A constant theme in discussions with Indian academics, government officials, and business people concerns the low quality of the country’s rapidly expanding higher education system. India now ranks third in size, after China and the United States. The current cumbersome, and ineffective accrediting system is being dismantled. The government is proposing a new system — how it may work is as yet unclear.
India’s undergraduates attend more than 20,000 colleges, some quite small and of varying quality. It has been impossible to ensure the quality of these colleges. Private institutions are particularly problematical. They receive no government funding and, as a result, are entirely tuition dependent.
India’s burgeoning high tech and software industries complain that as many as 80 percent of engineering graduates are so poorly trained that they are not qualified for available jobs. Some are hired and then provided with additional training by their employer, while others are simply not hired. At least one of the software giants, Wipro, invests a major amount of money providing remedial training, and is also working with engineering colleges to improve teaching methods and standards.
The much praised Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, and a few other similar schools together enroll under 20,000 students, a drop in the bucket of national needs. Further, a high proportion of their graduates leave the country to pursue advanced degrees overseas and many do not return. Further, these institutions now face increasing challenges because many of their professors are retiring and are difficult to replace. The government’s plan to add more IITs and IIMs is problematical because of staff shortages among other problems. Currently, this small quality sector is producing top quality graduates — the problem is that their numbers are too limited.
If India cannot improve the quality of the mainstream universities and the more than 20,000 undergraduate colleges affiliated to them, the overall quality of the system cannot rise. This has been the key challenge for decades—and it remains the key factor.