Mains Articles

Higher Education in India: Scenario, Challenges & Suggestions [Mains Article]

The higher education challenge can be met, but only if it is seen as a national emergency that needs to be addressed: in scale and, critically, in quality.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
September 06, 2019


  • Introduction
  • Challenges and Suggestions for Higher Education in India
  • Foreign collaboration
  • What is Washington Accord?
  • Government’s effort to improve higher education in India
  • Conclusion
  • Key Facts

Higher Education in India: Scenario, Challenges & Suggestions

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  • India’s higher education sector has supplied some of the world’s best talent. However, global forces of change such as the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), the fourth industrial revolution, the future of work are disrupting the Indian higher education sector.


  • While Indian higher education has grown tremendously in terms of enrollment, some areas still need attention. Challenges include gaps between the skills being imparted and the skills needed at the workplace, skill gaps among faculty, a paucity of funding channels, and the amount and quality of research being carried out in these institutions.

Challenges and Suggestions for Higher Education in India

Higher Education in India

Shortage of resources

  • Bulk of the enrolment in higher education is handled by state universities and their affiliated colleges. However, these state universities receive very small amounts of grants in comparison.
  • Nearly 65% of the University Grants Commission (UGC) budget is utilised by the central universities and their colleges while state universities and their affiliated colleges get only the remaining 35%.


  • The mobilisation of funds in state universities should be explored through other means such as endowments, contributions from industry, alumni, etc.

Teacher vacancies

Teacher vacancies

  • Out of the total sanctioned teaching posts, 35% professor posts, 46% associate professor posts and 26% assistant professor posts are vacant.
  • This could be due to two reasons:
  1. i) Young students don’t find the teaching profession attractive; or
  2. ii) The recruitment process is long and involves too many procedural formalities.


  • Hence, the recruitment process should start well before a post is vacated.
  • In addition, to make the profession of teaching more lucrative, faculty should be encouraged to undertake consultancy projects and be provided financial support for start-ups.

Accountability and performance of teachers

  • At present, there is no mechanism for ensuring the accountability and performance of professors in universities and colleges.
  • This is unlike foreign universities where the performance of college faculty is evaluated by their peers and students.


  • In this context, a system of performance audit of professors based on the feedback given by their students and colleagues should be set up.
  • Other inputs like research papers, publications by teachers should be added in the performance audit in due course of time.

Lack of employable skills

  • Lack of employable skills in students of technical education has been observed.
  • Identification of skill gaps in different sectors and offering courses for enhancing employability in them has been recommended.


  • Some strategies in this regard can include: (i) Industry Institute Student Training Support, (ii) Industrial Challenge Open Forum, (iii) Long Term Student Industry Placement Scheme, and (iv) Industrial Finishing Schools.

Growing divergence between curricula and market demands

  • The growing gap between college curricula and market demands is a major challenge for the higher education sector today and has led to a widening skills gap in the talent entering the market.
  • For instance, next to China, India is the largest producer of graduates. However, only 47 percent of the available talent is employable.

Quantity and Quality of research

  • There is much debate about the quantity and quality of research around the world. One view is that the extensive research published globally is putting tremendous pressure on the peer-review system, which in turn affects quality.
  • However, research remains one of the factors that determine the quality of higher education.
  • The importance of research in higher education can be traced back to the Humboldtian model of education in Germany, which proposed research as a core component of university studies.
  • The number of publications from India has steadily increased over the years, but it still lags leading countries such as the United States, China, United Kingdom, and Germany.

Lack of funding alternatives

  • The quality of research is also a function of adequate sources of funding.
  • In 2015, India’s expenditure on research stood at 0.62 percent of GDP versus China’s 2.06 percent.
  • Public funding for education remained at around 3 percent of GDP in the past five years against 6 percent for other developing nations such as Brazil and South Africa.
  • The Draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019, however, suggest to increase public investment in education to 6 percent of GDP.

No Foreign universities campuses in India

  • Allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India is still a dream.
  • The arduous regulations, which mandate foreign institutions to incorporate in India as a non-profit (Section 8 company), deny the possibility of repatriating profits.

Accreditation of institutions

  • Accreditation of higher educational institutions needs to be at core of the regulatory arrangement in higher education.
  • Further, quality assurance agencies should guarantee basic minimum standards of technical education to meet the industry demand for quality manpower.
  • The National Board of Accreditation should act as a catalyst towards quality enhancement and quality assurance of higher technical education.
  • Credit rating agencies, reputed industry associations and professional bodies should be encouraged to carry forward the process of rating of Indian universities and institutions.

Foreign collaboration

  • There are about 7.5 lakh Indian students that study abroad.
  • From 2009-2016, rate of foreign students in India grew at a rate of 12 percent per annum, very similar to China.
  • Of the total number of foreign students in India, 63 percent are comprised of students from 10 countries, with Nepal and Afghanistan at 21 percent and 10 percent respectively. Students from Africa, Sudan and Nigeria contribute five percent each to the total.
  • As a destination for studying in India, India ranks 26th in the world for foreign students, as a while as source (number of student going foreign for studying), it ranks second.

Study in India Programme


  • The ‘Study in India’ programme was started to provide thrust to the efforts of making India an important Higher Education destination.
  • India is home to around 70,000 foreign students. Study in India’ programme has an ambition of increasing it to two lakhs by 2022.
  • The process of making visa procedures simpler, sprucing up facilities in host institutions, marketing Indian universities in target countries, target-marketing student groups through social media, signing international agreements with institutions and universities abroad are some the activities mandated under the ‘Study in India’ programme.

Significate of foreign collaboration

  • Foreign collaboration has become an important component of international ratings.
  • For instance, in the QS world rankings, 10 percent weightage is offered cumulatively to the proportion of foreign faculty and students.
  • Only three Indian institutions find place in the top-200 of the QS World ratings – IIT Bombay (162), IISc Bengaluru (170) and IIT Delhi (172).

Factors that favour India’s efforts to attract foreign students

  • The Indian economy is doing well and has progressed to become the fifth-largest in the world. The image of the third-world poor country is being shed slowly.
  • India has developed the image of being home to successful tech companies. Bengaluru has become synonymous with start-ups.
  • India’s top institutions, especially the IITs, are world class and feature in the top-200 of world rankings.
  • Top-200 of the Fortune 500 companies recruit from Indian universities in large numbers.
  • Experiences in emerging markets are placed at a premium in developed countries that want to establish a business presence in India.
  • India offers a rich milieu of culture and arts for the students to engage with.
  • Popularity of English as a spoken language places India at an advantage vis-a-vis China.
  • The cost of higher education is relatively cheap in India, offering an interesting place in the cost-value matrix.

What is Washington Accord?


  • Originally signed in 1989, the Washington Accord, is an agreement between bodies responsible for accreditation of tertiary-level engineering qualifications within their jurisdictions who have chosen to assist the mobility of professional engineers
  • India became a signatory of the Washington Accord in 2014.
  • The National Board of Accreditation (NBA) is the accrediting body for India. It empowers any student graduating from a programme accredited by the NBA to be eligible to practice as an engineer in his/her domain in any of the other signatory countries of the Washington Accord.
  • However, IT engineers, are exempted from the accord.

Government’s effort to improve higher education in India

In July 2018, the government drafted a bill to scrap the University Grants Commission and replace it with a ‘Higher Education Council of India’ with different composition and functions.



  • SWAYAM MOOCs portal (Study Webs of Active learning for Young Aspiring Minds) is an indigenous MOOCs portal that provides high quality education and offers video lectures, e-reading material, discussion forum and assessment system.

Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA)

Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA)

  • It is an initiative to make use the knowledge base in the higher educational institutions for plugging technology gaps in the rural areas.

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching (PMMMNMTT)

  • Launched in 2014, it addresses the issues of supply of qualified teachers, attracting talent into teaching profession, raising the quality teaching in schools and colleges.

National Digital Library (NDL)

National Digital Library (NDL)

  • It is a virtual repository of learning resources with a single window search facility, that supports all academic levels including researchers from all disciplines.

Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN)


  • It is an initiative launched in 2015 to garner best international knowledge and experience into India’s higher education so as to enable Indian students & faculty to interact with best academic and industry experts from across the world.

Institutions of Eminence

  • Government has decided to build 20 Institutions of higher learning – 10 public and 10 private institutions as “Institutions of Eminence” (IoE), so that they are related among the global best institutions.
  • These institutions have the complete academic and administrative freedom and the public institutions was given 1000 crore fund in next 3 years.



  • IMPRINT is the first of its kind joint initiative of IIT and IISc to address the major science and engineering challenges of India.
  • It aimed at developing new engineering education policy and creating a road map to pursue engineering challenges.

Prime Minister Research Fellows (PMRF)

  • This scheme was launched to support 1000 bright undergraduate students every year, for direct admission in the research programmes in the reputed institutions like IISc, IITs.

Smart India Hackathon (software Edition)

  • Started in 2017, this initiative was launched to promote innovation in the students by encouraging out of the box solutions for common problems faced by the society at large.
  • In 2018, the scope has been expanded to Hardware area

Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA)

  • HEFA, a joint venture of MHRD and Canara Bank, aims for financing creation of capital assets in premier educational institutions in India.
  • The HEFA would finance the academic and research infrastructure projects through a 10-year loan.

Rashtriya Uchchatar Siksha Abhiyan (RUSA)

  • This scheme is aimed at providing more assistance for infrastructure to Universities and Colleges, creation of Model Degree colleges, Cluster universities, Upgradation of autonomous colleges and Vocationalisation of higher education.

Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE)

  • To step up investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions, including health institutions, a major initiative named ‘’Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022’ with a total investment of Rs.1,00,000 crores in next four years was announced in 2018-19 Budget.

SPARC (Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration)


  • It was initiated to facilitate research and academic collaboration with top academic institutions in the world.
  • Under this scheme, Government plans to fund collaboration of top Indian institutions with foreign institutions figuring in the top-500 of the QS world ranking.

National Academic Depository (NAD)

  • It is an online store house of all academic awards viz.certificates, diplomas, degrees, mark-sheets etc. duly digitised and lodged by academic institutions.
  • NAD not only ensures easy access to and retrieval of an academic award but also validates and guarantees its authenticity and safe storage.


  • India is already in the middle of the demographic dividend with a surge in its younger and working-age population, which is estimated to become the world’s largest by 2030.
  • Moreover, India is expected to account for about 20 percent of the total young talent pool supplied by the non– OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) G-20 countries.
  • Given this scenario, India’s higher education sector will continue to play a critical role in driving the nation’s talent competitiveness.
  • However, the new digital-age education system calls for personalized and dynamic methods of learning, a better-equipped faculty, new parameters to gauge student and faculty performance, and innovative models of funding.

Key Facts

  • There are over 900 universities and 40,000 colleges in India.
  • India became a signatory of the Washington Accord in 2014.
  • India has the second-largest enrolment in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) after the US.
  • College density, i.e. the number of colleges per lakh eligible population (population in the age-group 18-23 years) varies from 7 in Bihar to 51 in Karnataka and Telangana as compared to All India average of 28.
  • Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher education in India is 25.8%, which is calculated for 18-23 years of age group. GER for male population is 26.3% and for females, it is 25.4%.
  • The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, chaired by Satyanarayan Jatiya in 2017, examined the challenges of higher education in India.



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