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ACA Newsletter guest article by Dr Neil Kemp, International Education Consultant, NK Education

Recent developments in India’s higher education landscape

The last three months have seen a few national level changes that will impact on the delivery of higher education across India. The 2012-17 Five Year Plan (12th Plan) was launched, setting out the Government of India’s education and investment strategy. In addition, a new Minister of State for Human Resources Development, Dr Shasi Tharoor, was appointed and this month the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, announced a doubling of research investment to reach about 2% of GDP, by 2017.

The 12th Plan is very ambitious and targets an additional 10 million higher education students by 2017. Note that population growth in India is likely to result in a workforce increase of 32% over the next 20 years, whereas for China and Europe it will decline by 5% and 4%, respectively.

The three overarching objectives for the Plan are: Equity, Expansion and Excellence. However, the strategy is to deliver holistically, building on the inter-relationships of the three objectives. For example, no expansion in provision should occur without also relating to equity and excellence at all stages.


This is a major theme running throughout the Plan. Concern was expressed that not one Indian institution was in the Top 200 Global Rankings. To promote qualitative change, several initiatives are proposed including:

  • Reducing bottlenecks in the development of quality staff – with a target of doubling current numbers to 1.6 million by 2017. A doctoral training plan is mooted, including for overseas research and study;
  • Reforming the affiliated college system (there are over 30 000 of these) to encourage clustering and mergers, and closer relationships to their affiliated university;
  • Shift from input and credential-based pedagogy to a more learner-centric and outcomes approach for teaching and research;
  • Creating 20 new Centres of International Research Excellence, with a further 50 centres for training and research.
  • Establishing multi-disciplinary research universities, involving public-private finance;
  • Investing in internationalisation - for institutional collaboration and faculty, and student exchange programmes.

Three broad approaches are proposed: scaling up capacity in existing institutions; creating a more differentiated and distinctive mix of institutions to reflect the diverse interests of students and employers; and thirdly, to apply new technologies to improve quality, reduce costs and reach more students.

The private sector already enrols 60% of Indian students, and an enhanced role is mooted, with a proposal to allow ‘for-profit’ universities, including from overseas. This could include finally passing the Foreign Education Institutions Act!


The Plan proposes major initiatives to reduce the large disparities in provision and access between States, castes, communities, gender, disability and the rural areas. There will be significant increases in funding and new finance schemes to replace the existing maze of small programmes.


Several interesting changes are proposed: a major initiative is to shift to an outcomes basis, with annual funding linked to performance of the institution against its strategic plan. It is also proposed to raise funds through increasing student fees, particularly in some of the nation’s elite public sector universities, where fees are minimal and have not been raised for many years. As the Plan says:

"Maintaining low levels of fees is not sustainable; in fact it is regressive since it often tends to benefit the better-off students."

There are also proposals to ensure greater institutional autonomy with less government control.

In brief conclusion, the 12th Plan is incredibly ambitious and sets out very challenging targets, but they are all essential if the Government of India is to meet the needs of its young people and the nation’s desire to be a successful global competitor.

The 12th Plan