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Private sector participation in India’s higher education (Part II)

June 7, 2016 | Blog, Uncategorized

In this two-part series, I share my views on the contribution of private sector to India’s higher education. While this first part published earlier gave the background, in this part I have attempted to explore in detail the challenges faced by higher education in India.

For all the progress made, even 68 years after India’s independence, higher education faces challenges in the critical areas of Access, Equity and Quality. Let’s take a quick look at each of these

Access:  Presently there are over 350 million peoples in the age group of 15–35 years, and this is expected to peak at about 485 million by 2030. Providing affordable, good quality, globally relevant higher education to such huge numbers remains one of the biggest problems facing our country.

Unless we are able to get our act together and put in place a wide range of mechanisms, India will be staring at a tsunami of young people approaching higher education and the system will not have the capacity to meet the demand. Such a situation, in the words of Narendra Jadhav, member of Planning Commission of India, would lead to a ‘demographic disaster, just adding mouths to feed, not hands that can work’.

Equity: Making matters worse, there is a wide disparity in higher education Gross Enrolment Ratios (GERs) across states, urban and rural areas, gender, and communities. According to Ernst & Young–FICCI (2011), the GER in urban areas is 23.8 per cent while in rural areas it is a poor 7.5 per cent. Delhi has a GER of 31.9
per cent whereas Assam lags behind at 8.3 per cent. India is already reeling under the rich–poor and rural–urban divide. Education can perhaps be the best tool to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-notsblog2. Yet, as these statistics show, there are glaring inequalities in access to education which only further accentuates the divisions in the society.

Quality: Reports put out by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) have time and again emphasized that most of the higher education institutions face an acute problem in terms of shortage of academic and physical infrastructure. Lack of innovation, redundant curriculum, an overemphasis on theory, less importance to research and social sciences, de-motivated teachers and researchers, and no quality monitoring in the education system are prime reasons for such a dismal state of affairs.

To sum up, the Government cannot provide all the solutions to India’s higher education challenges. India’s public expenditure on higher education as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 0.6 per cent (Ernst & Young–FICCI 2009), which is less than what other nations such as United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and China spend on a per-student basis.

In fact, over the past few decades, it has been the private sector that has really driven capacity-creation in Indian higher education. Privatization of higher education is especially noticeable in higher education professional courses such as engineering and Master of Business Administration (MBA), where majority of the institutions offering such programmes have been established by the private sector.

So much so, the share of private institutes in the field of pharmacy and engineering is more than 90 per cent. These statistics show that private education players are the norm rather than exception and that privatization of higher education is now an irreversible trend in India.

Critics who argue that education is a social good and should remain exclusively in the hands of the government will find it hard to disagree that given the scale and complexity of Indian higher education challenges, the government on its own cannot single-handedly tackle all the issues. Private education players like Presidency University will continue to propel the growth of higher education in India.


Nissar Ahmed, Chancellor, Presidency University