One of the key sectors impacted by India’s rapidly globalising economy is higher education. As India grows to be one of the most dynamic emerging markets, foreign universities and higher education focused enterprises have a lot to look forward to in the medium and long term. Though India is currently in the middle of a national election, the current trend and governance focus across the political spectrum is on solving developmental challenges by leveraging futuristic industries and technologies. This indicates an enduring institutional and market appetite for international collaborations and partnerships. The trends showcased below provide insight into developments taking place in the higher education sector, that can be leveraged to build strong international collaborations and partnerships with institutions and businesses in India.

A Burgeoning Youth Population = Greater Demand for Higher Education

India already has the third-largest higher education system in the world. However, with projections indicating that India will have the world’s largest workforce by 2027, and currently holds the tag of the world’s largest youth population, the current Gross Enrolment Ratio of 25.8% needs to be much higher for the country’s workforce to be a competent and competitive one. The demand for higher education is thus only going to rise, and with that, one can expect various kinds of expansions within the sector domestically.

Continued growth in International Mobility and Emerging Foreign Destinations

The number of Indian students seeking to study abroad shows no signs of diminishing. As the Indian economy continues to grow and the middle class gradually expands, more students are willing to invest in a quality foreign education. The top countries still remain as the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. However, the uncertainty surrounding US immigration policies and the impact of Brexit on international education in the UK, have led to the emergence and growing popularity of new destinations. These include New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, China, France, the UAE and Russia.

Continued emphasis on Skill Development

12.8 million individuals enter the labour market in India each year, however a lack of jobs and a further lack of skills for the existing jobs pose a major employment challenge. To remedy this, the government aspires to increase the capacity of skill development programmes, to cater 500 million individuals by 2022. To this end, the government has made several policy decisions such as establishing skill centres, creating a National Policy on Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Amendments to the Apprentices Act, forming a National Skills Qualifications framework, and categorizing skill development as an activity under Corporate Social Responsibility. Various programmes have been launched under the flagship Skill India campaign, which include various schemes such as the Prime Minister’s Skill Development Program (PMKVY) and Scheme for Higher Education Youth in Apprenticeship and Skills (SHREYAS).

Many domestic and international private enterprises have also launched social impact programmes focusing on skill development, and many NGOs and civil society organizations are also launching skill development initiatives on small and large scales. In addition, sector specific skill councils in India have been forging partnerships with foreign universities and industry associations.

Growth of Online Education and Skill Development

Traditional classrooms are no longer the only spaces where learning takes place, as online learning has rapidly gained popularity in India. At the higher education level, courses offered by online learning platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, EdX, etc. are immensely popular among students looking to gain new skills to meet the demands of a rapidly changing job market. The government’s embrace of online courses as platforms to facilitate learning and skill development via schemes like SWAYAM( for education) and IndiaSkillsonline (spearheaded by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship)  as well as directives by the University Grants Commission to permit offering online degrees and certificate programmes, all indicate a move towards embracing online education.

While there are many more changes required to create a successful government-run online learning mechanism, the support and current trend is encouraging. Additionally, Indian private ed-tech start-ups are revolutionizing how online learning is conceptualized and delivered, while also making strides in incorporating cutting edge technologies like AI to deliver more individualized and customized learning experiences. The online education space is thus ripe with opportunities for international collaborations and partnerships to further access to quality education in India.

Initial measures to make the Higher Education System AI Ready

Many Indian institutions and the Indian government are recognizing the need to revamp the current education system to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by increased automation and the advancements in AI. There is now an increasing demand for courses and skill development programmes in AI and other related technologies. Indian universities such as the IITs and private engineering colleges are starting to offer more courses and degree programmes in the field of AI. Additionally the NITI Aayog has developed a national strategy document on AI which also includes components on how education and research in the country need to be re-aligned  to ensure that India does not get left behind, as the very nature of a “job” changes globally. Private companies, especially ed-tech start-ups are also increasingly capitalising on the transformative potential AI holds for the process of delivering learning; whether it be in the fields of adaptive learning tools, intelligent & interactive tutoring systems and customized individual feedback. There is thus a hospitable environment for international players who can partner/ help domestic firms grow their companies and enable them to innovate further.

Growing demand for more practical, holistic and interdisciplinary curricula

In response to growing demand, many private universities are implementing degree programmes based on the liberal arts model, incorporating internships into their degree programmes, and providing hubs and accelerators on campus to facilitate students’ entrepreneurial ventures. While government universities and colleges are yet to adopt the liberal arts model, many institutions, especially technical and business schools, are setting up innovation and entrepreneurship cells on campus. Curricular reform over time has also ensured that students are not just grounded in the skills required by their discipline but must also take courses in other fields to get a more well-rounded education. Flexibility in course selection is also emerging, but mainly at private colleges and institutes. This presents an opportunity for foreign institutions to position their expertise in curricular design as an asset in potential collaborations.

Growing Emphasis on R&D and Innovation

Research is a growing and will be a continued priority of the government. The current administration has implemented multiple schemes to facilitate international academic research partnerships with Indian universities through schemes like VAJRA (Visiting Advanced Joint Research- aimed at promoting India as a research destination for overseas scientists and academics) and SPARC (Scheme for Promotion of Academic Research and Collaboration- aimed at promoting international research collaborations between universities in India and 27 other countries),  and has incrementally increased outlay of public funds available for research purposes. Research and innovation are topics addressed in many speeches made by senior government officials. Private research foundations such as the Infosys Science Foundation, Azim Premji foundation and the Wadhwani Foundation, and private universities and institutes within them are also emerging as significant players within India’s research ecosystem. However, the government needs to provide more funding for R&D, as lack of public funding remains one of the major roadblocks to conducting transformative, long term research in India. India needs to spend far more than just 0.8% of its GDP on R&D if it wants to develop and innovate its way into the future.

Internationalisation of Private Higher Education

While internationalisation in India’s higher education sector, overall, has been slow, private colleges and universities have led the way by implementing multiple strategies to establish global campuses as well as global presences. Through academic and research partnerships with foreign universities, setting up student exchange and study abroad programmes, as well as having periodic visits and courses taught by eminent foreign faculty—universities such as Ashoka university, FLAME, Shiv Nadar etc. have burnished their reputations as centres for educational excellence. Private institutions like Symbiosis International University, Birla Institute of Technology, and Manipal University boast twinning programmes, dual degree programmes, study abroad programmes and branch campuses in other countries.  This is a growing trend and one of the many reasons why higher education at private universities is a highly popular alternative among the rising Indian middle class.

Internationalisation of Public Higher Education

While earlier, international engagement at the public university was limited to a few select institutes, this trend is fast disappearing. Successive governments have made efforts to promote internationalisation of central and state universities by increasing collaborative development and delivery of courses, joint research, or the exchange of staff and students with foreign universities. Under the current administration, efforts have been made under the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) scheme to build partnerships between foreign universities and state universities to improve the quality of programmes offered at the regional level. Recent schemes such as SPARC and IMPRESS are targeted at promoting collaborations in research and academia between Indian and foreign institutes. Additionally, Study India is a government initiative aimed at promoting India as a destination for international students. However, such efforts need to be more streamlined and perhaps be guided by a single strategy to promote India as a destination for a global educational experience.

Emergence of Private and Government Backed Ranking Frameworks

Indian universities are increasingly willing to be subjected to global ranking frameworks and standards as they seek to emerge as centres of quality global education. Global ranking organizations such as Qacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE) and US News are now ranking Indian universities both within India and globally. Since Indian universities are yet to emerge even among the top 200 institutions globally, the government has also implemented various measures to ensure that Indian universities meet global standards. By instituting a National Institutional Ranking Framework and creating strategic funding channels by designating certain private and public universities as Institutes of Eminence, the government hopes to create high operational standards. These measures are thus designed to ensure that top private and government universities get the resources they need to emerge as global centres of education and research excellence.

Authored by Kaajal Joshi and Poorvaja Kumar at Sannam S4.

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