Higher Education in India

Quest for UPSC CSE Panels

Higher Education in India-Image




GS-II: Social Justice

1 min read

Prelims: Economic and Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.

Mains: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


What is Higher Education and its status in India?

The term ‘higher education’ with respect to India denotes the tertiary level education that is imparted after 12 years of schooling. This includes undergraduate courses such as bachelor's degrees, postgraduate courses such as master's degrees and doctoral programs, as well as professional courses.

  • As per the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-20, 
    • There are 1,043 universities, 42,343 colleges, and 11,779 stand-alone institutions.
    • 78.6% of colleges are privately managed, of which 65.2% are private-unaided and 13.4% are private-aided.
    • The total enrolment in higher education stands at 3.85 crores, and the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER), the percentage of students belonging to the eligible age group enrolled in higher education, is 27.1%.
    • The Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) in universities and colleges is 28.
  • As per the QS World University Rankings 2023, only three Indian universities have secured a spot amongst the top 200: IISc Bengaluru (Rank 155), IIT Bombay (Rank 172), and IIT Delhi (Rank 174).
  • As per the National Institutional Ranking Framework of India 2021, the best colleges in the country are concentrated in 9 of India’s 28 states, which highlights regional disparities in higher education.


How are the higher education institutions classified in India? 

Higher educational institutions in India include universities, colleges, and other stand-alone institutions. The universities award their own degrees, and colleges award degrees through the universities with which they are affiliated.

Universities awarding their own degrees are classified into five types based on their management:

Type of institutions

Structure of regulation

Central universities

  • Set up by an Act of Parliament.
  • There are 20 central universities in the country.
  • The President of India is a visitor at all central universities.
  • Ex: The University of Delhi, Allahabad University, etc.

State universities

  • Set up by an Act of State Legislatures.
  • There are 215 state universities in the country.
  • Ex: University of Calcutta, University of Madras, etc.

Private universities

  • Established through a state or central act by a sponsoring body.
  • Sponsoring body can be a society registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1860 or a public trust, or a company registered under the Companies Act of 1956.
  • Ex: The BITS - Pilani (funded and run by the Birla Group Trust).

Deemed to be universities

  • They are not universities, but in recognition of their high caliber of education, granted the status of a university.
  • Centre grants the status on recommendation of the UGC.
  • Autonomy to set their own syllabus, admission criteria, and fees.
  • Ex: Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Symbiosis International Education Center, etc.

Institutions of national importance

  • Serves as a pivotal player in developing highly skilled personnel within the specified region of the country or state.
  • Status is granted by an Act of Parliament.
  • Can award degrees without being affiliated with a university.
  • Ex: All IITs, NITs, AIIMS, etc.


What is the institutional framework for the higher education ecosystem in India?

Different regulatory bodies, such as University Grants Commission (UGC),  National Medical Commission (NMC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), and the Bar Council India (BCI) manage different professional courses.



University Grants Commission (UGC)

  • Established in 1953 and became a statutory organization by a parliament act in 1956. 
  • Coordinates, determines and maintains the standards of teaching, examination, and research in university education.

National Medical Commission (NMC)

  • Established through the National Medical Commission Act, 2019, which succeeded the Medical Council of India.
  • Aim: To improve access to quality and affordable medical education. To ensure the availability of adequate and high-quality medical professionals in all parts of the country.

All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE)

  • National-level Apex Advisory Body for technical education In accordance with the provisions of the AICTE Act, 1987.
  • Objectives: Promotion of Quality in Technical Education, Planning and Coordinated Development of Technical Education System.

Bar Council of India (BCI)

  • Statutory body to regulate and represent the Indian bar association.
  • It also sets standards for legal education and grants recognition to Universities.

Accreditation Bodies

  • National Board of Accreditation (NBA) established by AICTE.
  • National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) established by UGC. 


What are the various government initiatives for higher education in India? 

The Indian government has taken several initiatives to improve the higher education system in the country. Some of the major initiatives are:

  • Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Program (EQUIP)
  • Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme of Government of India (TEQIP)
  • Institute of Eminence (IoE)
  • Funding and Financing
    • Higher Education Financing Agency
    • Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA)
  • Research and Development
    • Prime Minister's Research Fellows (PMRF)
    • The Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC)
    • Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT)
    • Impactful Research in Social Sciences (IMPRESS)
  • Technology and E-Governance
    • National Educational Alliance for Technology
    • National Academic Depository
    • e-PG Pathshala
  • Surveys and Ranking
    • National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF)
    • All India Survey on Higher Education ( AISHE)
  • Vocational Education
    • National Apprenticeship Training Scheme (NATS) 
    • SHREYAS Programme
  • International outreach
    • Study in India Programme
    • Holding the IIT-Joint Entrance Exam (IIT-JEE) in 25 countries.
    • Setting up of branches of IITs in other countries
  • Scholarships
    • Central Sector Scheme of Scholarship for College and University Students.
    • National Fellowship and Scholarship for Higher Education of ST Students.
    • Merit Cum Means Scholarship For Professional and Technical Courses CS (Minorities).
    • Pragati Scholarship for Girls.
    • Special Scholarship Scheme for North Eastern Region.


What are the challenges faced by Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) in India?

  • Inadequate investments in higher education: The government’s expenditure on higher education is a mere 2.7% of the GDP against the recommended 6% by the Kothari Commission.
  • Disparities in access to higher education: Empirical evidence points towards the persistence of economic, social, locational, and regional disparities in access to higher education.
  • Limitations in accreditation: NAAC and NBA are currently reeling under the issue of inadequate capacity to bring all HEIs into the accreditation framework.
  • Learning outcomes and teaching outcomes: Deficiency of prerequisites amongst students to take up programs and the subsequent failure to achieve desired outcomes is much prevalent. 
  • Research and innovation: India lags behind other countries in terms of research output, innovation, and patent registrations. Also there is a lack of adequate funding in research and innovation.
  • Lack of global standards of excellence: This has a direct impact on India’s capacity to reap its demographic dividend and acts as an impediment for HEIs to feature in top global rankings of institutions.
  • Limitations in attracting students from abroad: India ranks third in the world in terms of having students pursuing higher education from abroad. However, globally, India occupies the 26th position among the top destinations for international student mobility.
  • Absence of convergence between higher education and the skill ecosystem: Higher education contributes only 4% in offering skill training while the Ministry of Skill Development and Employment (MSDE) contributes 58%. The MSDE hasn’t been involved in the higher education system either.


What are the various recommendations for a better higher education ecosystem in India? 

  • Regulation and Accreditation
    • Consolidating the regulatory structure of this sector by eliminating the overlapping regulations.
    • Widening the accreditation network and acknowledging the diversity of standards during the assessment. 
  • Expanding access
    • Enhancing access to vulnerable communities by providing scholarships, fee reimbursement, etc.
    • Expanding access to cater to geographically underserved areas through Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) and Open and Distance Learning (ODL).
  • Financing higher education
    • Generating funds via new modes such as opening up of sophisticated research equipment to industry and other external users which will improve their utilization and also earn revenues.
    • Providing financial incentives like One-time financial grants to support filling up existing vacancies of faculty and One-time Catch-up grant to facilitate infrastructural upgradation.
  • Effective pedagogies and assessment practices
    • Formulating a National Higher Education Qualifications Framework and Learning Outcome-based Curriculum Framework. 
    • Create institutional mechanisms for periodic review of curricula by formulating guidelines for implementation of the revised curriculum.
  • Promotion of research and innovation
    • Building a robust ecosystem of research networks by reaching out to local higher education institutions.
    • Setting up a research funding body at the national level, which aims at achieving excellence in knowledge creation, people, and Research & Innovation infrastructure.
  • Skills, Employability, and Entrepreneurship
    • Incorporating a formal vocational education structure into the college system with a credit structure that applies to both vocational and non-vocational education.
    • Revamping the curriculum for vocational education to incorporate skill courses with credits.
  • Technology for better reachability 
    • Promoting Research in Edu Tech by setting up Centers of Excellence (CoE) in premier Institutions along with Incubation support facility for startups.
    • Developing platforms using AI that could offer personalized learning paths, adaptive assessments, and real-time progress tracking to enhance the learning experience and outcomes.
  • Internationalization of higher education
    • Expanding academic collaboration with Higher Education Institutions abroad for knowledge sharing and research collaboration.
    • Promoting program mobility and cross-border delivery of higher education programs. 




Previous Year Questions



Q) The quality of higher education in India requires major improvements to make it internationally competitive. Do you think that the entry of foreign educational institutions would help improve the quality of higher and technical education in the country? Discuss.(2015)


Q) Should the premier institutes like IITs/IIMs be allowed to retain premier status, allow more academic independence in designing courses and also decide mode/criteria of selection of students. Discuss in light of the growing challenges.(2014)




Q) What is the aim of the programme ‘Unnat Bharat Abhiyan’?  (2017)

(a) Achieving 100% literacy by promoting collaboration between voluntary organizations and the government's education system and local communities.

(b) Connecting institutions of higher education with local communities to address development challenges through appropriate technologies.

(c) Strengthening India’s scientific research institutions in order to make India a scientific and technological power.

(d) Developing human capital by allocating special funds for health care and education of rural and urban poor, and organizing skill development programmes and vocational training for them.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q) What is Gross Enrolment Ratio?

Gross Enrolment Ratio is the total enrollment in a specific level of education, expressed as a percentage of the eligible official age population in a particular age group corresponding to the same level of education. In the case of higher education, the age group is 18-23 years.


Q) What is the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF)?

The NIRF framework outlines a methodology to rank institutions across the country. The parameters broadly cover “Teaching, Learning and Resources,” “Research and Professional Practices,” “Graduation Outcomes,” “Outreach and Inclusivity,” and “Perception”.