The demographic dividend

Updated: Nov 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
Clearance by the group of ministers to draft legislation that would allow foreign educational institutions to open their hallowed doors in India shows that the government is finally starting to learn the right lessons. Though India has the third largest higher education network in the world after China and the US, the quantity and quality of facilities are appalling. The 10 million students enrolled in graduate and post-graduate courses account for just 11% of those aged 17-23placing us at the back of the class compared even with developing countries in the region like the Philippines (31%) and Malaysia (27%). And the proportion of GDP assigned to higher educationan abysmal 0.37%has been dwindling. Is it any wonder, then, that a recent McKinsey study found that barely one in four Indians with engineering backgrounds, one in seven accounting and finance graduates and one in ten with general degrees are actually employable by transnationals Clearly, only large investments in higher education will ensure that our swelling young workforce can help the country transition to the knowledge economy.

Today, the student strength of Indias seven private universities is just 10,000, while the 63 private unaided deemed universities have another 60,000 on their rolls. Only around 8,000 students attend the 150 foreign institutions operating here, mostly through unrecognised franchises and subsidiaries. That needs to bulk up dramatically if the private sector is to fill the widening higher education chasm. The formal entry of foreign educational institutions is bound to raise questions regarding the curriculum, emoluments, admission policies, fees and legitimacy of degrees provided. The unwieldy affiliation system of Indian universities and inflexibility of the academic structure are other barriers for foreign institutions. It is estimated that apart from the human resource ministry, 15 other ministries and departments promote or regulate higher education. Therefore, there is an urgent need to revamp regulatory bodies like the UGC which have failed to maintain educational standards and have laid down entry barriers that are difficult to surmount. Only if we get it right can India reap the so-called demographic dividend.