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Higher Education in India: Harsh Realities

By Vinay


“The time has come to create a second wave of institution building and of excellence in the fields of education, research and capability building”

Dr. Manamohan Singh (Prime Minister of India)


Once upon a time, may be some 1500 years ago, more foreign people visited India in search of Knowledge and Wisdom than any other country. They came in hordes for no other part of the world could boast of centers of excellence as holy as Nalanda and Taxila. It is from these universities that the wisdom and the great religion found its way far and wide and spiritually conquered China, Japan and many other nations.

Once upon a time, may be some 60 years ago, when we got independence, Nehru, the architect of modern India proudly said that the Big dams that were built at that time were temples of modern India. My generation would not have suffered if Nehru had built hundred or more universities at that time with the same enthusiasm. Today India has more number of PSUs (Public Sector Units) and dams than there are universities. And all universities are as sick as sickest PSU we have today.

Japan with a population of 127 million has 726 universities; Germany has 350 universities for its 82 million people; United Kingdom has 125 universities for population as big as that of Karnataka’s; United States of America has 2,446 universities for its 300 million people. China in last decade alone has built more than 1000 universities.

India with 1.1 billion people has around 350 universities; one fourth of them were built before Independence.

This clearly explains the priority our elected heads of the government gave to education in India. We neither built large number of universities nor maintained the sanctity of those which were built. A few IITs and IIMs that were built faithfully catered to the need of foreign countries until now. As told by our PM it is high time now that we became pragmatic and work towards strengthening our education system.

Once Einstein joked that, “it is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry”.

When Narayanmurthy, C.N.R.Rao, TCS’s Ramadorai quipped that only 20 to 30 percent of all engineers graduated in India every year are eligible for working in private companies they were reiterating the bitter truth. Our universities have become obsolete in their methods of imparting knowledge. Their archaic academic curriculum is out of sync with modern needs. Politicization of campus has blotted out the intellectual aura that was once the hallmark of few good universities. Criminal activities, ugly romance, drug trafficking and entertainment have become the norm of university campuses in India. Add to this rampant corruption in each department of the Universities.

The universities which once provided India with great political, business leaders and helped flourish dynamic democracy during its infancy unfortunately have become stagnant in this direction.

Higher Education in India.

We have 17,700 hundred under-graduate colleges affiliated to 131 Universities. That is on an average 135 colleges for each university. The Bangalore University has more the 400 colleges affiliated to it, which makes it one of the worst managed universities in the world. when I graduated it took 7 months to get final year marks card, one year to get my TC (Transfer Certificate) and one and half years to claim my Convocation certificate.

The enrollment rate for people between the age group of 18-24 in India is only 7% , less than half of the Asia’s average rate.

No Indian University figures in the top hundred Universities list of the world.

In 1990 India produced 11,563 research papers to that of China’s 6,991 and in 2005 India produced 25, 227 papers to that China’s 72,632 in International journals. It clearly shows downward trend of research activities in our universities.

The infrastructure of our universities is the main drawback. Laboratories, libraries and hostels are badly managed and upgraded. Bangalore University’s library resembles a museum from outside and I won’t blame you if you mistake it for an ancient excavation site when you enter inside it. Every year government allocates huge sum to these universities and 90 percent of it goes to salaries and other non-plan expenditures. Less than 10 percent goes to education and infrastructure purposes.



On 13th June, 2005 Government of India constituted a high level advisory body known as National Knowledge Commission (NKC) to advise the PM about the state of education in India and measures needed to reform this sector. It was headed by Sam Pitroda and submitted its report in November 2007.

NKC has recommended setting up of 1500 universities by 2015 so that gross enrollment ratio increases to 15 percent. It has also called for establishing an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) to monitor the quality of overall higher education in India.

Its report if implemented can help boost education sector in India. Governments should make a sustained and sincere effort towards this. We are moving towards an era which would be defined by the parameters of knowledge and wisdom. Let’s hope at least our politicians wake up now and wisdom prevails before it’s too late.