Red Alert: PM Modi’s contempt for higher education makes India fall behind other countries

While Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and fast changing technology demand greater skills, there are reasons to believe that PM Modi’s contempt for higher education is taking a toll

PTI file photo
PTI file photo

Gyan Pathak/IPA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a deep-rooted contempt towards higher education. It is an open secret,that he had revealed even way back in 2014. While addressing school students in a live telecast, he had given more emphasis on [low-order] skills by running down higher educational attainment and high-order skill.

He did not stop there, and soon after created the Ministry of Skill Development, which mostly catered to low-order skill, and in this process the demand for higher-order skills and competencies were almost ignored, which were required in the economic and social arena, resulting in a mess in both.

The mission of higher or tertiary education to develop and transfer knowledge in the country thus suffered under his rule. Whatever was done was cosmetic and merely a game of numbers, such as phenomenal increase in universities by upgrading colleges to universities, but only a few new universities were opened. Appointment of teachers was almost stopped. Ad-hoc teachers with low payments were engaged. Steep hike in tuition fees made higher education out of reach for the poor. Such policies were adopted that increased the cost but decreased the quality of education.

Apathy of the Prime Minister towards higher education indicates that he may not be aware how it plays central role in helping people and societies confront and cope with the profound changes happening around us.

Even the employment rate of adult with a tertiary degree is about 9 per cent higher than for those with upper secondary education only and earn on average 57 per cent more globally. Tertiary-educated adults are also more likely to be in good health, take care of the environment, or participate in public life.

Looking at ‘Education at a Glance, 2019’ report, released last week by OECD, is therefore disheartening for Indians in this context, especially when globalisation, artificial intelligence, and spread of information technology has drastically altered the job scenario, requiring fierce competition for skills and tertiary education. Situation may worsen if the government does not open access to more students to higher education by reducing cost, increasing seats and teachers, and improving quality of education.

The report reveals that 71 per cent of adults in India do not even have upper secondary education. Even among younger adults, 70 per cent of women have not attained upper secondary education, compared to 58% of men. In absolute number, the share of tertiary-educated adults is growing in India, and will be growing to reach one-fifth of the tertiary-educated population across OECD and G20 countries by 2030, but it will be mainly due to the growth of population of India which is likely to be the most populated country in the world by 2027. However, the requirement will be far greater than the attainment.

Educational attainment is still low in India, especially for women. India has by far the highest share of adults without a primary education among the G20 countries. In 2011, the year for which the latest data in available, almost half of 25-64 year-olds (46 per cent) had not completed primary education, compared to 9 per cent on average across G20 countries.

The share of adults without upper secondary education is 71 per cent in India, compared to 36 per cent on average across G20 countries. The younger generation is more likely to have attained this level of education: among 25-34 year-olds the share falls to 64 per cent, but this is still high compared to the average of 25 per cent across G20 countries.

Tertiary attainment is still low in India: 11% of 25-64 year-olds had a tertiary education in 2011, the third lowest rate after the People’s Republic of China (10 per cent) and South Africa (7 per cent), rising to 14 per cent among young adults (25-34 year-olds). In contrast, on average across G20 countries, 32 per cent of 25-64 year-old adults have attained tertiary education and 38 per cent of 25-34 year-olds.

If current entry patterns continue, an estimated 42 per cent of young Indians will enter tertiary education for the first time in their life, against 66 per cent on average across G20 countries. While other countries offer a variety of short- and long-cycle programmes at tertiary level, bachelor’s programmes are the most common in India: Short cycle programmes do not exist, while less than 1 per cent enter tertiary education through long-first degrees at master’s level.

The gender gap in educational attainment remains high across all levels of education. In most countries, young men are more likely than young women to lack an upper secondary qualification and women are also more likely to have obtained a tertiary qualification.

In India, it is the opposite: 58 per cent of young men and 70 per cent of young women did not attain upper secondary education, while 16 per cent of young men and 12 per cent of young women attained a tertiary qualification. Tertiary-educated adults make up only a small share of India’s population.

About 1 per cent of India’s national tertiary students were enrolled abroad in 2017, most of them in English speaking countries: 42 per cent of internationally mobile Indian students were studying in the United States, 15 per cent in Australia, 10 per cent in Canada and 5 per cent in the United Kingdom.

In OECD countries, student teacher ratio for public institutions is 15:1 and for private institution is 16:1, but in India these are 42:1 and 19:1 respectively, that hampers quality of education.

In India, almost 29 000 individuals graduated with a doctorate in 2017, the same number as in Germany and the United Kingdom. Although doctorate holders represent a small share of the population in India, about 10 per cent of total graduates from doctoral programmes across G20 countries were from India in 2017. The largest share of doctoral graduates in India, 29 per cent, studied the broad field of natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, compared to 22 per cent on average across G20 countries. Women accounted for 43 per cent of doctoral graduates in India in 2017, just below the G20 average of 47 per cent.

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