What India must do to expand higher education enrolment

  • IASbaba
  • September 10, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education, Human Resources 
  • GS-3: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

What India must do to expand higher education enrolment

Context: According to the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-20, the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher or tertiary education increased to 27.1% (38.5 million), from 26.3% (37.4 million) in the preceding year.

  • This indicates that the remaining 72.9% of the population in the 18-23 age group is not enrolled in higher education institutions (HEIs). 

NEP and HEI Enrolment Target

  • The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 sets the target of 50% GER by 2035.
  • To achieve this target, GER is required to grow at 3.53% per annum. 
  • The target is attainable given that the compounded growth rate of GER between 2011-12 and 2019-20 was 3.58%. 

Increasing Higher education enrolment requires a multipronged, multi-tiered strategy. 

  • Improving the transition ratio from secondary to higher secondary, and then, to HEI is required. For Ex: In 2018-19, the net enrolment ratio at higher secondary level was only 30.8%, which limits the possibility of an increase in HEI.
  • Geography is also critical to HEI. For instance, college density remains highly concentrated in urban areas. Policy intervention to expand HEIs to the hinterland along with increasing the enrolment capacity is urgent.
  • Policy that Favour Larger HEIs: Earlier, the Radhakrishnan University Education Commission (1949) and Kothari Commission (1964-66) favoured small, high-quality HEIs. This is in sharp contrast with the policy of China, USA & Europe.
    • In 2016, India’s 51,649 HEIs had 35.7 million students, when China’s 2,596 institutions had 41.8 million students. 
    • Larger HEIs with high enrolment are easier to manage and more resource-friendly.
  • Expanding Open Learning: The share of distance and open learning in India has remained stagnant at around 11% for many years. Massive online open courses (MOOCs) through SWAYAM provide an avenue but only 10.7% of Indian households have access to a computer, with only 23.8% to the internet
  • Improving Teacher Shortage & Quality: India needs 3.3 million more teachers in HEIs to improve the teacher-student ratio, from 1:28 to an ideal 1:15. This requires efforts to help get the best minds to choose teaching as a profession by ensuring a steady and significant career trajectory. 
    • India can learn from the education systems in countries such as Finland and South Korea, where teaching is a coveted profession.
  • Improving Employability: Various surveys have found that graduates lack both the technical and communication skills required for skilled work. Vocational courses by HEIs in collaboration with local employers, can help improve these levels
  • More Scholarships: The financial support given through scholarships is currently inadequate. The transition from “mass education” to “universal education” is through financial support to the most vulnerable.


  • India’s GER has steadily increased over the last few years. This growth has also seen a substantial increase in the GER of Women, SCs & STs. This growth must continue. The future, therefore, lies in empowering subgroups, which will thereby accelerate GER. 
  • This must go hand in glove with India’s efforts to strengthen the policy of greater social inclusion proposed by NEP 2020.

Connecting the dots:

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