Challenges in Higher Education in India

In the last 30 years, higher education in India has witnessed rapid and impressive growth. The increase in the number of institutions is, however, disproportionate to the quality of education that is being dispersed. Unplanned over-expansion is often criticized as one of the biggest downfalls of Indian higher education. A large number of institutions suffer from subpar quality and a lack of funding. As a result, entry into the top institutions is highly competitive and translates into a contest for higher entrance test scores and better private coaching institutes.

Higher education in India faces problems ranging from income and gender disparities in enrolment, to poor quality of faculty and teaching and even to a general lack of motivation and interest amongst students. Industries cite skill shortage as one of the major factors contributing to the mounting number of unemployed graduates. Some of the main challenges faced by the Indian higher education system include:

Financing - The inability of the state to fund the expanding higher education system has resulted in the rapid growth of private higher education. In addition, diminished governmental financial support adversely affects small and rural educational institutions. A growing number of public institutions are forced to resort to self-financing courses and high tuition costs. The private sector's primary modes of financing include donations, capitation fees and exorbitant fee rates. This in turn limits general accessibility to higher education, by catering to only an elite few.

Enrolment - As of 2007, only around 11% of the 18 - 23 year old population of India, is enrolled in higher education. On the whole, India has an enrolment rate of 9% which is similar to that of other lower middle income countries. The population that is enrolled in higher education consists largely of urban metropolitan dwellers. Rural enrolment in higher education is very low. Moreover, a majority of the recorded enrolment is at the undergraduate level. Over the last 4 years, Indian higher education has maintained a steady female enrolment rate of around 45%. Although the gender gap in enrolment has decreased significantly post-independence, there still exists a disparity amongst different departments. Technology, medicine and commerce are some of the areas of study that are heavily male-dominated while humanities departments show the opposite trend.

Accreditation - Driven by market opportunities and entrepreneurial zeal, many institutions are taking advantage of the lax regulatory environment to offer 'degrees' not approved by Indian authorities, and many institutions are functioning as pseudo non-profit organisations, developing sophisticated financial methods to siphon off the 'profits'. Regulatory authorities like UGC and AICTE have been trying to extirpate private universities that run courses with no affiliation or recognition. Students from rural and semi-urban background often fall prey to these institutes and colleges.

Politics - Higher education is a high stakes issue in India. It is subject to heavy government involvement. Despite the system's lack of state funding, 15.5% of government expenditure goes toward higher education. Also, many prominent political figures either own or sit on the managerial board of the Universities. This leads to the exertion of intense political pressures on the administration of these institutions. Caste based reservations make Indian higher education an even more contested topic. While some make the case that caste-based quotas are necessary to tackle prevailing socio-economic disparities, others see it as exclusionary to upper-caste individuals. As a result, student activism and political organization of academic staff are widespread and rampant.

The complex socio-political nature of the education sector in India makes it difficult to implement social reform. As a result, the overall quality of education suffers.