Private Universities: Revolutionising India’s Higher Education Sector


As private universities in India rise to MHRD’s challenge of meeting the raised GER, Ankush Kumar of digitalLEARNING looks at the roadblocks and opportunities these universities face.

With an aim to ramp up the higher education sector and stay competitive in the global economy, the Ministry of Human Resource & Development has set a target of achieving 30 percent GER (Gross Enrollment Ratio) for India by 2020. Currently pegged at 19.4 percent, India’s GER is far below the world’s average as Australia, Russia and US have GER of more than 75 percent.

The total population between the ages of 15 and 24 in India is 234 million. If India is to meet its 30 percent GER target by 2020, about 40 million students would be enrolled in the higher education system in 2020. Currently, around 18.5 million students are enrolled in the higher education sector. The problem is that as increasing numbers come out of the high school system, we just don’t have the capacity to absorb them into the college system. There is a massive mismatch in the supply-demand of proportions that have never been seen anywhere or anytime in the world before.

For instance, to reach the target of the 30 percent GER, we need to create an additional capacity of about 25 million seats over the next decade. This requires an additional 10,510 technical institutions, 15,530 colleges and 521 universities.

Achieving this target seems to be slightly difficult and will require creation of additional enrolment capacity at an unprecedented scale. Accordingly, the 12th Five Year Plan envisages creating an additional enrolment capacity of 10 million, which is expected to raise the GER from present level of 19 percent to 25.2 percent in 2017-18. The 12th Five Year Plan also acknowledges the need for a continued and growing role of the private sector in higher education.

India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world comprising of 650+ universities, 35,000+ colleges and numerous stand-alone technical/professional institutions with annual enrolment in excess of 25 million students. The institutional framework of higher education system consists of Universities established by an act of Parliament (Central Universities) or State Legislature (State Universities), Deemed Universities, Institutes of National Importance, Institutions established by State Legislative Act, colleges affiliated to a University, professional and technical institutions amongst others.

India needs to make sure that private universities are encouraged, and that the legislation to create them is enabling. It’s a maze right now with multiple governing bodies that have conflicting mandates. Several states do not yet have a State Private University (SPU)  Act. Because universities and institutes are so tightly controlled, there is little autonomy and flexibility in governance structures. Private universities, like government- owned universities, have little scope for innovation in designing their course curriculum.

Establishing a private university typically takes at least three to four years. “Private universities have the agility and freedom to operate within the state  boundary. They can decide their curriculum, affiliations, accreditations, fee, duration of courses, student admissions, faculty recruitment etc. Government universities on the other hand need to comply with a whole range of norms by UGC and other regulatory  bodies, but also enjoy funding and patronage of the state. They are also considered safer and have a wider recognition”, says Narayanan Ramaswamy, Partner & National Leader (Education Sector), KPMG India.

Seeing plethora of opportunities, many industrialists and corporate are eager to enter the higher education sector through private university model. They can easily notice the pool of young people that are considered country’s biggest strength. The demand for education in India is everlasting and will continue to increase; therefore it is hard to say that whether these universities will be sufficient to meet such demand. Many private universities have come up with innovative and attractive course curriculum. They have done a thorough research of all the streams and have concrete strategy to stay ahead of the competition. Many are concentrating on Liberal education with multidisciplinary fields. Others are providing intensive industry training programme in every semester and are focusing in practical education with more corporate exposure. The Government should come up with policies which can boost private investment in higher education. The private university owners should involve in not-for-profit activity where the excess revenue should be invested back for the development of the university. If India needs to mark its global presence in the education field, the private universities will have to play a significant role. The canvas of our country’s higher education will remain incomplete without these universities.