To achieve the NEP 2020 vision, India aims to add 26 million enrolments by 2035, which requires increased investments in staff, technology, and infrastructure. The 2023 EY-Parthenon - FICCI report titled, “ Transformation of Indian higher education: Strategies to leapfrog -2023” suggests focusing on the first 5-year plan, among the five 5-year plans outlined in the 2022 report. Achieving the goals laid down by NEP 2020 is crucial, and it hinges on prioritizing key themes like quality education, industry alignment, research and innovation, and inclusivity. These pillars are the building blocks for India's higher education goals over the next two years.
Key themes for India’s educational future
The critical areas of improvement for the Indian higher education ecosystem for the next 12-36 months are:
Quality Education: All levels of institutions in India, including top ranked public and private institutions, face several challenges across the higher education value chain.
- Faculty recruitment and development: Faculty shortage is rampant across all categories of institutions in India, with even the IITs and IIMs having 40% and 31% faculty vacancies respectively.
- Digitalization of education: There exists a lack of dedicated government policies for the use of technology in higher education. There is also limited integration of digital learning in low-quality institutions.
- Internationalization of education: The trend of setting up international branch campuses abroad is growing amongst Indian universities; however, the actual establishment timelines have been slow-paced.
- Academic flexibility: Less than 1% of Indian colleges are registered for the government’s academic bank of credits (ABC) system, with limited number of institutions offering multiple-entry exit options and curriculum flexibility.
India’s top priorities hence include increasing the implementation of joint PhD programs in collaboration with the industry, developing a dedicated government policy for technology in higher education, and aligning online course offerings with the National Higher Education Qualification Framework.
Industry alignment: Establishing linkages with leading industry partners is key to developing high-quality education outcomes and preparing students to cater to the skill requirements of the industry.
- Industry-institute partnerships: The top 100 out of200 higher education institutions need to focus on positioning themselves as consulting and research partners in industry through MoUs. However, industry investment in Indian higher education is limited, especially amongst lower quality of institutions.
- Graduate Employability: India’s overall employability stood at 50.8% in 2023, indicating a vast scope for improvement. Higher education institutes need to place greater emphasis on preparing their graduates to be industry-ready through implementing career development initiatives and industry-relevant training programs.
Hence, partnering with industry to enable work-related learning opportunities, establishing centers of excellence, co-developing courses, and appointing Professors of Practice are all vital short-term measures. Institutes also need to establish career development programs, corporate relations offices, technology transfer cells and embed employability building content in their curriculum.
Research and innovation: India’s challenges on research and innovation are prominent not only from a higher education institution standpoint but also at the broader macroeconomic level.
- Research: India’s research spending as a percentage of GDP stands at ~0.7%, placing it behind developing nations such as Malaysia and Thailand, and even further away from the benchmarks set by developed economies such as the United States and South Korea.
- Innovation and entrepreneurship: While top ranked institutions mostly display strong innovation cultures, metrics such as number of start-ups incubated andpatents published, they tend to be significantly lower at lower quality institutions.
Industry-government co-funded sponsorship programs can boost the research ecosystem in Indian higher education institutes. Institutes also need to focus on quality over quantity in their published research work, as India lags behind several developed economies with respect to its H-index score and number of citations per document.
Inclusivity: Making higher education accessible to people from all groups and communities is essential to achieving global standards of inclusivity in higher education. Inclusivity cuts across several areas and groups, and includes supporting gender diversity, increasing LGBTQIA+ representation, uplifting economically and socially challenged students, and providing physical and technology infrastructure to students with disabilities as key priorities.
Achieving excellence in Indian higher education
To build on the goals outlined by Vision 2047, India must establish a robust foundation through immediate short-term action plans. While India is one of the three largest higher education systems in the world, there is a vast disparity in education quality and overall student outcomes across various levels of institutes. To boost Indian higher education for its long-term aspirations, seamless collaboration between government, industry and all levels and quality of institutions is required.
High priority short-term measures include addressing faculty shortage through joint PhD programs with industry, boosting industry integration through co-development of courses, appointment of Professors of Practice, focus on career development initiatives, enhancing the research ecosystem through industry-government co-funded sponsorship programs, and providing increased access to technology and infrastructure for all groups and communities.