4 million teachers and 31 million students, Indian higher education is not only a massive system but also the second largest in the world after China.

 

 

MARKET-FRIENDLY REFORMS

The massification of the sector reflects a change in the public policy from a state-controlled, publicly funded system that experienced slow growth and provided limited access, to a system led by market principles of operation. The liberalisation policies in the economic sector in the 1990s encouraged the permeation of market forces and market friendly reforms in the higher education sector, which led to a proliferation of private institutions and an explosion in student enrolment in India.

 

It may seem strange that while mature market economies relied on public institutions to absorb the massive demand for higher education, less developed market economies such as India relied on the market. At present, more than three-fifths of the enrolment is accounted for by private higher education institutions.

 

 

Initially, private sector involvement in higher education was in the form of sharing costs with the government. The next phase saw the emergence of self-financing and capitation (special fees that student pay at some colleges prior to entry) fee colleges, followed by private institutions attaining the status of deemed-to-be universities (a special status that state authorities can give to universities not otherwise officially recognised), and finally the
status of private universities in this century.

 

 

MASSIFICATION AND ITS CHARACTERISTICS

Market-led massification promoted faster growth of market friendly study programmes in technical, professional and management domains leading to disciplinary distortions. This has also resulted in an increase in the unemployment of graduates from these streams leading to a decline in the demand for these study programmes and closure of some of the private institutions.

 

 

Further, massification promoted the expansion of non-university sector and study programmes which awarded diploma level certification. The nonuniversity segment has been the fastest growing segment in higher education — the enrolment increased by 23 times and its share in enrolment by eight times between 2005 and 2012.

 

 

Higher education in India mainly refers to undergraduate education, which accounts for nearly 80% of enrolment. The share of enrolment in graduate study programmes is low and that in research programmes is declining. This trend may have implications for constraining further expansion of the sector due to the non-availability of teachers.

 

 

MASSIFICATION AND INEQUALITIES

The massification of higher education in India is accompanied by persisting, if not widening, inequalities. While all regions, social groups and both sexes improved their status, the rate of growth varied leading to the widening of relative inequalities in higher education development. For example, between 2002-2003 and 2011-2012, the GER increased by three times in some states, two times in others and much slower in yet others. The gains in the GER are the highest among states which have a dominant presence of private institutions.

 

 

The disparities in enrolment among different social groups continue to be large and wide. However, the benefits of massification are more equally shared between sexes. Although inequalities still persist, the disparities in the share of enrolment of males and females are narrowing down. In fact, in some of the states where GER is relatively high, the gender parity index is greater than unity.

 

 

MASSIFICATION AND QUALITY

Massification has also contributed to deterioration in quality. The reckless growth of self-financing private colleges has resulted in a proliferation of institutions with poor infrastructure, less qualified teachers and zero research facilities. Forty-one universities, after physical verification, were recommended to close because of poor quality.

 

 

India has established mechanisms for external and internal quality assurance. Since accreditation is voluntary, a major share of the institutions is not yet accredited. Similarly, the internal quality assurance cells are not operational in a majority of institutions. This trend may change since the UGC has now made accreditation a necessary condition to obtain grants.

 

A new trend is that quality is affecting quantity in higher education in India. The enrolment in many private, especially in technical and professional colleges, is declining due to the questionable quality of education provided and severity of unemployment of their graduates.

 

 

CHALLENGES OF GOVERNANCE AND MANAGEMENT

The existence of multiple regulatory bodies and funding arrangements poses challenges to institutional governance and management, and the system of affiliated colleges exacerbates these challenges. The universities are responsible for developing curriculum, overseeing academic standards, conducting examinations and award of degrees for all those enrolled in the university departments and in the affiliated colleges. The number of colleges affiliated to some of the universities is too large to provide any meaningful academic guidance. India needs to plan for a larger number of small-sized universities, autonomous colleges and to restrict the number of colleges affiliated to any one university.

 

 

Institutional autonomy is essential for effective management. Except for selected institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), universities in India enjoy autonomy in theory only. State universities continue to be over-regulated and controlled by the government. Many institutions are starving for funds and are at the mercy of the government. At times, institutions complain that they receive more directives than funds from public authorities.

 

The capabilities and effectiveness of the exercise of institutional heads, no doubt, make a difference in autonomy. It may be that political influence in the selection of institutional heads is one of the reasons for the erosion of institutional authority and autonomy. Most of the institutions have their own governing bodies. However, the process of nomination of the members of the governing boards is not always free from political interference.

 

 

Oftentimes, the granting of autonomy is used as an excuse for not extending financial support. While autonomy gives better scope for institutions to engage in resource mobilisation, the government need to assure them with core funding to make them less vulnerable to donor pressures and more effective.

 

 

CONCLUSION

The compulsions to expand higher education in India will continue. The low GRE, an expanding secondary school system, and an increasing number of youth provide fertile ground for further expansion of higher education India. In the 2020s, India will have one of the youngest populations and the largest tertiary-age population in the world. A majority of them will be in urban areas belonging to middle class families with a capacity to pay high fees. This implies that the era of decision making constrained by availability of public resources may come to an end in higher education in India. We may thus expect more of market friendly reforms in higher education in India.

 

 

The future challenge lies in expanding the system while containing inequalities and improving quality. The strategies for the future need to focus on regulating the system effectively for quality and targeting public investments towards underdeveloped regions and in favour of deprived groups.

 

 

This article was originally published in International Higher Education, No. 86, Summer 2016, and was based on: Varghese, N.V. 2015. Challenges of Massification of Higher Education in India, CPRHE Research Papers 1, New Delhi.

N. V. VARGHESE

N.V. Varghese is Director of the Centre for Policy Research in Higher Education (CPRHE), New Delhi, India.

JULY 2016 | ISSUE 1

What’s New in Higher Education? Southeast Asia and Beyond

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Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

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