Future Ready Indian Higher Education

FICCI (the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) and Ernst and Young took out a report for the FICCI Higher Education Summit 2009. They called it “Making the Indian higher education system future ready”. The report uses trends and understanding of the underlying structures in higher ed in India and proposes alternate educational futures for India.

Some overall comments. The report contains references to many useful data sources and collates some major statistics as part of its argument for specific steps to take to derive an alternate future for Indian Higher Ed. The emphasis is majorly on public-private partnership (PPP) and more transparent and minimal governmental control. The focus is also on aligning Vocational Education and Training (VET) with Higher Education. It takes the challenge as one of being that of introducing the freer play of market forces in education, while at the same time playing lip service to problems of equity, rural-urban and gender disparities, social inequities, poor quality of existing education and inadequate access.

There are five “game changers” for this report – financing (with focus on telling the government not to fund low quality institutions and to allow fee ‘rationalization’, reduce burdern on governmental financing of higher ed, tax sops for private endowments), ICT (ICT read as virtual classrooms and digital content, read as more purchase orders for IT procurement; national repository for free content), research and innovation (means to incentivise research; i.e. get some more marketable patents, I guess), VET (only teach what industry wants and needs, reduce VET-HE mobility barriers, let private sector in) and Regulatory reforms (consolidate, simplify, reduce entry barriers, become more transparent).

According to the report, these five game changers will “solve” three problems – Access, Equity and Quality. Mark that, solve.

Lest you get me wrong, I think we need to innovate on all these fronts and the private sector needs to be involved. These are clearly problem areas. But I am looking for solutions that do not accentuate the disparities or perpetuate increasing returns. The disparities are great, even within the outputs of governmental funding. For example, less than 20% of institutions participate in research and the top 10% contributed to 80% of that research (the IITs and IISC are at the very small top of the pyramid).

The data offers rich analytical possibilities. Of course there are important gaps, but that is to be expected based on the fact that reports usually start from the desired end result and then reverse engineer the data to fit those aspirations. For example, a glaring loss of focus is on teachers.

Interestingly, there is a negatively correlated trend for three countries – USA, India and China. In terms of HE enrolments, China leads (25 mn) followed by USA (17.7 mn) and then India (12.8 mn) in 2007. However the number of HE insitutions shows the perfect reverse – China is last (4000), followed by USA (6700) and then India (21000), in 2007. That is, the number of students per HEI, on average, in China is 6250, in USA it is 2650 and in India it is 581!  To add to that, China has the best student-teacher ratio (13.5), followed by the USA (14) followed by India (26).

This means that we have a major problem, on average, of capacity planning, too many HEIs and a small teacher base. What if we strategically reduced the HEIs instead and promoted PPP in an effort to modernize and equip the existing HEIs rather than to add completely new ones that would only create artifical competition for qualified teachers and raise barriers for students who cannot pay? Would that work? Does the private sector think that it cannot turn around a state HEI if given the chance to?

But this would mean that the private sector has to get into relationships that do not give it direct benefits i.e. does not result in trained manpower for its projects, in patents for its markets, in picking the right input talent (cream) to groom, in supporting urban cities, in contributing to the growth of arts, humanities and sciences (which incidentally forms 65% of the colleges), in not resulting in a market for its products (insurance, education loans, IT equipment) etc.

I hope to delve deeper into the report and present it on this blog for comments soon. It is possible that I may understand it better on subsequent reading. Would love to hear your remarks and suggestions.

Update: April 3, 2011 – The E&Y Report in detail along with a newer one that they released recently.

One thought on “Future Ready Indian Higher Education

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  1. The private sector has greater resources then academic world would generally admit to because academics tend to discount the importance of experience and other pragmatic values. Finding a way to tap the private sector to pass on this experience and expertise, allowing them to give back to society . . . it could drive innovation in HE and I bet there would be great benefits flowing in both directions.

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