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Improving higher education

Topic – Improving higher education

Date – 21st Oct 2020

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • Essay
  • GS-2:
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


  • Following is the summary of ‘The Big Picture’ discussion, which was aired on RSTV.
  • Host: Frank Rausan Pereira
  • Panellists: Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar, JNU; Piyush Prakash, NITI Aayog ; Sushma Yadav, Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya, Haryana.



  • Prime Minister recently talked about the government’s efforts to make India a global hub for higher education. He said that many new institutions of higher education like AIIMS, IITs and IIMs have been established, which would increase India’s reputation in higher education globally.
  • He also talked about increased participation of women in higher education and the need to make efforts to further improve the accessibility of higher education for the women.


Importance of higher education:

  • Atmanirbhar Bharat: PM Modi recently gave a call for self-reliant India. Atmanirbhar Bharat needs a continuous supply of trained, skilled human resources. This is possible only if a strong higher education ecosystem is developed in India, to harness the potential of demographic dividend.
  • Solving of societal issues: Research in India till now has focussed majorly on the theoretical paradigm. However, it is time the research is moulded towards subjects which are nationally important and globally significant so that it contributes to nation-building.
  • Empowerment of women:
  • India as Vishwaguru: To achieve its full potential and to guide the world towards sustainable development through dissemination of spiritual knowledge, it is imperative to focus on inclusion of the better half in higher education, by rejecting the notion of gender bias in its entirety.
  • Accessibility: Inclusion of women also projects better accessibility of education for the vulnerable groups to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and malnutrition.
  • Plurality and diversity: To develop horizons of the mind, it is important to provide a diversified, plural environment, in which it is possible for the students to understand others’ viewpoints and shape their own perceptions accordingly.


Recent government efforts:

  • Establishment of new institutes: During the last few years, many new institutes including new IITs, IIMs and AIIMS have been established across the country, to impart excellence across the spectrum for higher education in the respective fields.
  • Institutes of eminence scheme (see inset): IoE is a scheme whereby the government will provide enhanced autonomy and funding support to chosen institutions, to create world-class, high ranked universities.
  • National Education Policy 2020: Recently, the government released NEP 2020 with the vision of a future-ready, highly accessible ecosystem of education in India. Some highlights with respect to higher education:
  • Amalgamation of multiple regulatory agencies: A single Higher Education Commission of India will be formed to avoid confusion and multiplicity of instructions.
  • Opening up of higher education to foreign institutions: The policy intends to let top 100 universities in the world to set up campuses in India. Although the reference ranking is not clear, media reports indicate usage of QS world rankings.
  • National Research Foundation: The mandate of National Research Foundation is to provide infrastructure, funding support and research facilities to promote a culture of creativity and innovation in the direction of utilising such research in solving societal problems.
  • Emphasis on multidisciplinary and holistic education: Higher education institutions would move towards providing multidisciplinary courses, where students would be able to choose the subjects based on their interest. Such a paradigm would be possible by the implementation of Credit based Education system. This system would also be implemented for specialised institutions like IITs, to make them a hub of holistic learning.
  • Multiple entry and exits: The target of enrolment in higher education has been set at an ambitious 50%, to be achieved by 2035. This would be done by providing the flexibility of entry and exit as per students’ convenience and placement.
  • Quality mandate by University Grants Commission: UGC came out with a quality mandate in its pursuit of addressing challenges to higher education, increasing employability and regularly updated curriculum. The mandate provides that education should be outcome-based so that it is easier to define the expectations and measure the performance of institutions. Some important highlights of the mandate are as follows:
  • Filling up of vacancies: Not more than 10% of teaching positions should be vacant in a university, to ensure students always have the right guidance and faculty-student ratio is maintained at the prescribed levels.
  • Mentor-mentee relationship: Under this scheme, also referred to as Paramarsh, accredited institutions would help aspiring institutions which want to get accredited in upgrading their academic performance and get accredited.
  • Funding in tier-2 cities: While apex institutions are doing well and providing quality education to students, the need of the hour is to broaden the pyramid and provide for better infrastructure at all levels including the state universities.



Institutes of eminence (IoE) scheme: The scheme was announced by University Grants Commission (UGC).

  • Aim of the scheme is to provide opportunities for a few chosen institutions to grow in the direction of being renowned globally for their excellence.
  • The government will provide a grant of Rs. 1000 Crore to 20 institutions, including 10 private and 10 public institutions, if they meet the set criteria.
  • Such institutions would also be empowered to take autonomous decisions regarding curriculum, fees etc., to take the best way forward in pursuit of excellence.



Challenges to higher education and research ecosystem:

  • Autonomy: Institutions have time and again complained about the lack of autonomy and the resultant inability to take decisions geared towards incorporating latest developments in the different fields of study, especially in the fields like computes and life sciences, in which developments are faster than the other subjects.
  • Accountability: It is imperative to make the institutions accountable and to tie the funds and grants to measurable outcomes, rather than simply doling out the grants as entitlements. For e.g. institutions can be rewarded for research papers published by the scholars or simply on passing some national examination like NET.
  • Conservative mindset: Institutions have been resisting the changes recommended by the experts and the ministry of education, for the improvement of higher education. This is not fruitful as it makes these institutions unable to respond to changing education scenario. For e.g. offering online courses should have been a conscious decision for the convenience of students, rather than something which was necessitated in response to the pandemic.
  • Employability: Industry has time and again called for imparting skill-based education. There is an absolute mismatch between the requirements of the industry and the skills being taught in the universities. At the same time, vocational training is considered as an inferior system of education in India despite its utility in creating employment for the people.
  • Focus on school education: Annual Survey of Education (ASER reports by the NGO Pratham) has pointed to the lack of learning outcomes at the school level. Creation of a strong base as the feeding system for research and higher education is important, if the aim is to improve the quality of education system in the nation.
  • Creativity: Encouragement to creativity from the early days of education especially children from the small towns and rural areas, by making anganwadis the epicentre of education, will be critical to providing an opportunity for growth to the left out sections.


Way Forward:

  • According to one panellist, Five pillars of providing good quality education are:
  • Better Infrastructure in the form of building, furniture, well-equipped labs and other necessary facilities.
  • Nurturing Human resources including recruitment, appointment and promotion of talent
  • Governance and leadership to compile best practices being followed in different places and dissemination of such information to the institutions for replication.
  • Maintenance by the provision of adequate finance for up-keep of the infrastructure and equipment.
  • Autonomy to evolve in response to changing scenario.

(Note: Please remember this is the panellist’s individual perception. This is different from the 5 pillars enumerated in the NEP 2020, viz. Accessibility, Affordability, Equity, Quality and Accountability)

  • Effectiveness: Institutions have to realise that complaining about the lack of autonomy is not the solution. Instead, they should work to prove their worthiness for such autonomy. They need to update their curriculum, keep training the faculties and introduce creativity in programmes, within the spheres of their influence. This will prompt devolution of further powers in the future.
  • Industry-Academia collaboration: Private sector can be a great alternative to fund research, as India is already a cash-starved country. However, to entice private sector into loosening its purse strings, the manifestation of utility of research is necessary. The private sector needs to be given the confidence that its investment would lead to handsome returns in the future.
  • Product economy: India has been traditionally a service-based economy. However, as we advance our way towards becoming a product economy, it will be crucial to build a foundation for research and innovation, to supplement such a system.
  • Local language: It is important to exploit the tendency of children to understand better in their local language. NEP also talks about the same by providing for early education in the local language.
  • Outcome-based indices: Ultimately, it is critical to measure the performance of universities by creating a system of measurement. NITI Aayog is already working in compiling the list of such parameters, which can adequately measure the performance of institutions and promote a healthy competition among them.



  • Rather than working in silos, institutions need to be multi-dimensional and increase access to quality education.
  • Focus of the government should be on providing infrastructure, governance and autonomy while rewarding performance and creativity with additional funding.