Critical Issues of Indian Higher Education: Comparative Analysis and Key Learning from Globally Competitive Higher Education Systems

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This article was written by Aakanksha Mishra, a student of Institute of Law, Nirma University.

“Expansion, Excellence and Inclusion are three things which every education system requires otherwise it can never lead to a stronger education system, but to what extent it is accomplished in present scenario is a matter of great concern. There has been change in education system from past few decades but the global comparison drift our thought as to what is lacking and why we don’t stand when it comes to education on global level. To understand this, it’s essential to analyze the challenges and issues of higher education in India and compare it with Globally Competitive Higher Education Systems so that a clear picture can be made out and a possible solution can be drawn in this regard. As far as India is concerned in Higher Education Vision 2030 we strive to achieve “Expansion of a differentiated university system with a three-tiered formalized structure, Transition to a learner-centered paradigm of education Intensive use of technology, Reforms in governance”[1]and this can only be achieved if problems and challenges persisting in higher education are eliminated.”

  1. Challenges in Higher Education: An Indian Perspective with Global Commitments

Indian education system is undergoing several issues some are identified but have been ignored to a greater extent. The Government is trying to do away with this issue in education area and “The New Education Policy 2016” is a way towards achieving excellence but the major issue is about the implementation aspect. Moving ahead with the challenges faced by Indian education this is something which is very essential to identify in order to overthrow the long lasting issues and to bring reform so that Higher Education in India could gain recognition globally. Some of the steps and initiative take by Indian Government:

  • S – India Collaboration through Higher Education,

In the area of Financing, Research, teaching quality, governance India can learn from superpower of higher education system. A step has been initiated to accomplish this when in 2014 September our P.M Narendra Modi and U.S President Barak Obama made their first bilateral summit, a new mantra for their relationship “Chalein Saath Saath: Forward Together We Go” this declaration is intended to boost the corporation between these two countries in various sector which also includes Higher Education. “The overriding objective of these collaborations, from the Indian perspective, has to be to improve access to quality higher education for Indian students and to raise the research and teaching capacity of India’s faculty pool.”[2]

  • Incheon Declaration: Education 2030: Towards Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Lifelong Learning for All”[3]

The Education 2030 Framework for Action was adopted by 184 UNESCO Member States on 4 November 2015 in Paris[4] India is one of the members, this declaration is based on some fundamental principles[5] first Education is a fundamental right and an enabling right second Education is Public Good and third Gender Equality.”[6]


  • Action Plans of Incheon Declaration
  • Access, Equity and Inclusion goal encompasses and aims towards addressing all form of inequality marginalization and vulnerability in access of all level of education it also strives at promoting completion participation and retention and in learning outcomes. Inclusive education in order to respond to multiple issues existing today such as discrimination, and in order to respond to learner’s diversity and needs, should be ensured by adopting designing and implementing transformative public policies since these situations creates obstacles in fulfillment of right to education
  • Gender Equality aims at paying particular attention towards gender discrimination and to ensure that no one is left behind since education target can’t be said to be completed without this.
  • Quality, it is a very integral part of education system since a better quality only leads to an equitable, relevant and effective learning outcome and this requires an effective learning and teaching method to meet all the requirements of learners.
  • Life Long Learning, Since the education process starts from birth and continues till the end of life the guiding principle of 2030 agenda This not only includes increased and equitable access to quality higher education and research and vocational education and technical education with due attention to quality assurance as well but also takes into account flexible learning pathways in order to achieve knowledge and skills through formal and non-formal education.

The importance of this declaration in Indian context is highly relevant since India lacks in almost all the aspect of this vision the problem being whether India would be able to fulfill its obligation and what are the approaches so far has been adopted in order to improve learning process and to compete with world’s best education system. It’s very essential to see the recommendation of committees that’s been specifically assigned the task of pin pointing the problems in higher education system and has the recommendation been implemented so far.

  • Committees Report and Recommendations in Higher Education System: The two major committees were set up to identify problems in higher education in India and in order to suggest reforms they recommended a major structural reform in higher education in India. Its’ essential to look not only what these committees have suggested but it is also very important to look up on the implementation of those suggestion or whether something has been does in this regard or not. These committees have majorly given their recommendation in the aspects of:
  • Regulatory Structure
  • Access
  • Quality
  • Governance
  • Funding


National Knowledge Commission[7] was established under Sam Pitroda and its recommendation is bifurcated in three aspects firstly, Expansion by Creating more universities, changing the system of regulation, Increasing public spending and diversifying source of Financing and Establishing 50 national universities Secondly to achieve Excellence, by Reforming existing universities, Restructuring undergraduate colleges and Promoting enhanced quality. Thirdly Inclusion, for ensuring Access for all deserving Students and Affirmative Action[8]

  • Regulatory Reforms

In India the higher education is over regulated rigid and cumbersome in various aspects and there have been evolution of several other regulatory bodies whose functions have been overlapping with UGC which has resulted in fragmentation of higher education. The structure and function of UGC was taken from UK which was set up under the government treasury 1919 in U.K but the UGC in U.K has been substituted by Higher Education Funding Council for England and second is Quality Assurance Agency but in India UGC is despite of having various limitation and flaws continue to exist. It has been recommended bringing structural reform by replacing UGC but so far nothing has been done. There are 5 functions that a regulatory body performs:

  • Entry
  • Accreditation
  • Disbursement of Public funds
  • Access
  • License to practice profession[9]

India is perhaps the only country where all these different functions are performed by a single entity called UGC. So a strong recommendation is made by NKC to establish an “Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education”, IRAHE[10] shall separate the functions and shall set up the criteria and decide the entry. UGC will not be demolished but its function would confine to disbursing public funds. It was also suggested that other regulatory authorities except BCI and MCI which grants licenses to who wants to join the profession, should be abolished.

Yashpal Committee on Regulatory Structure suggested[11] having a de novo regulatory system under which all the existing regulatory system is subsumed because there are multiplicity of regulatory agencies in India. And for this the committee suggested to bring National commission for higher education and research which will be free form bureaucratic, political and other external interferences and also would subsume UGC AICTE DEC etc. [12]  the committee has appreciated the role of UGC but according to them UGC was created when there were hardly any private universities and time has changed now so there is a need to change the regulatory framework as well which will take into account the incremental realities as well. NCHER will take a move from inspection based approval method to verification and authentication system.

There is a need to make a shift from UGC to a strong regulatory reform the question is not as to which type of reform is to adopt but the main issue is there need a reform whatever the approach is, there is need to take first step towards this reform.

  • Quality towards Excellence

 Additional requirements to enhance the quality of Higher education in India as per the recommendation of National knowledge commission:

  • Need to bring Reforms in the Existing universities there is need to revise curriculum structure presently and at least once in 3 years, start following course credit system and provide performance incentive to faculties there is a lack of research performance in India which has been a major problem in Indian scenario so need to promote research.
  • Restructure undergraduate colleges, affiliation system need to be replaced by giving autonomy to colleges either as individual colleges or cluster of colleges whereas some affiliated colleges can also be remodeled as community reason being it can provide both vocational and formal education. There was also a recommendation to establish a Central Board of Undergraduate Education along with state board which would set the curriculum as well as conduct the examination these boards will also separate academic function from administrative functions and this will also enhance the quality benchmark. To increase the Accountability and competition among universities, to change the method of accreditation and for existing universities would enhance the quality and will bring excellence in education sphere.

Yash pal committee to some extent also concur with the recommendation of NKC 2006-2009 they suggested that institutions should be allowed to set their own targets and within a specified time frame they should achieve that target. In aspect of curriculum the committee said that the universities should have rich undergraduate program and the curriculum also requires to be reformed on the principle of mobility and academic depth. And regarding accreditation they said that the private institutions must be mandatorily accredited. They also suggested to optimize the size of state universities and to put hold on granting of deemed university status. Infrastructure problems need to be resolved and competitive remuneration will help in better performance. There is also a need to take student feedback so as to identify poor performers and also resolve the grievances.

2.3 Access

For an inclusive growth in education sector it is essential to make the education accessible to everyone regardless of any financial constraints. The commission in this regard said that there are two approaches to fulfill this aim:

Needs blind admission policy whereby any educational institution would not deny the admission of a student on the basis of his financial capacity and if denied it would be unlawful. And to achieve this aim the institutions can use various strategies such as scholarships or cross subsidies. They also said that there is a need of well-funded scholarship program for underprivileged students who are not even able to draw their living cost but this need government support where the government should endeavor to make 100000 scholarships available for such students Need to take Proactive affirmative actions to ensure inclusion of marginal and excluded groups. Yashpal committee said that there is not only the need of setting up institutions but making it affordable through various ways is what required the most. Taking up the initiative of global education, foreign universities should be allowed to set up campuses in India but those of top levels foreign universities. Not only this but best colleges should be elevated to the status of universities in this way a number of colleges can be clubbed and give and recognized to university status.

  • Governance

 The proper governance mechanism would not only result in excellence in higher education but it would lead to best result in quality aspect also and would protect the functional autonomy. As per committee the present governance system is flawed since it promote accountability and autonomy. Universities autonomy is time and again is eroded by governmental and political intervention.

  • The first step would be the appointment of vice chancellor should not in any way either directly or indirectly be from governmental or political interference this should be properly done either on search basis or on peer judgment.
  • second, regarding the size of academic council, university court and executive council (with a size of 500 plus) which slows down the process of decision since large academic councils does not meet often hence the standing committees of Academic council should be created for frequent and often meetings this would expedite the decision making process.
  • third, the implicit politicization of Higher education which needs to be address not only from within but from outside as well like from political parties legislature and government since it increases the non-academic interferences which makes the governance of universities difficult.

Yashpal Committee also concurred with the same as they also suggested preventing higher education from non- academic interference. It suggested that “The Kothari Commission recognized the imperatives of university autonomy and cautioned that, “only an autonomous institution, free from regimentation of ideas and pressure of party or power politics, can pursue truth fearlessly and build up in its teachers and students, habits of independent thinking and a spirit of enquiry unfettered by the limitations and prejudices of the near and the immediate which is so essential for the development of a free society.”[13]

  • Financing Higher Education in India:

 “There is a need to change the approach to funding education. It has to be recognised that it is a public good, a merit good, a basic human right and an important instrument of socio-economic equity, besides being an important investment in human development as a whole, with intrinsic value of its own.”[14]Sanyal and Martin have identified the following seven key factors that would affect the new funding trends for higher education:

  • Massive expansion of enrolment
  • Incapacity of the state to fund such an expansion
  • Vigorous emergence of the private higher education
  • Tendency to cost sharing by students and their parents
  • Importance of accountability
  • Emergence of new providers
  • Need for funding by the states to reduce growing inequalities in access.”[15]

The Punnayya Committee[16] (1992/93) this committee raised that the already existing mechanism which works for funding of higher education is inefficient and this committee further suggested that the system of ‘Grant in Aid’ must be modified in order to get efficiency, quality and innovativeness. This committee also made recommendation that the existing practice of negotiated block grants based on historical allocations can be replaced by policy driven funding based on unit cost method. [17] Despite all these recommendation the legacy is continued and the fund is allocated on the basis of what the institution was getting previous years.

Government expenditure on education as a % of GDP and total government expenditure: Among BRICS Nation


“As a percentage of GDP, expenditure on education has gone up from 3.2% in 2008-09 to approximately 3.4% in 2014-15. Compare this with the Kothari Commission (set up in 1964-65) and National Education Policy recommendation suggestion of allocating 6 percent of GDP towards education. Thus, it is ironical to note that though the outlay of 6 percent of GDP was recommended almost 50 years ago, we are still far from reaching the marking view of the present outlay not crossing even 4 percent of GDP”

In countries like U.S and U.K the allocation is based on policies and the fund is generated by introducing policies into this process or the fund is generated by taking into account the performance which recognize not just input but output as well whereas in India major focus is input for allocation of funds the step followed is historical allocation. There is a need of revisiting the fund allocation mechanism in India to for enhancing the quality and effectiveness of institutions and these public funds should also address the concern of affordability which is nearly absent in Indian scenario as compared to countries like U.S which provides student based funding.

  • Comparison with Chinese Higher Education System

 The reason why china is important because it is one of the very emerging and successful country in higher education and secondly being India’s most contentious neighbor it has left behind Indian universities in achieving global ranking for its various universities no doubt the traditional dominant higher education still occupies top position but being an emerging Higher education system its performance is tremendous. It is important to know where India lags behind and what lessons it can learn from china both in quantity as well as in quality terms. In both the countries Higher education is a policy priority if we see china for almost 2 decades it has engaged itself not only in expanding its Gross enrollment ratio but also in upgrading the quality of its top universities in all higher education sectors.

India’s relatively open political system may permit it more flexibility in coping with adversity, but it could fail to produce practical solutions or imaginative plans to improve higher education. China’s state planning apparatus has developed higher education impressively, especially at the top of the system, but may lack flexibility. Both may be more profoundly buffeted by internal forces or regional and global changes than many other parts of the world. The past shows that China is capable of dramatic, sometimes unpredictable policy shifts. India, constantly debating new directions, changes gradually and often without clear planning.”[19]

  • Gross Enrollment Ratio

The GER of china is 30 percent where as if we go through the past India was on a far better position in quality and quantity of education the GER of china was relatively low in 1990 up to 3-4 percent merely. China leaving behind all the existing hurdles it has achieved a place in global higher education whereas the India’s GER is lowest amongst the BRICS nation. No doubt quality of Chinese education system is also compromised but not to the level India has compromised as today in comparison to India a lot of Chinese universities are ranked on top as far as the global ranking is concerned. India’s GER for the year 2014-15 is 23.6 percent which has increased from previous years. India is planning to achieve more number of universities to increase GER but the question still remains the same as to whether this quantity would result into a better quality or not.

Source:[20], Gross enrollment ratio tertiary, both sexes percentage (China, India, U.S, U.K)

 The 12th five year plan’s opening line that is “Higher education in India is passing through a phase of unprecedented expansion, marked by an explosion in the volume of students, a substantial expansion in the number of institutions and a quantum jump in the level of public funding.”[21] A close reading of this sentence makes it clear that even the policies focus on quantity and not on quality of education. Report of national knowledge commission also revealed that India’s strategy is to produce high number of graduates and not higher in qualitative graduates.

  • Global Ranking of Universities
  • Times Higher Education World University Ranking[22]

 India is not among top 100 universities whereas 2 universities of China Peking University, Tsinghua University has been able to put themselves on 42 and 47th rank respectively the Indian universities are beyond 250 ranking.

  • Times Higher Education Asia Ranking 2015-2016[23]

 Indian university does not hold a position in top 10 whereas China’s 2 universities have been placed on 4th 5th Number. Indian Institute of science, Punjab University, IIT Roorkee, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Madras Aligarh Muslim University, and Jawahar Lal University are the only universities 37, 38, 55,57, 65, 78, 90 and 96th Rank respectively in proportion to China’s total 21 universities among top 100.

  • Times Higher Education BRICS and Emerging Economies Ranking 2015-2016[24]

The first rank is of Peking University China and second rank is Tsinghua University China whereas Indian Institute of Science got 16th Rank among the entire BRICS nation the poorest rank

  • CWUR World Ranking of Universities[25]

 Peking University of China 56th Rank, Tsinghua University 78th Rank, IIT Delhi is on 341th rank again no rank in top 100. QS World Ranking 2015-2016[26] Peking University 25th Rank Tsinghua University 41th Rank Indian University Ranking started from 147th rank Indian Institute of Science Bangalore and further some IITs beyond this rank.

  • Research & Development in Higher Education Globally

These ranking agencies count the research output of educational institutions and the problem in India is that it does not contribute enough in this sector the support from India in Research & Development is still below 1 percent of GDP and in Global research output it’s fewer than 5 percent and in the year 2010 it was 3.5 percent[27]. A commonly used indicator is R&D reflected in R& D expenditure as a percentage of GDP supports this contention of low contribution from India in this field. India’s R&D intensity was merely 0.8 percent in the field of education, Science and technology culture and communication  amongst the Asia’s R& D intensity Republic of Korea’s R&D intensity is 4 percent securing the top position, Japan Singapore, China and Malaysia’s is 3.4, 2.2, 1.8 and 1.1 respectively.[28]

  1. Conclusion

Most of the issues have been identified by several committees and recommendations are given but problems are still persisting with continued challenges major problem could be resolved if policies, inclusiveness and governance issues are properly dealt with. These challenges can be met to some extent by learning lessons from globally recognized higher education countries. Indian higher education has failed to bring reforms in its regulatory and organizational structure and it has not been able to maintain proper uniform standards with present needs. There is a need to implement the reforms and India, in order to promote inclusive growth should strive to become “Knowledge Economy”. There is research and development issue along with poorly connected Research centers, Funding issue, Faculty shortage even the IIT’s and IIMs are facing faculty shortage problems so when we are taking about increasing GER by 70 or 80 percent we also need to keep in mind that we are supposed to ensure quality education as well and for this faculty shortage issue need to be resolved and on urgent basis there is also need to bring reform in regulatory along with accreditation mechanism.

Education was made subservient to ideological compulsions which led to its loss of respect.” We need to not only highlight the problems by setting up various committees but also take a major step to implement the relevant recommendations and also to look upon the present condition and the initiatives taken up by some of the major developing and developed countries in context of higher education in order. In India Deep Collaborations are very limited because global institutions don’t want to come in India because of stringent regulations which the norms need to be made flexible so that foreign institutions can set up in India as it will help in upgrading the quality. One of the most crucial aspects is that it is also a major step that can be taken by academia and it is the deep introspection which would in real sense reveal that academic community is willing to abdicate the extent of crisis through which higher educational is going and what role it can perform in exacerbating this major crisis.


[1] Higher Education in India Vision 2030 available at

[2] Strengthning India U.S Relation through higher Education, Shamika Ravi, availbale at last accessed on

[3]Incheon Declaration, available at

[4] ibid

[5] Incheon Declaration, available at

[6] The overarching 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development education goal commits to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all and expresses the new key features of Education 2030, which underpin this Framework for Action.

[7] Constituted on July 2005 by P.M Manmohan Singh under the guidance of Sam Pitroda to advice policy related to education. available at

[8]National Knowledge Commission, Report to the Nation 2006-2009,

[9] Pre Legislative Research, Cover note on Higher Education,  available on

[10] The principle that would be used to regulate is that on a transparent criteria it will determine the eligibility of setting up new institutions rather than determining on discretionary controls. The main role while approving a license to grant degree would be to exercise due diligence. And it on the basis of information submitted with required criteria would access the financial viability and the academic credibility of such proposed educational institution. And the same norms would be applied to public and private in the same way as it is applied to domestic and international institutions.

[11] It was set up in year 2009 by MHRD under the chairmanship of Mr. Pal on higher education for examining reform in higher education in India

[12] Report of the Committee to Advice on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, available at

[13], Pg. no 48 Para 2.

[14] On allocating 6 percent of GDP, Jandhayal B.G Tilak,

[15] Working Paper no. 180, Higher Education in India, The need for change

[16] The committee was instituted under Justice Dr. J Punnay to examine the present financial condition of universities and make recommendation on the same, available at

[17] In 1997, the Pylee Committee was set up to develop a mechanism for computing unit costs. Apart from changing the funding mechanism, both the committees also advocated cost recovery by suitably revising, rationalizing and enhancing tuition fees.

 Later, the Anandkrishnan Committee that examined the issue of maintenance grants to Delhi colleges funded by the UGC recommended that annual grants for the colleges should be based on faculty strength guided by optimum student- teacher ratio and teacher’s work load.

[18] Government expenditure on Education,  available at

[19]Future of Higher Education in India and China,

[21]Economic Growth and Higher Education in India and China, Ranjit Goswami, available at

[22] Times Higher Education world ranking was founded in year 2004 and it gives a definite list of world’s best universities on various basis these data’s are trusted by governments and universities available at

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) publishes the only global university ranking that measures the quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of the faculty members and the quality of their research without relying on surveys and university data submissions.

[26] It compares up top universities in Arab nations and explore the leading universities in world available at

[27] How boosting R& D intensity could speed up India’s economic growth available at

[28]Higher Education in Asia Expanding Out Expanding Up available at

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