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Forum on Governance of Higher Education in India: How Best to Strike the Balance between Autonomy and Accountability?

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Forum on Governance of Higher Education in India: How Best to Strike the Balance between Autonomy and Accountability?

The manufacturing sector, among Indian key growth sectors, is complaining about lack of qualified manpower

WBI's Knowledge for Development (K4D) program worked with the South Asia Human Development Unit (SASHD) of the World Bank, as well as with the Indo-US Collaboration on Engineering Education (IUCEE), American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and Infosys to deliver this 2 day forum on Governance of Higher Education in India: How Best to Strike the Balance between Autonomy and Accountability, July 9-10, 2008, Mysore, India.


India is undergoing rapid economic change with sustained high growth rates for more than a decade making skills increasingly scarce. This has brought about a substantial increase in demand for skilled labor. Despite significant improvements in the education system, it has not been able to achieve similar rapid pace of change as the national economy. As a consequence skilled labor is becoming scarce. Returns to education, in particular to Higher education, are rising. Labor costs are rising, eroding Indian competitiveness. Key growth sectors, such as the Business Processing Optimization (BPO) sector, other IT services and the manufacturing sector, are complaining about lack of qualified manpower.

India’s main competitors in Asia – China, but also the newly industrialized economies (NIEs) including Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan – are increasingly investing in large and differentiated higher education systems. They are providing access to large numbers of students at the “community college” level while at the same time building research-based universities that are able to compete at the top-level globally.

India has significant advantages in building a large, high quality higher education system. It has a large higher education sector – the third largest in the world in student numbers after China and the United States. It uses English as a primary language of higher education and research. It has a number of high quality institutions that can form the basis of a world-class higher education system. Nevertheless, the system only enrolled 9 million students in 2003/04 (equivalent to a 9-10 percent enrolment rate as estimated by the Ministry of Human Resource Development). This compares to with more than half of the young people in major developed countries and about 20 per cent in China. Similarly, the world-class institutions in India that are known globally -- mainly the IITs and the IIMs – are small, enrolling well under 1 per cent of the student population.

The Government will take strong steps in the 11th Five Year plan to increase opportunities in Higher education, relieve skill shortages in the economy, and increase competitiveness. The goal for the 11th Five Year plan for 2007-2012 is an increase of five percent in the enrolment rate of higher education equivalent to the creation of approximately 8 million new seats in Indian higher and technical education. Some of the steps are: (i) establishment of a central autonomous university in each state, (ii) higher education institutions in each district of the countries, (iii)  private institutions may be granted deemed university status, (iv) creation of more Inter-University Centers, and (v) funding of up to 150 new polytechnics autonomous colleges. Further, all institutions are asked to make higher education more inclusive, more responsive to economic needs, and raise quality. Therefore, the public and the government are likely to increase investment into higher education, and in return demand accelerated change in the higher education sector.

The governance of the Indian Higher education sector is changing. Like the Indian economy underwent a liberalizing in the 1990s, the education system is gradually being opened up for change and decentralization. In particular, the federal and state governments are gradually giving higher education institutions more decision and spending power. This represents a move away from detailed government control over spending, teaching, and curriculum decisions, which required frequent approval from federal or state government officials. Besides the 11th Five Year Plan, several facts pay witness to this movement:

  • Many institutions have become autonomous during the 10th plan Five Year plan through an increase in the number of autonomous institutions: Central Universities (2), State Universities (39), “deemed-to-be” Universities (50), and Private Universities (10).
  • Two recent reports from the Central Advisory board of Education (CABE) on respectively the ‘autonomy of higher education institutions” and ‘financing of higher and technical education’ recommend changes to governance of the higher education institutions.
  • The Oversight Committee on the Implementation of the New Reservation Policy in Higher Educational Institution equally recommends increased autonomy to institutions within recruitment and remuneration of faculty and admission policies to find the right balance between equity and excellence for each institution.

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