India’s education sector needs economic freedom
Rajiv Kumar makes a case for greater investment in higher education, arguing that India needs to allocate more than even the target of 6% of GDP that the government has announced. But beyond throwing money at the problem, Kumar’s article clearly points to the fact that India’s education sector could do with some economic freedom.
According to the knowledge economy index published by World Bank, Indiaâ€™s score has fallen from 2.38 in 1995 to 2.33, while Chinaâ€™s score has increased from 3.48 to 3.74. The education pyramid in India looks even more dismal with only 6% of the children who enter primary schools going up to college level, and barely 2% joining the vocational or professional workforce. While expenditure on education has increased from 0.7% in 1951-52 to 4% of GDP, it is still woefully low as compared to Asian economies like Malaysia where it is 6.2% or Thailand where it is 5.4%.
At present, India with its 500 million plus working age population has only 18 central and 186 state universities and about 14,500 colleges as compared to nearly 1,400 universities in the US. The selection rate in IITs and IIMs and top management schools is hardly 1.2% as compared to 10% in Ivy League US universities and Oxbridge. We should note that the Rs 50,000 crore that Indians spend on foreign higher education would suffice to build 20 IITs or 50 IIMs per year. Clearly, the supply of tertiary education institutions needs to be signifiantly augmented. With greater private investment, not only can Indiaâ€™s own higher education demand be met but the country could emerge as a major education hub.
However, the tertiary education sector is equally, if not more strongly, regulated by the UGC and the AICTE and local governments. Over-centralisation of regulation; lack of autonomy; deteriorating physical infrastructure, demotivated faculty and frustrated students today characterise the vast majority of colleges and universities. There are some islands like IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and some private management and medical colleges, but the pressure on them is immense. All universities and colleges are tightly caught in a judicial and legal web resulting in a near-paralysis of decisionmaking as reflected in outdated curricula, surplus faculty and dilapidated infrastructure across-the-board. [FE]
Update: On a related note, the Adam Smith Institute on whether more dollars make more sense