5 minute read 15 Dec 2022
Higher education system in India

How India could become a global higher education hub

By Dr. Avantika Tomar

EY-Parthenon India Education Partner

Guest Faculty at prestigious B-Schools, such as IIM Calcutta, BITSoM, MDI Gurgaon, and IIM Trichy. Theater Actor-Director, sports enthusiast, and a traveler.

5 minute read 15 Dec 2022

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  • Higher Education in India Vision 2047

Five strategic pillars would help create a world-class higher education ecosystem in India.

In brief

  • Although India has among the three largest higher education systems globally, several factors hinder it from being counted among the top higher education destinations in the world.
  • India has several potential opportunities to leverage, including cost advantages and favorable government support, on its way to become a preferred higher education destination.
  • The National Education Policy (NEP 2020) identifies five strategic pillars that will enable the development of a world-class higher education ecosystem.

India is one among the three largest higher education systems in the world, with over 40 million students enrolled across 1,000+ universities and 42,000+ colleges nationally. However, global perceptions about the Indian HE system are still far from optimal. Indian colleges and universities are not counted among the top-notch global institutions of research, and their academic curriculums are considered lacking in practical industry skills. 

Although graduates from India’s IITs, IIMs and other institutes of repute are highly sought after across the world, these institutes do not feature among the top institutions of global repute. By exploring several opportunities for improvement, including closing gaps between curriculum and industry needs, increasing focus on research, developing international capabilities, and exploring opportunities for international partnerships, India has the potential to become a global HE destination, particularly in domains such as STEM, sports, language, and culture. A roadmap comprising five plans, each outlining key goals and vision for a period of five consecutive years starting in 2022, would provide systematic and quantifiable progress to achieve its long-term vision of becoming a robust, world-class higher education system by 2047.

Five-year plans break down the vision for 2047 into shorter and quantifiable goals

There are various structural and implementational challenges in the current higher education system, such as low public spending, paucity of student financing, suboptimal faculty skill levels and others. To combat these challenges and support the National Education Policy, 2020 (NEP 2020), , the report outlines outcome-driven and progress-oriented five-year plans that break down specific milestones. While the first five-year plan, starting 2022, aims to streamline regulations and bridge the gap between academia and industry skills, the second plan intends to develop the research ecosystem in higher education. The third five-year plan beginning 2033 intends to increase education access to students by developing student cities. It further aims to solidify the industry as well as research-focus in India’s HE system by incentivizing industry partnerships for institutions, equipping them to provide consulting and research services. The fourth five-year plan envisages achieving a student-centric ecosystem equipping unique modalities for varying qualifications and a globally well-connected HEI system. The final five-year plan guides India’s aspirations to become a world-class higher education destination, providing quality education to all.  

These strategic plans intend to achieve specific objectives, involving metrics and measures such as Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) targets, employability targets for several graduates, target institutes providing consultancy services to the industry and targets for building student cities and for achieving global rankings.

NEP 2020 aims to achieve a target gross enrolment ratio of 50% by 2035, by reaching 34 million additional students in the Indian higher education system. This requires an overhaul of the current higher education system, which NEP 2020 aims to achieve through six focus areas — student centricity, faculty, research and innovation, governance, equity and inclusion, and digital learning. The policy provides for emphasis on crucial factors, such as equitable and inclusive learning environment for all students, building motivated and capable faculties, and regulation and governance of the HE system.

Digital skills have become crucial and there is a clear demand-supply gap in this domain. With the demand for digital roles growing at a CAGR of 19 to 23%, NEP 2020 focuses heavily on building digital skills through the HE ecosystem.

The five strategic pillars for building world-class Indian higher education

To achieve the goals laid out in the five-year plans of Vision 2047, strategic reforms and infrastructural development are necessary across five key areas of the Indian HE ecosystem ꟷ  student centricity, research and innovation, faculty, international mobility, and digital learning.

Student centricity: The policy would aim to provide a system of education that serves all students, irrespective of age, gender, passion, interests, strengths, and weaknesses in an individualized way, while being accessible to all. Many factors have contributed to this powerful  need for student-centricity. According to an India Skills Gap report, 52% of India’s youth are unemployable, a high number of unused reservation seats remain unfilled, US$17b of potential revenue is lost from students going abroad to study and more than 50% of HE institutes in India remain unaccredited. The NEP 2020 targets meeting the above challenges to make students from Indian HE institutes truly skilled and competent.

Research and innovation: Presently, India’s spending on research and innovation is significantly less compared to other key economies, such as the US and China. To overcome this hurdle and make HE research-intensive, immediate focus on R&D funding, the introduction of research-intensive education and partnerships with the industry for providing research services is required. 

Faculty: Due to lower faculty strength, a 28:1 student-teacher ratio in Indian HE is relatively high compared to other key economies. To overcome this challenge, faculty positions need to be made attractive and a core focus on improving faculty output, productivity and performance is needed. The Indian HE ecosystem should also aim to become a global exporter of qualified faculty to top ranked HE institutes.

International mobility: Improving international student inflow and building a world-class HE ecosystem is a core focus area for NEP 2020. Indian HE institutes must focus on improving their international footprint, while policymakers could focus on liberalizing HE landscapes to attract international investors and universities in India. The Indian HE ecosystem should also aim to achieve 30 to 40 ranks within the global top 200 university rankings. 

Digital learning: Digital learning is an indispensable part of higher education and the market for online education and ed-tech continue to be among the most promising in the global education landscape. However, 30 to 40% of people in India lack computer literacy, internet penetration is less than 50% and there is a distinct lack of digital tools available to students, with only 17% of students with access to online classes through laptops. Hence, the government’s focus in the coming times would be on digitizing HE institutes and deploying new-age technology tools. 

Transforming the higher education ecosystem in India

Over the past two decades, the HE ecosystem underwent vast reforms and significant growth; however, much of its potential remains unfulfilled. The NEP 2020 is a progressive and visionary policy for building a sustainable and long-lasting higher education ecosystem in India. Adaptive implementation of the policy has the potential to not only propel the education ecosystem of India in the right direction, but also radically transform it.

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Guiding principles and actionable elements for the higher education ecosystem transformation, resting on five core strategic pillars that would help create a world-class higher education system in India. Further, making it research-focused, student-centric, and globally competitive.

About this article

By Dr. Avantika Tomar

EY-Parthenon India Education Partner

Guest Faculty at prestigious B-Schools, such as IIM Calcutta, BITSoM, MDI Gurgaon, and IIM Trichy. Theater Actor-Director, sports enthusiast, and a traveler.