Current State of Education System in India
India is in many respects at an important historical junction regarding its immediate future and international standing, and education is one the most pertinent issue. Education is at the heart of everything that India has and could achieve. For this reason, the Indian government have put education at the center of their economic planning. Much of these reforms are encapsulated in the government’s 12th Five-Year Plan, however there is still a long way to go before objectives are met.
There is an urgency to the reforms, to ensure that India can take advantage of a unique historic moment. India will soon house 20% off the tertiary population of the world. The much-lauded human resource potential in India – notable for its size and hunger for knowledge – is also a challenge of some magnitude. There is also intransigence, from political and educational quarters who would rather preserve the status quo.
Breaking of the Status Quo
Although a great amount of effort has gone into these programs, the education system is still currently in a state of fluctuation. The measure of the task ahead is reflected in size of India’s education system that includes the most number of university level institutions in the world. In terms of students, it is already the second largest education system.
Whereas the size and number of the graduates that India produces are revered internationally, there is less praise heaped on the quality of the education system. Many of India’s institutions are esteemed at home, but they very rarely register as “excellent” on the international scene. The fact that the larger Indian institutions have a ready supply of competitive students to teach, equates to a low level of motivation to change current practices. Furthermore, there is still small segment of educational professionals that view the local and international pressures on Indian education system as an amalgamation of forces that need combating.
The issue of access persists, meaning that quality and access are still the number one issues in Indian education. The government’s 12th Five Year Plan includes the aim of increasing gross enrollment (GER) of universities to 30% from the current 20% enrollment rate. It is important to note that the current rate of 20% has only been achieved because of break-neck growth between 2006 and 2011, which saw enrollments to tertiary-level enrollments increase from 16.6 million to 26 million. There are unique demographic factors contributing to this rise, including the fact that India’s current median age is 32, with 50% of the population under the age of 25, and the increase in middle-class numbers which now number at 50 million.
There is now an expectation of tertiary level education that had not existed before, however the question of whether or not India’s education system will be able to meet these demands is an ongoing issue. The mobility of the population, and the dynamism and learning capacity of the younger generations is currently funneled rather than channeled through the education system in India. The result is that there are now a record number of graduates in India. This is the positive side of the story. On the negative side of the story is the fact that large portion of this population of graduates are often deemed to lack the skills required for professional employment. It is not uncommon for graduates of mechanics, for instance, to have to either go back into education to retrain, or otherwise end up in the service sector.
Much of the thrust of current reforms will originate though the government’s Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) mission as part of the 12th Five Year Plan. The Indian government’s plan is cognizant of these challenges when it claims:
“Hence, the Twelfth Plan adopts a holistic approach to the issues of expansion, equity and excellence so that expansion is not just about accommodating ever larger number[s] of students, but is also about providing diverse choices of subjects, levels and institutions while ensuring a minimum standard of academic quality and providing the opportunity to pursue higher education to all sections of society, particularly the disadvantaged.”
Based on recent experience, the government’s plans to achieve an increase the supply in university education is achievable, especially considering that the 11th five year plan period saw an increase of 58% in the number of higher-education institutions. The 12th five year plan aims to add 800 universities (or degree awarding institutions) and 40,000 colleges – similar to the numbers achieved in the previous five year period. There are already some fruits to the Indian government’s initiatives with the Indian economy predicted to grow by 6.4% in 2015, but still short of the plan’s 9% GDP growth rate. The government hopes that by increasing autonomy and funding at state level, this will naturally capture the thirst and latent desire for education and innovation.
India is aiming to achieve these ends by diversifying and devolving and have committed to overhauling the university system by realigning the relationship between the center and the periphery, increasing the ration of funding to state level to a ratio of 65:35. This has already led to the establishment of State Higher Education Councils (SHECs) across the country who take control of local planning, monitoring and evaluation of higher education provision. By 2015, 21 states had already signed up to the RUSA and received a total of Rupees 3,288,822,001 in state support.
Although funding is moving fairly swiftly, there is still concern that there might be the same underspend of funds as there was with the 11th Five Year Plan, where 46.5% of the budget was unspent. These concerns were heightened early 2015 as it was revealed that government are set to spend up to 39% less on state level education than they did in 2014.
The remaining 35% of funding will go towards the institutes of national importance such as the Institutes of Management (IIM) and Institutes of Technology (IIT), maintaining these institution’s status as leaders in Indian higher education. Although the funding for these institutions are being maintained, it is clear that their status as unquestioned leaders in Indian tertiary education is under increasing scrutiny. The shake-up in funding is unprecedented and marks a clear warning to the IITs and IIMs that they need to up their performance, and equality of access.
There are some implications to these changes in funding and emphasis. What is already apparent is that the extra state autonomy also equates an education system that is more open to outside corporation. The Foreign Education Bill aims to regulate and promote the increased participation of foreign universities in India, with the hope that they can aid the reform process. This bill has yet to be passed into law, and political entrenchment is likely to mean that it will not be passed in the short term, however there is now a favorable perception of the research benefits that leading international universities might bring.
This blossoming of appetite for outside contributions has encouraged renowned institutions to side step the plethora of regulations related to international university cooperation. For this reason, Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago, and Deakin University are among a host of organisations who have already set up partnerships in the country. Similarly, UK institutions continue to explore partnerships with their Indian counterparts.
The 12th Five-Year Plan also speaks of shifting emphasis from instruction to a learner-centric approach that promotes thinking rather than reliance on rote learning. The current university system fails to reward initiative and critical thinking, which are the benchmark of other leading international institutions. Pro-reform education advocates from within and without the education system in India are cognizant of this fact, and blame it for India’s current educational philosophy of the system’s failings.
Rightly as Kartikeya Sharma an eminent entrepreneur points out, that although India is connected to the international knowledge industry, analysts and politicians agree that the education system’s reliance on rote learning holds back on progress. A report by the Indian National Association of Software and Services Companies, for example, asserts that 75% of all technical graduates from India’s top universities and 85% of general graduates are unemployable in information technology and call-center jobs. The report makes clear the link between the manner in which students are taught and their ability to take on complex, work orientated tasks. Another report conducted by Indian firm Aspiring Minds in 2010, found that of all IT graduates, 95.8% were not adequately trained to work in a software company, with only 17.8% employable by an IT services company.
India also lacks PhD students and high quality research institution. In 2014, India had only 140,000 PhD students, which amounts to 1% of the total student population. One of the reasons for this is the fact that Indian students are ill equipped for the step up to PhD, or other research focused studies, because they lack the critical cognitive attitude that is often required for independent research.
There has also been considerable criticism of India’s leading institutions for lacking international standing when it comes to research. The appetite for research in India is generally low if considered in comparison to the US, who spends $250 billion per annum on research, and China, who spends $60 billion a year. India, in contrast, spends only $8 million a year – a huge contrast. This lack of spend was met by PhD student protests early in 2015, after an increase in government stipends was not met. Currently PhD pay at public universities are $257 a month for the first two years, rising to $289 a month for years three and four. Students from across India, including some IIT’s and medical science institutions, took to the streets and promised further action that is if pay increase demands were not met.
The lack of funding at the top-level of university education is an obvious impediment to creating a world renowned system in two senses, firstly, because first class research and findings produce new knowledge and new forms of research, and secondly, because a lack of highly educated personal equates to poor levels of teaching. Pair this with poor pay and it is no surprise that there are a plethora of university positions which are difficult to fill. Although India has moved in the right direction in this area, the university system is still one that falls below international standards of innovation and ingenuity.
On the other hand, Indian nationals who are highly skilled look elsewhere for job and research opportunities. Official figures suggest that 75,000 of IIT graduates have settled in the US since the 1970s. Furthermore, and according to a study by the National Science Foundation, in 2012, of all Indian students who studied abroad only 5.2% of them who earned doctorates in science, engineering or health returned home. The key finding here is that it is not because Indian nationals are not able to achieve, but that the current education system fails to sustain them.
There is some excellent progress being made in creating a ‘meta university framework’, leveraging technology to assist with multidisciplinary collaboration and facilitating the production of online courses. These moves, it is hoped, will bring about innovation regarding access to education, lowering cost of participation and sidestepping the issue of geography.
Other positive measures include the increasing of the scope for the National Assessment and Accreditation Council’s (NAAC) work, with the aim of providing quality assurance across the board. This is in line with the general move away from rote learning. Changing the curriculum at the base level, it is believed, will contribute to wholesale changes in the way in which students are taught.