Here’s what India’s higher education ecosystem needs today | VIEW

From a layman’s perspective, imparting subjective knowledge and triggering mental development are the two main objectives of education. But from a scholar’s point of view, education enables and empowers people and it provides them with diverse knowledge, expertise and skills. Education equips people with basic values and ethics to make them sharp enough to deal with the real world. Therefore, the objectives of education in today’s world are to transfer social heritage, physical, mental, social, moral, cultural, vocational and character formation, entrepreneurship development, citizenship training and so on.

As universities and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) move towards academic reforms, an ecosystem that is both flexible and innovative is being created at present. Former Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal at the inauguration of the 16th FICCI Higher Education Summit 2021 in February 2021 highlighted the significant emerging trends in the higher education sector and underlined global best practices.

While releasing the FICCI EY Report titled “Higher Education in India: 2040″, he said, “India is poised to become the research-and-development capital of the world not because of the cost advantage, but due to the rich and intelligent human capital that the country is bestowed with. Built on the foundational pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability, the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and aims to transform India into a vibrant knowledge society and a global knowledge superpower.”

India has one of the largest democratic educational ecosystems in the world today.


The term “educational ecology”, introduced in 1977, is defined as the process of “examining the links between educational institutions and structures and the broader societies that sustain them and are affected by them”.

As per this definition, education is an organic, complex and unified system, in which all factors (schools and other educators) in the educational ecosystem are organically linked, which in turn shows consistency and contradiction, balance and imbalance dynamically. It is a new concept that promotes education development from the view of global outlook, sense of worth, communication, balance and dynamic perspective to investigate education problems and carry on education research theoretically and practically.

In the digital era, the educational ecology also has a decentralized learning ecosystem for online education and professional development that teaches people how to build complete products in future technological fields and to improve their job skills.


As per the University Grants Commission (UGC), the total number of universities in India as of now is:

State Universities 453

Deemed to be Universities 126

Central Universities 54

Private Universities 410.

So, there are a total of 1,043 universities in India. Higher education divulges in-depth knowledge and understanding so as to progress and advance students to new frontiers of knowledge in all respects.

Higher education also provides opportunities for lifelong learning, allowing people to upgrade their knowledge and skills from time to time based on societal needs and changes. It offers opportunities for exchange of research results, experience and insights, and provides an opportunity for ongoing discussion between experts.

Consequently, the concept of ‘Institution of Higher Learning’ (IHL) has come into existence, which means a college, university, or similar institution, including a technical or business school, offering post-secondary level academic instruction that leads to an associate or higher degree if the school/institution is empowered by the appropriate state education authority.


The Radhakrishanan Commission (1948) comprehended the objectives of higher education as discovering the innate qualities of individuals and developing them through suitable training, creating the sentiments of national discipline, international awareness, intellectual development, justice, freedom, equality and brotherhood, developing an intellectual attitude towards things and encouraging growth of knowledge among the youth, emphasizing social reform through the creation of sighted, intelligent and courageous leadership and making endeavor for the success of democracy.

In the same way, the National Policy on Education (1968) gauged the objective of education as “promoting national progress, a sense of common citizenship and culture and strengthening national integration”.

The ultimate purpose of higher education is to produce more qualified human resources, building positive kinds of teaching-learning environments and creating good researchers.


‘Universalisation of education’ is the need of the hour in India, and education must be associated with national development.

Several committees and commissions were set up for educational reforms. With the passage of time, the innate abilities of teachers and the process that develops their personality are seen as essential factors for social and national development.

The pre-independence purpose of education development was to create human resources only for the British machinery in India.

Presently, to become a global power in the field, Indian higher education institutes need two main things – one, more weightage on citation, and two, weightage on research. In the West, 30 per cent emphasis is on citation and 30 per cent on research. India must think and reflect upon the reality of its education system.

In the recent New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, the foundational principles stress on access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability in the Indian education system. The policy believes that the education system should develop good human beings with rational thinking, compassion, empathy, courage, resilience, scientific temper, creative imagination, and ethical values. But, how much we will achieve in reality? Only time will tell.


India’s higher education system has expanded rapidly in the last couple of decades and now is one of the largest in the world.

But it is also a substantiated fact that higher education requires latest developments in research and quality doctoral programmes along with a well-established body of knowledge through indigenous and empirical research. And it is possible to transform universities into research universities.

The present higher education system is a two-tier one universities and colleges. Very few universities in India do good quality research and publish it in reputed international publications.

Therefore, we must have stronger research support and good quality PhDs through research universities.

Take for example, 50 per cent of PhDs in the USA are produced by the top 50 universities there. In India, on the other hand, a large number of PhDs are produced outside research universities. While it is true that converting all universities into research universities is not possible or desirable, there is a need to improve the situation.

In this context, the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 suggests that about 100 universities be identified soon to form the initial set of research universities. Later on, they can be expanded to become large multi-disciplinary research universities with 5,000 to 25,000 students each, thereby providing a large number of good PhDs.

The NEP also suggests abolishing the affiliated colleges model and making all of them autonomous with full academic control over the designing and teaching of courses and assessment.

We need to develop Higher Education Research Centres (HERC) in India. No major university has a research centre on higher education. The National Institute of Education Planning & Administration (NIEPA) is a standalone institution that provides analysis and data for policy-making to the government. While India has a huge higher education system, higher education remains a highly under-researched field.

Though science and engineering are trying to build quality, the social sciences are still lagging behind in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.


Finally, what is required is to cultivate good work ethic, good quality research work and rewards system, sponsored project programmes and to encourage contribution and collectivism.

Internationalization of higher education, indigenous and empirical research and innovation and movement of students globally needs to be encouraged so they learn and then return to their own society.

Institutes need more autonomy and the size and scope of interdisciplinary subjects needs to be increased.

Acceptance of PhD theses should not be based on how much is written but on quality and the contribution to knowledge pedagogy. In India, usually a PhD thesis is more than 300 pages long. But in Western universities, it is even okay to write a thesis in 70 pages. We need to focus on quality of research.

Also, India needs to increase Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education from the current 26.3 per cent to at least 50 per cent by 2035.

(Sanjoy Roy is a professor in the Department of Social Work, University of Delhi)