Understanding the Context of Higher Education in India
India is home to some of the most ancient centres of higher learning in the world, with Nalanda University dating back to the 5th century AD. Following its independence from British colonial rule in 1947, higher education was seen as crucial to India's self-determination and future development, although it has not been able to keep pace with the country's rapid modernization in recent decades. Amidst profound economic and social change, urgent infrastructure development needs, and a quickly growing youth population, the appetite for higher education has never been greater. India's higher education system has sought to answer this demand by expanding at a fast pace, adding 20,000 colleges and 8 million students in the first decade of this century alone. The proportion of enrolled college-age students has been swiftly rising to an estimated 20 percent - totalling 28.2 million in 2013 according to Unesco (second only to China's 34 million).
In both China and India, higher education is viewed as a key socio-economic enabler for both individuals and greater society as the nation's transition to becoming more prosperous, knowledge-based economies. While both countries have made impressive progress in expanding their quantity and quality of higher education availability, it's generally agreed that China's centralised political structure has made its development more efficient thus far, targeting resources to make selected universities become global leaders and otherwise positioning its system toward national priorities.
As India makes moves, similar to other Asian nations' approach to university funding, to pour more money into selective top institutions to elevate visibility in world rankings, some have alleged that the majority of its higher education sector has grown without adequate planning for the needs of its expanding economy. The country's vast size, colonial legacy, excessive bureaucracy, separation of general education from vocational training, and an academic culture that often inhibits meritocracy and curriculum modernization, are some of the significant challenges its higher education system seeks to overcome.
Explaining India's Appetite for Studies Abroad
While recent measures to establish collaborative links with foreign universities, as well as increased institutional differentiation, private sector involvement, research capabilities, and its widespread use of the English language could eventually make India a global education hub, it's evident that the present system is unable to meet the surging demand for quality education.
With greater completion rates at secondary school and population growth pressures (an estimated 400 million aged 18 - 24), higher education accessibility, quality and accountability are key issues. Even the best students with 90% marks are frequently denied their chosen institution. Many schools are perceived to be focused on money-making and linear training for a narrow range of service jobs at the expense of quality, relevance, sufficient infrastructure and future opportunities.
Besides these push factors, the growing purchasing power of India's increasing middle class and the sociocultural capital of a foreign education mean that more families than ever are willing and able to support their child's studies abroad. Of the 360,000 Indian students currently overseas, more than 300,000 of those are concentrated in five countries - the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. However, the perceived attractiveness of these and other emerging destinations are constantly in flux.
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