India Must Accelerate Universalizing Higher Education, Especially Because NEP Provides A Good Platform

India Must Accelerate Universalizing Higher Education, Especially Because Nep Provides A Good Platform - Sakshi Post

By Professor Vijoy Kant Das, Member,Bihar State University Service Commission

While India has worked credibly to check school dropouts and increase enrolment in its schools, our country must work to accelerate the universalization of higher education by taking steps to increase gross enrolment ratio (GER) across higher education institutions.

According to the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-20, the gross enrolment ratio in higher or tertiary education increased to 27.1%from 26.3% the year before, while in absolute terms, the enrolment increased from 37.4million students to 38.5million, registering annual growth of 1.1millionstudents or 2.94%. A GER of 27.1% indicates that the remaining 72.9% students in the 18-23 age group are not enrolled in institutions of higher education. The status of enrolment in tertiary education in India needs to be judged in comparison with that in other regions with similar ground realities. Between 1996 and 2001,India and China had similar GER. But in the next five years, China more than doubled it to 20% (2006) while India’s GER reached only 11.5%.

In 2016, China's enrolment shot up to 48.4% and it came close to universalizing higher education system. In 2020, China's GER was 54.4% while India’s was only 27.1%. Our country’s enrolment rate in 2016, on the other hand, was stuck at 25.50%. However, the silver lining in the otherwise gloomy scenario is that in terms of enrolment in higher education, India, with 38.53 million students enrolled, is next only to China's 41.83 million. The comparison of the two large countries brings to light a very important issue as to how China could register such a steep rise in the growth of GER. The phenomenal growth of GER of China from 9.75% in 2001 to 54% in 2020, over a span of twenty years, has some pertinent lessons for India to heed.

India’s National Education Policy, 2020 sets the target of 50% GER by 2035. Presently, the higher education system is at ‘mass’ level, which will upgrade to ‘universal’ level when GER crosses 50%. The GER of 27.1% for 2019-20 has been calculated against the 18-23 age group of population of 142.31 million (AISHE-2019-20). The NEP 2020 does not quote any projection of population for 2035. As per the projection of the Technical Group on Population Projection (GOI), the population of 18-23 age group in 2035 is expected to be 138.99 million. To register GER of 50%, the enrolment in tertiary sector is required to be 69.49 million. To achieve this target, GER is required to grow at the compounded annual rate of 3.53% per annum. The target appears quite achievable since the compounded growth rate of GER between 2011-12 and 2019-20 has been 3.58%. Nevertheless, tertiary system demands meaningful and pragmatic changes to make it robust to attract to its fold about 73% of the relevant population out of college now. If India is to achieve the lofty target of universalization of higher education, it should address the issues unfolding hereinafter.

Access to higher education institutions (HEIs) is the next issue. Availability of HEIs in India eludes geographical equity. College density, i.e., the number of colleges per lakh population of the age-group 18-13, is 30 (AISHE-2019-20). Policy intervention is pertinent to expand HEIs to the hinterland. While expanding HEIs geographically, the enrolment capacity therein also needs to be augmented. This will necessitate policy change. India has been following the norms of limited enrolment in HEIs. The Radhakrishnan University Education commission (1949) sought to limit the number of students in universities to 3000, and colleges to 1500. The Kothari Commission (1964-66) endorsed a similar notion. The idea of small, high quality HEIs, in India has been in sharp contrast to the policy of large enrolment in the HEIs of China, the US and European countries. In 2016, 35.7 million students were enrolled in India’s 51649 HEIs, whereas 41.8 million students were enrolled in China's 2596 institutions only. Experiences from China and developed countries suggest that larger HEIs with high enrolment are both easier to manage and more resource friendly. This experiment, among other interventions, helped China to achieve universalized higher education within 15-16 years of entering the ‘mass’ stage.

The twin actions of setting up new HEIs in hinterland with large student capacity, and increasing enrolment capacity in existing ones, will address the concern of access to a great extent. The gap that persists can be plugged by augmenting enrolment in Distance and Open learning Programs. However, the share of distance and open learning in total enrolment is almost stagnant at around 11% for many years. Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) through SWAYAM also provides an avenue of access. For this to be effective, facilities for virtual class needs to be enhanced considering that only 10.7% households have access to a computer and only 23.8% to the internet (NSSO:2017-18).

Apart from ensuring physical access to learners, we need to assure them about quality of teaching in the HEIs. States like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh have been working to implement NEP 2020. On August 26, the Madhya Pradesh government launched the National Education Policy 2020 in the state and became the second state to implement NEP 2020. The Madhya Pradesh state administration has directed the private university regulatory commission to closely monitor the effective implementation of NEP and to focus on the quality of education and its delivery. The state administration has made it clear that attention must be paid to the improvement of existing courses, research, and innovation in the context of the NEP.

Not just state governments, even the country’s civil society organizations are taking the lead in implementing NEP in its essence by increasing access to quality education. Shiksha Na Ruke is a Smile Foundation initiative providing 50,000 students in 22 states access to continuous learning through alternate learning mediums.Apart from civil society organizations, individuals are also making concerted efforts to ensure continued education. People Powered Digital Narratives recently launched a documentary - Girls on a Mission, which chronicles the contribution of young women leaders to promoting education in their communities.The documentary shows the contribution of four girls - Puneeta, Rinku, Nisha and Pinky - to address the issue of students dropping out of education. The girls have worked to increase enrollment and address the problem of dropouts in their villages of Shahpur Khalwapatti and Mishroli in Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh.

In this backdrop, the future pathway should be to especially concentrate on these sub-groups, which will aid acceleration of GER growth while strengthening the policy of greater social inclusion proposed by NEP2020.  ENDS

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