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Higher Education in India: Status, challenges and solutions

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Government policies and interventions

Source: TH

 Context: Indian higher education is experiencing heightened politicization, posing a serious threat to academic institutions and intellectual freedom.

India boasts one of the world’s largest higher education systems, including prestigious institutions like IITs and IIMs. Despite its vastness, challenges such as quality and relevance persist. Additionally, increasing politicization poses a threat to academic freedom and intellectual discourse.


Status of Higher Education in India:

Student EnrolmentOver 4 crore students enrolled in higher education institutes in 2021-22.
A significant increase from about 3.42 crore in 2014-15.
Women enrolment: Over 2 crore in 2021-22, up by 32% from 1.5 crore in 2014-15.
The highest proportion of women enrolment at the postgraduate level (over 55%).
Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER)Estimated GER for age group 18-23 years: 28.4%.
The primacy of Government InstitutionsAbout 73.7% of students attend government universities, comprising 58.6% of all universities.
State public universities have the largest share of enrollment (around 31%) among government-owned universities.



Primary Challenges in the Indian Higher Education System: 

  1. Politicization of higher education: Concerns rise over politicization in higher education, impacting autonomy in faculty recruitment, curriculum design, and resource allocation.
    1. g., Controversies around the appointments of Governors as Chancellors and Vice Chancellors, undermining institutional independence.
  2. Limited Funding: Interim Budget 2024-25 slashes education allocation by 7%, with UGC funding cut by 61%.
  3. Low R&D investment: It remains low at 64% of GDP, compared to China (2.4%), Germany (3.1%), South Korea (4.8%), and the US (3.5%).
  4. Uneven Regional Development: Higher education institutions are unevenly distributed, with states like Delhi, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra having higher concentrations of reputed institutions.
  5. Quality of Education: The quality of education in many institutions falls short compared to other developing nations.
    1. g. A study by the National Employability Report highlighted the industry’s perception of the outdated curriculum in many Indian universities.
  6. Faculty Shortage: There is a significant shortage of qualified faculty across institutions.
    1. g. AISHE data indicates a faculty shortage in many institutions, with a high student-to-faculty ratio.
  7. Lack of Research and Innovation: Indian institutions often lack a strong focus on research and innovation. For instance, India ranks lower in global innovation indices, indicating a need for increased emphasis on research and development.
  8. Affordability: Higher education is often unaffordable for many students.
    1. For example, AISHE reports show disparities in enrolment rates among different social groups.
  9. Equity and Access: A report titled “Gender and Higher Education in India: Negotiating Equity with Access” attempts to outline the multiple dimensions of gender asymmetries and discrimination that occur in higher education institution
  10. Inadequate Infrastructure: Many institutions lack the necessary infrastructure.
    1. g. According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-20, many colleges lack basic amenities, affecting the quality of education.
  11. Job Market Alignment: There is often a mismatch between the skills students acquire and what the job market requires. A report titled EMPLOYABILITY AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN INDIAN UNIVERSITIES shows that employability in the country is only 47%.


Impact on Quality:

  1. Skill Gap: The gap between the curriculum and industry needs results in a workforce lacking in essential skills.
  2. Inadequacy in Research: The lack of focus on research and innovation limits the country’s capacity to contribute to global knowledge and technological advancements.


Government Initiatives:

National Education Policy (NEP) 2020Aims to overhaul the education system, and promote multidisciplinary learning, skill development, and research. Targets 50% Gross Enrolment Ratio by 2035.
Institutions of Eminence (IoE) SchemeLaunched in 2018, grants 20 institutions complete autonomy.
National Credit FrameworkIntegrates training and skill development into education, and stores student credits digitally.
Revamped Accreditation and Ranking SystemsNIRF ranks institutions, and NAAC ensures quality standards.
Digital InitiativesSWAYAM offers online courses, National Digital Library provides educational resources.
Study in India ProgramAttracts international students with scholarships and streamlined admission process.
Foreign Institutions in IndiaRegulations allow the top 500 foreign universities to establish branch campuses.
SHE under INSPIREScholarship to attract students to study basic sciences and pursue research careers.


Measures to Address Challenges:

  1. Infrastructural, Academic and Faculty Reforms: Improving infrastructure and implementing academic and faculty reforms can enhance the quality of education. For instance, the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) aims to upgrade infrastructure in higher educational institutions
  2. Increase Representation of States in UGC: Increasing the representation of states in the University Grants Commission (UGC) can help address regulatory challenges.
  3. Availability of Quality Textbooks in Local Language: Providing quality textbooks in local languages can improve access to education. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has been publishing quality textbooks in various local languages.
  4. Government Financial Support: Government financial support can make higher education more affordable.
    1. Schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Vidya Lakshmi Karyakram provide educational loans to students.
  5. Implementation of New Education Policy: The implementation of The NEP 2020 aims to overhaul the education system by introducing a new curriculum structure, promoting multilingualism, and focusing on skill development.
  6. Strengthening Quality Assurance Institutions: Strengthening institutions like the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) can ensure quality assurance.
  7. Digital Education: The Government of India has launched several initiatives like SWAYAM, an online education platform, to promote digital education.
  8. Public-Private Partnerships (PPP): PPP models have been successful in improving the education system. For example, the Delhi Public School Society operates schools in collaboration with private entities.


Other measures needed:

  1. Shift focus to practical skill development through project-based learning, internships, and industry collaborations.
  2. Encourage universities to engage in social development projects to promote civic engagement.
  3. Enhance the National Digital Library and promote open educational resources.
  4. Establish entrepreneurship and innovation centres within universities.
  5. Promote transnational education partnerships with international universities.
  6. Implement dual study programs combining theoretical learning with practical training.
  7. Adopt a competency-based credentialing system with blockchain certificates.


A revitalized higher education system will not only contribute to the intellectual growth of the nation but also position India as a competitive force on the global educational stage. It is an investment in the nation’s intellectual capital, fostering innovation, critical thinking, and socio-economic development.


Insta Links:

Mains Link:

Q1. How have digital initiatives in India contributed to the functioning of the education system in the country? Elaborate on your answer. (USPC 2020)

Q2. Discuss the main objectives of Population Education and point out the measures to achieve them in India in detail. (USPC 2021)

Prelims Link:

Q. Which of the following provisions of the Constitution does India have a bearing on Education? (UPSC 2012)

  1. Directive Principles of State Policy
  2. Rural and Urban Local Bodies
  3. Fifth Schedule
  4. Sixth Schedule
  5. Seventh Schedule


Select the correct answer using the codes given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3, 4 and 5 only

(c) 1, 2 and 5 only

(d) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5


Ans- D