Indian Higher Education Trends: Consolidation gains Momentum

The story of Indian higher education is like a F-1 racing track without any enforcement of driver safety or driving rules. For last few years, Indian higher education has grown at a break-neck speed. For example, Indian higher education has grown by 20% in one year and added more than 5,000 colleges to the system. Likewise, gross enrollment ratio (GER) grew from 12.5% in 2007-08 to 17.3% in 2009-10. Clearly, access to higher education is very important for a developing country like India and it is encouraging to see the growth.

Most of this growth was supported  by entrepreneurial spirit of private sector. However, slow pace of policy reforms and misplaced herd-mentality of some private higher education initiatives, has resulted in one of the largest system with one of the weakest quality. This is a risky and unhealthy proposition for the system and stakeholders. One can imagine what will be the outcome in a racing track with no rules or security measures.

The biggest trend from Indian higher education for 2012 will be consolidation.

On the policy front, there is already a recognition that systemic quality needs to improved. A recent article in the University World News noted “Improving quality and providing more funds to state universities will be the focus of India’s higher education policy in the coming year.” Of course, the last mile barrier is if policy reforms move beyond politics of India and see the reality of implementation.

On institutional front, private institutions will wake-up to the rude shock that there is an oversupply of “me-too” type of institutions in engineering and management (Indian B-school bubble). It is clear from the sharp decline in number of applications for starting new institutions in 2012. AICTE¬† received 400 applications for 2012 as compared to 1,067 in 2011, and was 2,176 the year before. Private institutions will also face stringent regulations (Shouldering the Quality Responsibility). Overall, private institutions and entrepreneurs will realize that higher education in India is no more a sector to make quick-buck, rather it will require investment and quality to compete and grow.

2012 will an exciting year for India as it grows, improves quality and approaches internationalization. It will also continue to be a year of value contest in balancing quality vs. quantity; private vs. public and for-profit vs. not-for-profit.

To sum up, having rules (quality assurance mechanisms) does preclude speed (or growth)–it manages risks and secures the stakeholders. The year 2012 will bring more sensitivity about integrating quality at policy and institutional level; sometimes with choice and other times by compulsion.


Dr. Rahul Choudaha


  1. Great article summarizing some key issues that need to be addressed in India. Getting education to the masses is different from the quality problem. I believe opening up the for-profit education would help bring quality to education. My observation is that a lot of "international" schools – seemingly bringing better quality – mushrooming in the country. Many are good, and started with good intentions, but the approach is to cut costs in everything other than flashy infrastructure, and "extra-curricular" activities (perceptions of quality). This helps schools claim that they are different. However, teachers are often housewives who are good with children but not necessarily trained in teaching. Staff are often local villagers in the vicinity of the school where cheap land was acquired. Fees are steep. Yet, teaching method remains 'by rote' with less focus on marks, seemingly to reduce pressure on children. Teachers and staff are quite often underpaid.

    If for-profit schools focus on bringing qualified teachers, staff, training facilities, with emphasis on building on individual strengths rather than herding them towards what has been the hot career trend in the PAST decade, then we'll definitely see the standards picking up nation-wide. Instead of looking at Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, it the outliers are able to go to school in India, they can focus on top-notch research than dealing with immigration issues in the prime of their life. This will also bring industry near the talent, which would further spur innovation. Industry could offer scholarships for deserving candidates to encourage people to do research rather than take up 9-5 jobs.

    The current non-profit mechanism only creates a nexus of well-connected people who could use educational institutes, without often having the competency, to convert the 'black' money to 'white'. Bringing for-profit institutes whose core competency is education and create competition for the ordinary institutes which only feed off capitation fees and don't really add any value to the development of the students.

  2. A recent pilot report on "All India Survey on Higher Education" conducted by statistics dept of MHRD notes that
    "The compilation of the core list of Institutions of higher learning is a complex task because of
    numerous players in the field is not easily identifiable. Listing of institutions is one of the
    major Components of the survey as there is no exhaustive list of all the Institutions of higher
    learning in the country available as on date. To prepare the list one prerequisite is to identify
    the sources from where the exhaustive and mutually exclusive list can be prepared."
    A report Earnst & Young EDGE 2011 notes that
    1 Being a concurrent subject, Indian higher education system is regulated by both the Central and State Governments
    2 The Indian HE sector has a host of regulators with complex laws and procedures which impedes reforms
    3 The Central and State Governments have over the years introduced legislation, which has resulted in multiplicity of regulation, overlapping of mandates which are in certain cases conflicting with each other.
    4 Lack of good quality institutes results in abnormal rush of students to apply for few good ones

    In my opinion esp in Maharashtra the dominance of "Education Barons" politicians is a big problem

    The American experience with "for Profit" has not been a good one Watch PBS Presentation by FRONTLINE called COLLEGE INC
    This seems to be the tip of the iceberg.I am still digging and beginning to really despair at how much worse the ground realities must be.
    Just looking up "Ketan Desai" & "MCI" brings up SO MUCH FILTH .

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