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Despite the long, slow march to opening India’s higher education sector to foreign institutions and the likely chaos that will ensue when individual states there are handed responsibility for their universities, the ground is still fertile for engagement, the British Council says.

In a report released last Friday, the British Council says there is a “sense of urgency” to expand the system at a fast enough pace to meet an impending demographic surge in demand “while increasing quality and ensuring equitable access.”

“There is a great deal of caution about the way reforms will unfold; progress is likely to follow an unpredictable course.”

The report, which is aimed at United Kingdom universities but is equally applicable to institutions in other potentially exporting countries, says there are many and diverse opportunities for engagement with India, but that any institution doing so need to take the long view.

The report identifies current and emerging areas for U.K.-India collaboration across the Indian higher education sector as a whole, and finds that at present, U.K. engagement is too narrowly focused.

It notes while there are plenty of existing partnerships with the handful of elite Indian institutions with international reputations, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, and institutes of national importance, the vast majority of institutions have no contact with overseas universities.

“The low quality of teaching and learning is a key challenge to Indian ambitions, and the U.K. has yet to be substantially involved in this issue through partnerships and digital learning technologies,” the report says, noting there is also a need to engage with the arts and humanities, as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

“While the … sector has been working with Indian central government institutions, the real growth opportunities are likely to come from state governments, as the Indian education sector becomes more devolved out of New Delhi.”

The report says India’s current rate of enrollment in postsecondary study is 18 percent, but the government is looking to have a 30 percent enrollment rate by 2020, which will require 14 million new university places in just six years.

But even with a stable government and policy agenda, neither of which are assured, the sector is currently “beset by issues” including “a chronic shortage of faculty, poor quality teaching, outdated and rigid curricula and pedagogy, lack of accountability and quality assurance and separation of research and teaching”.

“Over the next five years, every aspect of higher education is being reorganized and remodeled: funding, leadership and management, quality assurance, accountability, relationships with industry, international collaboration and the way teaching and research are conducted.”

But the report, written by the British Council’s senior education adviser in India, Lynne Heslop, says that for those institutions that are strategic, focused and can hold a steady hand, the rewards will be worth it.

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