Understanding the Indian Higher Education Landscape

With a large student population in India, i.e. an estimated 37.4 million total enrolments in HEIs, the Indian higher education system is faced with a challenge to redefine and reinvent itself to overcome barriers in the times of uncertainty posed by the current pandemic (COVID-19) in delivering the education promised to the students. In the last few months, HEIs witnessed uncharted territories as they transitioned to e-classrooms overnight, while dealing with a myriad of other challenges. The biggest of these challenges was concerning the accessibility of education and availability of resources besides issues relating to curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. While there have been obstacles, COVID-19 has also pushed HEIs to reimagine how to deliver engaging and holistic classroom experience to students and is driving a revolution of sorts in the education sector.

India has over 51,000 HEIs. This, along with the large student population, constrained pupil-teacher ratio, diverse demographics, and distinct rural-urban divide make the Indian higher education landscape unique and complex. The pandemic-related challenges add additional layers of complexity. There are approximately 394 universities located in rural areas in India. Several million students hail from remote, rural areas with minimal access to electronic devices, reliable internet connectivity, or stable electricity supply resulting in a digital divide. This means that Indian institutions need to go one step beyond online classrooms to build strong institutional capacity to maximise outreach. And while we respond to this educational transition and ongoing transformation during COVID-19, we also need to start planning for the future of HEIs for a time during and post COVID-19. Given the diversity in our institutions and challenges faced by them, Indian HEIs cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all strategy. Different approaches will need to be applied while planning the reopening of HEIs and continuing the classes after reopening of the HEI, until a COVID-19 vaccine has been developed and administered to control the ongoing pandemic.

The following section will account for the various HEI statistics based on the overall count of HEIs, Open/Dual Programmes, Private Institutions and the impact of these on planning the way forward for the Indian higher education.

OVERALL INSTITUTIONS

Currently, India has over 51,000 HEIs, the split of which is as follows:

  • Universities – 993
  • Colleges – 39,931
  • Standalone Institutions – 10,725

Given the diversity in our institutions and challenges faced by them, Indian HEIs cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all strategy.

 

Inference: Given the large number of institutions, we will have to appreciate the associated diversity and acknowledge that we will need to build Academic Continuity Plans (ACPs) to suit the breadth of diversity, and therefore, there may not be a standardised one-size-fits-all approach. However, based on the commonality of various resources required across institutions, centralised resource management can help streamline operations and reduce the associated costs. Therefore, this will require complex administration to ensure effective planning and implementation.

OPEN/ DUAL PROGRAMMES
  • As per the AISHE Report 2018-2019, of all the institutions, currently the count of Open Universities is as follows – 1 Central Open University, 1 State Private Open University, 14 State Open Universities
  • 110 are Dual Mode Universities

Inference: Most institutions operate physically and will require a strategy for academic continuity during COVID-19

UNDERSTANDING PRIVATE HEI LANDSCAPE
  • 385/993 (38.8%) universities are privately managed
  • 8% of the colleges are privately managed – 64.3% are private unaided, and 13.5% are private aided

Inference: A large proportion of the HEIs are privately managed. The financial implications of the pandemic may be severe for them as they are self-funded and depend on student tuition fees which in turn may be constrained in itself by the financial implications of the pandemic across all households. HEIs will need to identify cost-effective strategies to continue the education programmes, and develop an academic continuity strategy and implementation which does not add to their financial burden, and identify innovative funding tools to ensure continuity. Any negative consequences arising from constrained financial health of these private HEIs will have implications for millions of students currently enrolled in these institutions. Therefore, the government and the regulators might consider extending their support to private HEIs as well.

Given the large number of institutions, we will have to appreciate the associated diversity and acknowledge that we will need to build Academic Continuity Plans (ACPs) to suit the breadth of diversity.

This section aims to review the student demographics and understand their impact on the academic continuity of the Indian higher education landscape.

Currently, the total enrolment in higher education is estimated to stand at 37.4 million. Statistics given below identify the corresponding diversities of this large student pool.

GROSS ENROLMENT RATIO (GER)

The GER across Indian HEIs currently stands at 26.3%.

Inference: Even while dealing with the consequences of this pandemic on the ongoing education of the current students, HEIs still need to consider the challenges of resources associated with expanding Indian higher education to increase the GER in medium to long run.

DISTANCE ENROLMENT

Distance enrolment is about 10.62% of the total enrolment.

Inference: Majority of the students among the total enrolment have enrolled in non-distance format of education and will therefore be majorly impacted by the disruption caused by the closing of physical campuses during the ongoing pandemic. Therefore, continuity of education is critical since it will affect most of the existing student base.

ENROLMENT IN UNDERGRADUATE STUDIES

About 79.8% enrolment is for undergraduate studies. At the undergraduate level the enrolment across the below mentioned disciplines is as follows:

  • Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences – 9 %
  • Science – 5%
  • Engineering and Technology – 5%
  • Commerce – 1%
  • Less than 5% enrolment is for Ph.D. studies.

Inference: Based on this, we can infer that the majority of the students who are affected by the current crisis are pursuing undergraduate (UG) studies. Therefore, UG studies need to be a critical focus while planning the academic continuity in the Indian HEI context.

DIVERSITY

  • Foreign Students – 47,427
  • Other groups (below percentages are with respect to the total enrolment)
    • Scheduled Caste – 9%
    • Scheduled Tribe – 5%

– OBC – 36.3%

  • Muslim Minorities – 2%
  • Other Minorities – 3%

Inference: Based on this, we can infer that more than 50% of the total students enrolled are from scheduled castes/tribes, OBC and minority communities, and thus a large number of students represented by these communities may potentially be more vulnerable to additional disadvantages in continuing their education during these pressing times. Additionally, for the foreign students, one must keep in mind the need for additional sensitivity of treatment, regulatory requirements, and challenges of differences in time-zone in case of attending

Undergraduate studies need to be a critical focus while planning the academic continuity in the Indian HEI context.