Private sector powers into professional courses despite hurdles to autonomy

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 6 2011, 07:44am hrs
The government may be asking for greater private sector participation in higher education but the private sector has already spread its wings there, especially in professional courses where its participation ranges from 50-95% of the total number of institutions.

The share of private institutions in pharmacy is 95%, hotel management 94%, physiotherapy 92%, engineering 91%, architecture 67%, management 64% and medicine 50%.

Even enrollment in unaided private higher institutions as a percentage of total enrollment stood at 52% in 2006 compared with 33% in 2001.

Growth of private institutes in higher education is visible especially in professional courses. The government is also happy with greater private participation as it brings significant investment and adds capacity in a socially relevant sector. However, the private sector wants greater autonomy and a conducive regulatory environment, said Bharat Gulia, senior manager at consulting firm Ernst and Young.

Currently, 14.6 million students are enrolled in higher education. Rising demand calls for 25 million more seats over the next decade, which needs an investment of R10 lakh crore by 2020. The private sector, which accounts for 52% of all enrollments, will invest R50,000 crore per year, says a recent Ficci-Ernst&Young

report.

In recent years, there is a distinct trend in the growth of private higher education, both in terms of institutions and intake. This trend is far more significant in professional courses, says the UGC approach paper to the Twelfth Plan.

The number of state private universities (SPUs) went up from six in 2005-06 to 94 in 2011. In the last five years, the number of SPUs has gone up over 15-fold, when 88 SPUs (94% of the total) were set up. Also, five states account for about 65% of such universities, since they have enabling regulatory environments and provide government support, explains the report.

Experts say there is clear privatisation in higher education, especially in professional courses, since one can't charge heavy fees for arts and commerce courses. In fact, even in the case of deemed universities, 56% are private and the rest public. There are 130 deemed universities in the country, of which 73 are in the private sector.

Private sector involvement is also important because almost 44% of the central government spend on higher education is allocated to the UGC, which, in turn, assists colleges mainly in the form of grants for their maintenance and development and not much is being pumped for capacity development.

However, despite the increase, there is also lack of clarity on the funding pattern, incentives and regulatory oversight. These issues need to be addressed in order to provide a clear road map to the private and corporate sectors.

The private sector wants more autonomy. Only then will they pump in more money even in public-private partnerships, noted an expert who didn't wish to be named.