Speaking of investment in higher education, the dream of making India a haven of skilled human capital will not materialise unless the government puts its money where its mouth is
James Abdey & G L Tayal
Following the comprehensive national policies on education in 1968 and 1986, we have another one in 2019, belatedly. Education is the bedrock of human capital formation, and considering that India is the world's youngest major economy which is supposed to be reaping its demographic dividend even as we write, this is somewhat overdue.
In fact, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2019, for the most part, acknowledges the fact that higher education (HE) in India has not received due focus for years now. Better late than never though, and what is particularly welcome is NEP 2019’s emphasis on internationalisation, teacher training and research.
Internationalisation is indisputably one way for Indian higher education institutions to punch above their weight. Collaborations with prominent international universities give Indian students exposure to rigorous standards of education and cutting-edge curricula while Indian teachers profit immensely from the resultant transfer of knowledge as well as best practices in teaching and research. This is why, while the government puts in place longer term plans to strengthen India’s own higher education structure, it must borrow from the prominent institutions around the world to deliver better learning in the short term.
Teacher training is imperative and is key to the long-term strategy. Effective trainers are a prerequisite for quality training, without which one cannot have a skilled workforce. Recognising this, the Government of India last year introduced the Leadership for Academicians Programme (LEAP) and Annual Refresher Programme in Teaching (ARPIT) for educators. NEP 2019 takes that agenda forward, and tellingly, high-quality teaching forms a vital part of all three of its restructured HE institution categories.
It is not merely sufficient for the government to indicate a commitment to teacher training. Incentives must trickle down to individual institutions so that they are supportive of teachers who wish to re-think and transform their teaching practices. If all teachers re-imagine themselves as ‘lead learners’ and collaborate with fellow academics to identify and disseminate best practices, they could facilitate transformative learning communities and outcomes, and truly aid human capital formation.
Research is both the output of, and input for, high-quality human capital. When the latest research is robust and rooted in the search for answers to pressing real-world problems, it enriches the curricula that generations of learners use for skill-building.
Massive investment in research and development, large numbers of patents and other forms of intellectual property and a thriving innovation ecosystem are the hallmarks of a ‘knowledge economy’, which can sustain long-term economic growth as well as development. That is why it is high time India’s investment in knowledge-building caught up with the size of India’s economy.
Speaking of investment in higher education, it is important to note that the dream of making India a haven of skilled human capital will not materialise unless the government puts its money where its mouth is. Last year’s Budget saw a dismal allocation of funds for education, with nearly Rs 35,000 crore being allotted to higher education. This amounts to a spend of about Rs 10,000 per current higher education student, whether undergraduate or doctoral.
Considering that the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in HE is only 25 percent (of youth in the 18-23 age group), the spend works out to only about Rs 2,500 per eligible youth. Even though the government is chasing a GER target of 50 percent by 2035, the increase in spend over the 2017-18 fiscal was nominal, at 0.42 percent.
By contrast, higher education spending in China increased by 9.72 percent in 2017. India’s expenditure on research also paints a similar picture; at 0.62 percent of GDP, it is the lowest among all the BRICS countries.
In its upcoming Budget, the newly-elected government would do well to earmark funds for some of the steps outlined in the draft NEP for revitalising Indian higher education. One hopes that its overwhelming mandate will give it the wherewithal to spend on driving long-term growth by investing heavily in higher education.James Abdey is a lecturer at The London School of Economics and Political Science and G L Tayal is dean (academics) at Indian School of Business & Finance