India has over 35,000 institutions of higher education, a number that is one of the largest in the world. Central and state universities together still comprise of a substantial percentage of them. However, over the next decade or two, this is likely to shift towards private institutions as more and more Indians decide to get higher education.
India today is a rapidly changing country, which is markedly different from what it was 20 years back when it started on a new path to liberalization. With a large number of companies in the other hemisphere outsourcing jobs to India, the country has virtually become the world's back office. This has also spurred the demand for quality graduates in multiple disciplines.
With the number of middle class Indians swelling, the requirements of careers changing and a new breed of young Indians leading the clamor for world-class education at home, India's education sector is also changing rapidly.
The Gross Enrolment Ratio or GER in higher education in India is still a little less than 15 per cent. This too varies from region to region. However, given the demographic and economic shifts being witnessed by the country, this number is set for an enormous change.
India is set to overtake China as the world's largest population over the next few decades. With 60 per cent of this huge population under the age 25 years, the demand for higher education is set to grow. The government is responding to these requirements by establishing more AIIMS and IITS across states, but given the state's limited resources, there remains a certain limit to government's spending on education. In these circumstances, the rapidly increasing demands of Indians on the education front can be met only when the private sector invests heavily in the field. And this is something, it is already doing.
According to a McKinsey report on Indian demography, 590 million people will live in Indian cities by 2030, almost twice the current US population. There will be 91 million urban homes by 2030 in India, as against 20 million today. A large number of rural residents would be shifting base to urban centers, giving up their age-old family profession of farming and cultivation in favor of new avenues for their children.
All this creates a never before seen demand for higher education in India. This is where the role of the private sector will and is proving to be crucial.
It is not just the numbers that are increasing. Another major shift is in the demand for quality. More globally exposed Indians are today asking why a greater number of Indian educational institutions cannot provide world-class education as some prestigious foreign institutions.
Consequently, not only are more and more private Universities and colleges emerging everywhere, but also there is an increasing consciousness among education providers that quality education is what the young Indians are looking for. Private Universities are also breaking new paradigms in education, by offering wide options of learning to students and developing new mechanisms of learning. The teaching techniques and the quality of learning have also been transformed. Indian institutions today are also working to cater to a growing international clientele of students that are looking for new pastures to get an education.
Our recent effort to recognize some of the best Indian higher education institutions threw into the limelight a group of private institutions that are breaking new ground in the field of higher education.
'SkillTree Great Place to Study', an initiative launched by SkillTree Knowledge Consortium, a thought leadership communication strategy firm, hosted the first international education convocation of its kind in London recently to certify 20 premier Indian educational institutions with a 'SkillTree Great Place to Study' certificate. Interestingly, all 20 were from the private sector.
The institutions were selected through surveys and in depth analysis of the need versus offerings of our times. The factors taken into account were the quality of teaching and learning, research capacity and innovation, growth and access to opportunity. Based on the results, these 20 institutions were selected to represent 'SkillTree Great Place To Study 2014'.
There is little doubt that the private sector has played an instrumental role in the growth of India's education sector in recent times. Some prestigious institutions today also attract foreign students to the country, with their state-of-the-art infrastructure and world-class education.
Much as prestigious public institutions like the IITs and IIMs contributed in producing the first generation of highly competent Indian minds post independence, the private sector is set to contribute in a similar way to this generation of Indians. It is time the government recognizes the role of private sector education in building a sound future for India and meeting the needs of students.
Shekhar A. Bhattacharjee
He is a versatile entrepreneur and educationist. He brings in more than decade of experience in leadership roles, strategic development and alliances, business continuity, innovation and research. A well-networked professional, Shekhar shares strong relation with national and global higher education community, where he is engaged into various growth strategy consulting. He seats in advisory board of various universities in India and currently also engaged into setting up a global education hub in western India. Shekhar Co-founded SEED Education and Campusdais before setting up SkillTree Knowledge Consortium.