India is a growing economy with 3% of its GDP being utilised on higher education. India’s higher education system is the world’s third-largest in terms of students, next to China and the United States. The Higher Education sector has witnessed a tremendous increase in the number of Universities/Institutions & Colleges since independence. Despite growth, there have been many challenges in higher education sector in India.
The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is only 25% which is quite low as compared to many other developed countries. There is no equity in GER of males and females and various other categories. There are regional and cultural disparities seen in higher education. One can see the density of colleges varying tremendously across India. Moreover, Quality and Infrastructure have been major challenges to public and private universities in India. The trending budget deficits, corruption and lobbying have played a negative role in marking ourselves to the global standards. This can be clearly seen from the number of Indian Universities/Colleges in the top list of global Universities. The inability of educational system to attract and retain well-qualified teachers with ever-lasting issues like Ad-hoc/Consolidated /CHB have played a major role in engulfing the entire recruitment process. And the other most significant challenges faced by education system are over-centralization, bureaucratic structures and lack of accountability, transparency, and professionalism.
The Government has indeed taken various initiatives in order to overcome these problems. It launched Education Quality Up-gradation and Inclusion Programme (EQUIP), which is a five year vision plan to improve the quality and accessibility of higher education. It aims to double the GER and resolve the disparity in higher educational institutes. Government also introduced Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) which will upgrade the research and infrastructure facilities in India. The UGC’s Learning Outcome based Curriculum Framework (LOCF) helps in facilitating active learning mechanism. Government is also in the process of providing Graded Autonomy to Universities and Colleges with an objective to de-centralize the designing of curriculum, conduction of examination and evaluation system. The Global Initiative for Academics Network (GIAN) which seeks to invite various stakeholders from premier institutes across the world seems to be a welcome step.
All these initiatives might look lucrative but have not been able to make significant impact on real educational system of India as most of the actual beneficiaries were only IIT’s, IIMs, Central Universities and few reputed Institutes. Rural and many Urban Institutes/affiliated Colleges could not even qualify to their terms and conditions even when most of the students’ population is dependent on them. Although, National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) and All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) could fetch the data of higher educational institutes, these are least utilized to deliver the actual outcomes of higher education.
With various stakeholders looking way-forward to implement the National Education Policy (NEP), introduce world class reforms by creating Regulatory and Governance Reforms, Increase Focus on Vocational and Professional Led Education, Performance linked Funding and Incentives and Distance and Online education, it seems important for us to realize and understand the current trends and impact on educational system that are driven by market.
The current system has the presence of government as well as private institutions imparting education from under graduation to research-based curriculum. There are lot differences in the content/syllbi, cost, infrastructure and other facilities, remuneration to teachers etc. that is offered by both. Though there is a regulatory system in form of UGC/AICTE and others, the differences have kept on increasing over a period. The policy of encouraging private investment in education has definitely led to increase in the number of universities and colleges. This policy is in consistence with the liberalization and market-oriented mechanism. Yet it has posed many problems for the higher education sector, especially for the low and lower-income students. The employment market and the skill set that are being developed unfortunately do not match.
So there is a need to realize other effects of this market driven educational system. Let us briefly look at some of these adversities,
Social and Economic Disparity: already we have wide social and economic gap. The market driven education will focus only on winners. This will widen the gap between rich and poor. The possibility of entire market shifting its focus on rich institutes and rich students will propagate. As only rich institutes will have the capacity to offer market based educational courses making only rich students to benefit from. If any institute is not able to cope up with market it will hamper their growth.
Market Based Skill Gap: It can be observed that all the best universities in the world charge fees more than 41 lakhs for most of the undergraduate programmes. Apart from few scholarships the education is almost out of reach for most of the poor students. The entire B.Tech degree at IIT Bombay costs approximately 8 lakhs, however the certificate courses of 5 months in AI, Data Sciences, Deep Learning, Design Thinking, Robotics etc. are given at a price not less than 1 lakhs. These are all market driven courses and are offered at very high prices. Similar situation can be seen in most of the institutes and colleges. This will widen the market-based skill gaps among students of different strata of the society.
Optimization: the economic cost of a market based educational system is that its participants may not be optimized. An inherently disadvantaged person may have no choice but to work on a minimum-wage job to support his/her family instead of becoming a doctor or a scientist.
Competitive Disadvantages: A market based educational system will basically be defined by cut-throat competition which may not have the mechanism to help those who are inherently disadvantaged.
Monopolies of Few Universities/Colleges: The market driven educational system will create monopolies of few Universities/Colleges. The monopolies of few Universities/Colleges will result in exploitation and dependency of remote and underdeveloped Universities/Institutes/Colleges in the absence of regulatory mechanism and laws. We find this even today where students try to seek admissions only in few universities and colleges resulting in cut-throat competitions.
Stabilization of the Educational System: In market driven educational system, the capital is higher, however, there is no effective educational growth. It creates a wide disparity between a student studying in rich and a remote Institute/College which may destabilize the entire educational system in the long run.
Allocation of Resources: the market driven education will lead to automatic allocation of resources to profit making programmes/courses (AI, Data Science, Robotics etc.), which may result in certain not-very-profitable yet vital educational sectors left-off without enough resources. This might have serious consequences over the long-run and harm the basic educational structure. It can be observed that many colleges/Institutes are already allocating more funds to professional courses than the traditional ones.
Basic Ethos of Education: The Universities/Colleges for centuries have spearheaded new thought moments and new paradigms of existence. But with market driven educational system the Universities/Colleges might become just the place of tourist attraction in the near future.
Academic Freedom and Intellectual Dissent: there will be more assaults (known or unknown) on academic freedom by ascendant authoritarians and create more pressure from a drive to turn universities into market-driven organizations. For example the teaching of economics, had degraded from asking questions of moral economy through political economy to now merely being a technical training measurement. The Universities/Colleges will suffer attrition, loss of interdisciplinary exchanges and degradation of the very teaching and scholarship for which they were primarily established.
Unrestrained Market Dominance: in long term such systems will be rationalized in the name of market forces and the inexorable drive towards a utilitarian reductionism will be more pervasive. The ideology of unrestrained market dominance will prevail and squeeze the space to ask questions beyond utility.
Recently, the president of the Republic of Ireland issued a stark warning that the “ruination” of the University/College tradition is “at stake” with scholarship and teaching threatened by both authoritarian politicians and subservience to the “utilitarian reductionism” of market ideology.
Does it mean that the market oriented educational system fails to provide the solutions to our current challenges in the higher education sector? The answer is not completely negative. If we want to modernize and expand our educational system, raise educational attainment levels, provide skills to its youth and gain significant advantage over other countries, we must focus on effective implementation of market based educational system in the country before any patterns are fixed. If current trends continue for longer time, we will be in danger of disintegrating ourselves into parallel societies despite the creation of large number of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).