India severely needs a reform package for higher education from PM Modi

When bright students look around India for a place to study for an advanced degree, they find few top-quality programmes. Amid HRD ministry and ruling government’s keen attempts to improvise the fragmented education system, the situation is more and more distressing internally. In these times when more and more board toppers aspire to study abroad, it is when India needs a reform package for higher education from Prime Minister Modi.

As per the analysis, U.S. is the most popular destination among Indian students to study abroad, it is likely that other countries such as Germany, Canada and the U.K. are also seeing significant increases from India.

Reasons why the Indian students want to study abroad?

Why? There are, no doubt, not one but many reasons why Indians are choosing to study abroad. The finest example is the social sciences and humanities, in which there are a small number of respectable departments, but absolutely none that are considered by international experts as in the top class of academic programmes.

In the hard sciences, biotechnology, and related fields, the situation is more favourable with a few institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and some others, despite limited acknowledgement from abroad, being internationally competitive by most measures. But the numbers of students who can be served by these schools is quite limited.

Thus, if a bright Indian wants to study for a doctorate or even a master’s degree at a top department or university in most fields, he or she is forced to study overseas. Further, a degree from a top foreign university tends to be valued more in the Indian job market than a local degree. While master’s degrees can be quite costly in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and elsewhere, doctorates are in fact quite inexpensive because of the likelihood of securing a research or teaching fellowship or assistantship that pays for most or all of the costs.

Another reason is that the top faculty members are often more accessible and it is easier to become affiliated with a laboratory or institute. Academic politics exists everywhere, and Indians may suffer from occasional discrimination abroad, but overall academic conditions are likely to be better than at home.

Why the students don’t want to return to India?

There are various reasons why the students don’t want to return and the reasons are not hard to discern. Better salaries and facilities abroad, easier access to research funds, working on cutting-edge topics and many others are part of the mix. And while some are lured back to India later in their careers, the numbers are small. Once established overseas, either in a university or in the research or corporate sectors, it is difficult to return.

Solutions

There is no short-term solution to this problem for India. The only remedy is to build up high-quality capacity in key disciplines at national institutions so that a greater number of Indian students can obtain excellent training at home. This means significant investment over time, and careful choices about where to invest since all universities cannot be top research universities.

It also means significant changes in India’s academic culture to ensure that meritocracy operates at all levels. China’s top universities are beginning to show up in the mid-levels of the global rankings, an indication that they are having some success. India, so far, is nowhere to be seen.

India’s education system, one of the largest in the world has been studied and reflected on through academic papers, used as a case study and been subject of many renowned books. The demand for higher education and the magnitude of planned reforms over the next ten years in India will provide the largest opportunity in the world for international higher education institutions and education businesses.

The Indian higher education system is facing an unprecedented transformation in the coming decade. Despite significant progress over the last ten years, Indian education system is faced with four vast challenges:

The supply demand gap

The low quality of teaching and learning

Constraints on research capacity and innovation

Uneven growth and access to opportunity

The three central pillars of the government’s plans for education include: expansion, equity and excellence. Over the next five years, every aspect of higher education is being reorganized and remodeled. Emphasis will be placed on strengthening existing institutions. In arguably the biggest reform in the governance and funding of state universities, an ambitious programme is underway to devolve authority and budgets for higher education from federal government to the state governments.

But what is actually happening on the ground in the universities and colleges across India? How do they view these national plans and how are they responding to the enormous social changes happening around them? What do they think the future will look like for their institutions? All such questions till date don’t have an answer.

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