Geographical divide in higher education
Abhay Anand, 02 Apr 2014

THE Indian economy is showing vibrancy and growth mainly on the back of two important inputs - higher levels of educated resource and better adaption and assimilation of technology. Therefore it is critical that higher education becomes accessible to all citizens, irrespective of economic, social, linguistic and regional differentiations, says a recent report on higher education. The report titled “Inter-Generational and Regional Differentials in Higher Level Education in India” is authored by Dr. Abusaleh Shariff of the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi and Amit Sharma, research analyst with the National Council for Applied Economic Research.

A startling revelation is that on an average an adult Indian undertakes only 4.4 years of schooling while it is as high as 13.3 years in the US. The report highlights that due to failure of states as well as the central government in providing higher education, private institutions have come up in a big way and most of them are offering poor quality education.


school-girlHigher Levels of Education

The report talks about the disparity in the enrollment in higher education system in India, compared to its neighbour, China. The report says that HLE in India is about 10 percent at higher education institutions, while China enrolls about 22 percent. This means that only about 10 percent of students who complete school education are able to access higher education.

The report states that the younger generation has evolved to be more aware of the value of higher education. On HLE of current generation of women (22 to 35 years), the report says, “Females have shown large growth in share in higher education of 143 percent over the past generations (36 years and above).” This figure is over four times than that of the male population.

The report also highlights the regional differences. HLE is easily accessible to people in the south and north. The situation is the worst in North Central (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) and North Eastern India.

 “The major hurdle in higher education is college access. The colleges are mostly located far from most of the villages and smaller towns in our country. If we talk about children who live in villages and for them to go to cities to get higher education, or for that matter going to bigger cities like Delhi, Mumbai is very expensive for them and parents are not able to afford that because of which they do get higher education,” Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, told Careers360.


HLE and employment

Higher education plays an important role in economic growth. The report states, the share of illiterate workforce as a percentage of total workforce was 30.7 percent in 2009-10. But their contribution to the GDP is only 15.2 percent. At the same time, about nine per cent of the HLE (graduates and above) contributes about 29 per cent of the GDP. “This adequately demonstrates the power of education which enhances productivity and economic value both at the individual level and when aggregated at the level of a nation. It suggests the impact of education on GDP is prominent and they are highly correlated,” says the report.

The report also stresses the importance of English language. It says that on an average, people who speak English fluently earn 34 percent higher wages compared to others. People who speak a little English earn wages about 13 per cent higher than those who don’t speak English at all.



Quest for higher education

The report says that the younger generation has evolved to be more aware of the value of higher education. The shares of respective populations in higher education in each socio-religious group as well as in urban, rural, male and female groups have significantly increased over the past generation. The author stresses the need for institutions of higher learning to cater to the younger generation that yearns for better education. “Recently Knowledge Commission has said that India requires 1,000 universities and if we look at the number of districts in our country it is around 650, and we need in every district at least 10-15 universities because there are children who want higher education and if we create infrastructure there then automatically children will go to study there, only this way we can increase the GER of our country,” suggested Shariff.

The report brings out the disparity between past and present generation vis-à-vis HLE. “The past generation which recorded only 6.4 per cent of HLE increased by 4 per cent points to register 10.4 per cent HLE penetration amongst the current generation. Past generation of rural India had a share of only 2.5 per cent of its population in higher education while current generation’s share is 5.3 per cent,” the report states.

The report brings out the changing scenario of rural education. It says the improvement is more pronounced here than urban centres. “Current generation rural population has recorded a 112 per cent improvement over the previous generation in HLE enrollment, much higher than improvement amongst their urban counterparts with only 38 percent,” says the report.

Region-wise groupings

  • South India comprises Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Lakshdweep, Pondicherry, Andhra Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar

  • North India comprises Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi

  • Central India comprises Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha

  • West India comprises Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu 

  • North Central India comprises Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal

  • North East India comprises Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam

Regional imbalances

The report highlights the disparities across regions.

  • The urban population in northern India was at the top in both the generations while in the past generation it had second highest prevalence for its rural counterpart, which in current generation has also made it to the top.

  • Southern India’s urban population has improved at the fastest pace leading the region to showcase most promising growth in higher education in comparison with urban parts of all other regions.

  • Both male and female sections of northern India population have shown the highest prevalence in HLE, bagging top position for both the generations.

  • Northeastern India on the other hand has the least share in higher education as a percent of its population for both the generations and also according to the gender.


Technical education

The share of people attending technical education is more than 33 percent of the total enrolment of higher education in both rural and urban areas of Southern India, which is quite high when compared to other regions.

In contrast, “Only 3 per cent of those enrolled in higher education in rural parts of North-Eastern India are enrolled in technical courses and the share of its urban counterpart is also low at 10 percent as compared with other regions of urban India.”

The report details that unlike other regions, in Southern India there is no gap in proportions of rural (33.2%) and urban (33.9%) sectors. This strongly points towards ‘equal’ awareness and participation in technical education in southern India. Similarly, the gender share of those attaining technical education is 39 percent for males and 26 percent for females. Northeastern India is at the bottom with very low number of both males (7.1 per cent) and females (3.4 per cent).

Even regions such as the North and West and North Central have shown low penetration of technical education, the report says.


High cost of technical education

The cost of technical education per person is considerably high compared to non-technical degrees in the country. The per annum cost for technical education ranges from around Rs. 30,000 to 35,000.

The report highlights that the cost of technical education is relatively low in North-Central and Northeastern regions. “This may again reflect the qualitative differentials in education suggesting poor quality technical education in these regions compared to other regions of India,” the report adds.


Private players in higher education sector

The report says that providing higher education is a challenge in India because of the mismatch between growing population and infrastructure needs. This has led to proliferation of private educational infrastructure at higher level across the country.

“But, while being costly they seem to often impart low-quality education compared with the standard government-run institutions,” the report commented.

However, the report also states that private institutions have filled the demand-supply gap in higher education. One advantage of private higher education institutions has been that they offer a variety of skill promoting courses, which are not usually included in the curriculum offered by government-run institutions. This needs to be supported by creating enabling and promotional role by the government with a strong regulatory mechanism to set the standards of education.

The report states, government-run institutions are relatively cheap and often the average annual expenditures ranges between less than Rs. 1,000 to 1,500 per student, except in North and South India, where the average is above Rs. 2,000.


The way forward

Shariff feels that as we are living in Internet age, we need to explore the option of online classes, open or distance education and skill development. Imparting vocational education is also equally important. “But the big question is who will do it; will the government sector do it or the private sector? I think there should be multiple models for it as both the government and private should create the infrastructure, but the best model would be Public Private Partnership (PPP) model. I think when public sector is involved then it takes care of the poor people, while if there is only private they (poor people) get marginalized,” he concludes. 

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