By Manjula Rao

22 January 2015 - 12:42

'Currently, the Indian higher education system is the second largest in the world.'
'Currently, the Indian higher education system is the second largest in the world.' ©

British Council

The Indian government's rapid devolution of power to the Indian states brings with it changes to the country's higher education system. The British Council's Manjula Rao looks at the changes and what they mean for international collaboration.

A young nation and a growing economy

By 2030, India will be one of the youngest nations in the world, with an economy expected to be the third largest at GBP 8.6 trillion, after China and the US. With nearly 140 million people in the higher education age group, one in every four graduates in the world is likely to be a product of the Indian education system contributing to the global workforce.

Currently, the Indian higher education system is the second largest in the world in terms of enrolment, with nearly 30 million students enrolled in 48,500 higher education institutions. It is predicted that the Indian economy is likely to grow at 6.4 per cent in 2015 and accelerate further in the next year on the back of steps taken by the new government - in power since May 2014 - to increase India's prominence on the global higher education stage and improve the career prospects of its graduates through initiatives in skills development, digitisation and research.

The shift to regionalisation

India is seeing a move towards more state-level autonomy in several areas. There is an effort on the part of the central government to establish a federal system that supports mutual co-operation between the centre and states, and replaces a centralised and often competitive centre-to-state relationship. The intention is to enable states to have a decisive say in determining how they develop and grow their economies and higher education institutions.

While central universities and institutes of national importance will continue to be controlled by central government, the devolution of authority and budgets towards the states will affect the 97 per cent of higher education institutions under their control, including many private colleges. This presents new opportunities to collaborate with India in higher education.

Opportunities for international collaboration

Most states have given their institutions the freedom to form international connections, although findings from a British Council report released last month suggest that private institutions have been quicker and more active in this regard. Central and state institutions, on the other hand, appear to be more cautious.

The report shows that many of India's higher education institutions are interested in collaborating with specific countries, including the UK, although collaboration with the best universities is desirable, regardless of their origin.

Increasing student mobility between India and the UK

Student mobility depends on the aspirations of young people and their families. It's generally considered that experience abroad increases your chances of securing a better job and thereby improving your quality of life. At present, the mobility of UK students to India is dismally low. Given the rising importance of India in the world, UK universities need to continue thinking of new ideas to promote and support student mobility in both directions, and articulate the benefits of outward mobility widely – particularly to students and employers.

The UK has a huge advantage over competitor countries – barring possibly the US. The strength of its higher education sector, the trusted partnerships it has built over several decades, and the similarity of its education system, make academic collaborations between India and the UK attractive. UK universities should take advantage of these opportunities today.

The development of skills and higher education in South Asia is being discussed at the latest Global Education Dialogue – Revolution and realities in the new economic order – taking place in London today.

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