As the country becomes more dependent on higher education to fuel economic growth and social transformation, it is imperative that improving the sector is one of the new government’s immediate priorities. The problems of the sector are well known and the solutions have been widely discussed. Many of them require long-term systemic changes, but here are seven key actions that the new government can undertake in the near-term, which will have a significant impact on improving the current and future state of the sector.
Faculty development initiative
Launch a concerted faculty development initiative. Shortage of faculty, particularly well-trained faculty, is one of the biggest problems in Indian higher education space today. We need to double the number of faculty from the current 8 lakh to 16 lakh by 2017 so as to fill the current gap and meet the future demand for college education. A multi-pronged effort to increase the number of faculty and improve their research and teaching skills must be launched immediately. This would involve national and international training for current and potential faculty members, the revamping of the Academic Staff Colleges, setting up of faculty development centres at all universities (including some with international collaborations), removing constraints on hiring international faculty and fast-tracking of promising undergraduates into doctoral programmes.
Nationwide accrediting system
Implement a nationwide accrediting system and make accreditation mandatory for all institutions of higher education, public and private. This will require expanding the capacity of the existing accreditors, NAAC and NBA, as well as establishing additional independent accrediting agencies. Accreditation and evaluation should be based on a new institutional classification system that classifies institutions based on their organisational form and academic mission.
Reform in the financial support system
Begin the process of moving government financial support of higher education from an institution-based to a student-based regime. This will require establishing a comprehensive student financial aid structure, including need- and merit-based scholarships, and a commercially provided but government underwritten student loan programme. In tandem, institutions should be allowed to raise tuition and fees to better approximate the real cost of the education they provide.
Focus on state institutions
There is a great need to expand the focus on state institutions as key to the problem of providing widespread access to higher education and improving quality across the system. With the launch of the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), the government has already recognised the important role played by the states in meeting the growing