The ministry of human resource development (MHRD) is proposing an additional investment of Rs 1,72,490 crore in higher education in the next five years, seeking to achieve a quantum leap both in terms of quality and access.

The proposal and the strategic interventions suggested now will be placed before the Union Cabinet for approval. The proposed investment is to be shared with the bulk of the amount, Rs 1,34,564 crore, coming from the Centre and states’ contributing the remaining Rs 37,926 crore.

The vision document prepared by 10 expert groups proposed setting up of 8,000 ‘Samras’ hostels to accommodate 16 lakh students from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds with no access to higher education institutions in their vicinity to continue education, including scholarships to meet their hostel expenses.

The ministry also proposed one-time catch up grant to every institution for a period of five years. This would be used for filling up vacancies and fund 100 universities in states with low gross enrolment ration (GER) with a one-time grant of Rs 50 crore per university and Rs 10 crore per college.

The document – EQUIP (Education Quality Upgradation Inclusion Programme) – suggested strategic interventions in the sector for the period 2019-24 and cites inadequacies in the sector by comparing the situation to the global scenario. It also highlights decline in public investment in higher education, skewed teacher-student ratio and the fact that central and state universities as well as IITs are hamstrung by huge vacancies.

The 10 expert groups, chaired by Hasmukh Adhia, chancellor, Central University, Gujarat, former ISRO chairperson, K Kasturirangan, Pawan Goenka, chairman, BoG, IIT-Madras and Vijaya Raghavan, principal scientific adviser to the PM, among others identified 10 major challenges.

The challenges include, disparities in access to higher education and lack of adequate academic support to vulnerable student communities, inability of students to achieve desired learning outcomes and incapacity of teachers, lack of global standards of excellence in Indian higher education Institutions, absence of overarching funding body to promote research and innovation leading to a lack of adequate funding in research and innovation, and inadequate investments in higher education as a proportion to the GDP as against recommended 6%.

Recommending strategic interventions, the vision document suggested expanding access and increasing GER to 40% by 2024 from that of 26.3% in 2018. For which the expert group on access suggested alignment of higher education with the needs of the economy. It stated that “except for removing the deficit of colleges in certain backward areas as suggested in our strategy, no new colleges or institutions should be created to expand access,” because 7.9% of the colleges have student strength of less than 50, less than 18.5% colleges have student strength of less than 100, 38.2% of the colleges have less than 200 students. It emphasised on maximum utilisation of existing colleges. The document also stated that to achieve GER of 40%, 1.53 crore SC/ST students should be on the rolls by 2024.

While suggesting 10 focused areas to utilize the additional fund, which include access, governance, research and innovation, employability and technology, the document stated that “the more worrying aspect is that public investment in higher education has declined as a percentage of GDP from 1.14% in 2006-07 to 0.71% in 2016-17.”

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