Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[oped of the day] The many structural flaws in India’s higher education system


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Institutions of Eminence

Mains level : Higher Education quality in India


The furore surrounding fee hikes at the Jawaharlal Nehru University has spurred deeper questions about the quality of university education. 

Higher Education

    • India’s higher education system is structurally flawed and underfunded.
    • This crisis will affect innovation and human capital, the two pillars of labour productivity and GDP growth.
    • It will hurt India’s largest demographic of its potential.

Fault Lines

    • A surge in women’s enrolment does not necessarily imply better outcomes. 
    • ‘India Skills Report’ suggests that only 47% of Indian graduates are employable.
    • India has startlingly low faculty figures.

Faculty shortage

    • Faculty vacancies at government institutions are at 50% on average. 
    • A Deloitte gathering of 63 Deans of top-tier institutions revealed that 80% listed lack of quality faculty as their biggest concern. 
    • The problem lies in increased demand and stagnant supply. 
    • The number of institutions has surged in India since the 2000s, while the number of students doing PhD has remained constant. 
    • There are over a 1,00,000 India-born PhDs in universities around the world. They are kept away by paltry salaries and poor funding. 
    • China attracted Chinese-origin PhDs back home with dollar salaries and monetary incentives for published research. 
    • Tsinghua University is designed on the Western model of teaching and research and is even ahead of MIT in terms of published papers.

The problem of Indian universities

    • Indian universities separate research and teaching activities, depriving students of exposure to cutting-edge ideas. 
    • Monetary incentives for academia are practically non-existent.
    • Indian R&D expenditure at 0.62% of GDP is one of the lowest in emerging economies. 
    • Indian universities rank low in both research and teaching. 
    • The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, at rank 155, was our highest in the Scimago Institutions Rankings (SIR) for research. 6 Chinese institutes figured in the top 50.

Macroeconomic impact

    • These flaws could affect macroeconomic indicators such as labour productivity, determined by innovation and human capital. 
    • The workers of tomorrow need to transition to the formal, non-agricultural sector, with higher education credentials.
    • An increase in research could lead to more innovation in the economy. It might drive up labour productivity. 
    • The Draft National Education Policy (DNEP) proposed ambitious reforms. It aims to double education spending to 6% of GDP and close the research-teaching divide in higher education. 
    • It is coupled with an ‘Institutions of Eminence’ programme started in 2018 that gave increased funding to some research universities. 


    • The dramatic increases may not be politically feasible.
    • The implementation of such reforms may go the path of previous NEPs — watered down and eventually shelved.

Way ahead

    • The government needs to ensure that higher education’s role in innovation and human capital is not ignored. 
    • The reforms must be pushed through and must lead to legislation that will fund research-based universities. 
    • Only this can bring a culture of discovery and accountability to India’s higher education institutions.


Institutions of Eminence

Institution of Eminence Scheme

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