India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education stood at 21.1 per cent as of 2012-13 compared with the world average of 27 per cent. This means that we not only lag developed countries such as the US (95 per cent) and the UK (58 per cent), but also developing peers such as China (26 per cent), Brazil (36 per cent), Malaysia (40 per cent), Indonesia (24 per cent) and the Philippines (30 per cent).

India, an aspiring knowledge economy ready to unleash its huge demographic dividend, should address this situation in earnest. To realise the dream of establishing India as the human resource capital of the world, we need to take radical steps in sync with emerging trends and technologies in education.

After the introduction of the Right to Education Act, enrolment in educational institutes has reached respectable levels at the primary and secondary level. To enable these enrolled participants to compete in a dynamic world, the government needs to consider providing regulatory support, for higher education to adopt niche and futuristic institutions and curriculum encompassing design, entrepreneurship, communication, innovation studies and teaching methods.

Wide disparity

There is a wide disparity in the quality of education available across the country. Families that can afford foreign education end up contributing to the intellectual capital and economic value of other countries.

According to a research report, an estimated 300,000 Indian students are studying abroad, spending over $10 billion. The following recommendations, from a short- and long-term perspective, would go a long way in addressing the challenges and making our higher education system one of the most sought after systems in the world.

Infrastructure status

Higher education system in India should be accorded an “infrastructure” status to attract investments in regions where access to higher educational means is limited. Five states — Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana — account for 60 per cent of the State Private Universities (SPUs) but there is a need for upgrading the quality of education at these universities.

Investments in the education system will incentivise penetration of higher education in semi-urban/rural areas and also drive participation in urban areas that are economic hubs to tap the potential of 50 per cent of India’s population under the age of 25.

Section 8 status

Existing higher education trusts and societies should be permitted to convert to a Section 8 company while also allowing new private institutes to be established as a Section 8 company. Setting up of state-of-the-art educational facilities that provide professional and employability based skill education is a must to train India’s future human capital.

Public Private Partnerships and responsible for-profit education institutions must be considered while putting in place a robust regulatory framework in the country, to ensure that the quality of education is not compromised. This can ensure a paradigm shift in the existing state of affairs whilst achieving much higher GER ratios. The central government must work together with state governments to facilitate private entities in setting up higher education institutions, especially in the niche and futuristic areas of design, entrepreneurship, communication and innovation studies.

The State Private Universities Act needs to bring institutional changes in order to promote self-financed universities with agile structures for course work, taking for example the Maharashtra State Private Universities regulations.

Traditional teaching methods are gradually being replaced by audio-visual contents — mostly web based, in the form of smart classes.

With the mode of teaching changing, faculty roles will change from just information sharing to problem solving. This could facilitate a customised learning experience, utilising means such as advanced tablets, cloud technologies and new devices, ensuring easier scalability.

The MOOCs imperative

The government needs to develop a regulatory mechanism to manage the credibility of online education providers. Over 10 million students globally have enrolled in thousands of courses offered by just the top three to four providers of MOOCs (massive open online courses). With the advent of innovative digital platforms, MOOCs can help address the lack of faculty in higher education.

Currently applicable only for public institutions, the Government’s faculty development initiatives and research/student funding programmes should be extended on a competitive basis to private institutions also.

Creating a policy framework for reputed foreign institutes to collaborate with Indian Universities will assist in improving the quality of higher education by bringing best practices from across the world to India. This will encourage faculty development, improve quality assurance protocols and greatly enhance student achievement.

Therefore, due consideration needs to be given to de-regulating such collaborations, which are presently non-degree granting.

Developing new and promoting existing institutional mechanisms to further align industry and academia will address the challenge of disconnect between skills and employability. Introducing ‘employability modules’ and ‘soft skills training’ should become mandatory in all educational institutions.

Industry should be encouraged to participate in curriculum framing, teaching and provision of internships and placements utilising funds available through CSR to create Centres of Excellence, Innovation Hubs as well as encouraging endowments for faculty positions, capacity development, and upkeep of infrastructure.

Innovation universities

The Universities for Research and Innovation Bill seeks to allow the central government to set up Universities for Research and Innovation through notifications. A much needed revival of the Bill will enable private players to set up innovation universities. A new university may be established by a promoter if he/she meets certain conditions with proven expertise in innovation.

In the past, we have aspired to replicate the Silicon Valley model in IT, software and biotechnology. The future could behold trends that originate from the knowledge workforce in India and spur a quantum jump in socio-economic development through breakthroughs in smart energy, automation and nanotechnology. If we can implement the collaborative model of dynamic and futuristic policies in pedagogy, policy and innovation for higher education in India, it’s unlikely that we will miss the next emerging trend.

On the whole, the issue of providing quality higher education must be addressed at two levels — first, through autonomy to existing institutions with a very high focus on quality and second, creating an enabling eco-system to design new education institutions that will enhance the system for the future, as enumerated above.

The writer is Managing Director and CEO, YES Bank and Chair, YES Institute