There has been an exponential growth in the sphere of higher education in India since the independence. In the last few years… private sector has contributed a lot, but the country is still far from realising its full potential. From merely 18 universities at the dawn of independence, the country now has a total of 907 universities, as per the data available till March 31, 2019 with the government. These include 399 State Universities, 126 deemed to be universities, 48 Central Universities and 334 Private Universities.
Data shows that it was after the emergence of private universities in the last two decades that the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER), hovering around 14 per cent in 2010, zoomed up to 23.6 per cent in 2015 and 25.2 per cent 2016-17. The country is aiming to reach 30 percent GER by 2020. During the first five decades of independence, higher education was the sole monopoly of the Government. It was reluctant to throw open the avenue to the private sector which resulted in limited opportunities for students aspiring for higher education.
It was only in last few years of 20th century that efforts were initiated in the Parliament to set up private universities but again there was stiff resistance. Since education is in concurrent list with powers vested both with the Centre and the States, some States took the initiative and began granting permission for setting up private universities.
The growth since then has been phenomenal. Several States granted permissions to set up dozens of private universities and some of the States set up regulators to ensure that these universities followed proper procedures and maintained basic standards. The number of students in higher education has swelled to nearly 25 million but the number is going to rise further in the years to come and private universities have played a stellar role in making it possible.
Most such private universities have contributed to the higher education scenario but some have excelled. Himachal Pradesh-based Shoolini University, for instance, is yet to turn 10 but has been punching much above its weight. The University, which has created a niche for itself, has attained a H-index of 45, which is second best after IIT Indore and highest among 380 universities established in and after 2009. The H-Index reflects the output based on the total number of publications and the total number of citations to those works, to provide a focused snapshot of an institution’s or individual’s research performance.
Not just that, its faculty and students have already filed over 300 patents which involve preliminary investigations by authorised agencies into the exclusivity and viability of the patents filed. Shoolini University’s Vice Chancellor Prof PK Khosla said that during the last financial year, faculty and students of the University had filed over 180 patents and added that “we are confident that this figure is either the highest or the second best among all the Indian Universities, though official data is not available in this regard”. Official confirmation, however, is still awaited. But to be ranked among the most prestigious institutions of the country, including IITs, IIMs and other central institutions like NIPER, is in itself a remarkable achievement.
The University is now rubbing shoulders with world class institutions and matches global standards in several research parameters. Unfortunately the parameters adopted for rankings in the country place low premium on research and related activities like publications and citings in journals as compared to the norms abroad. The parameters on which international ranking agencies such as Times Higher Education (THE), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) operate are metrics such as research, reputation and internationalisation. On the other hand the rankings systems for Indian universities primarily focus on teaching and less on research.
Besides Shoolini, some other private sector institutions are also doing well but it would be a good idea to give more autonomy and make the system less regulated for those institutions which are performing well. There is also the need for corporate and industry to step in and contribute towards the higher education through innovative ideas and finances. There is a long way to go to provide access to good education to the millions of youngsters. It can be done through a collaborative effort of the public and private sector.
(Spl. Note: The writer, Vipin Pubby, is the Director, External Relations, Shoolini University. Views expressed are a personal opinion).