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The Debate About Whether Private Education Is Good Or Bad Needs To Change

The need is for greater empowerment, transparency and accountability.

24/08/2016 12:37 PM IST | Updated 27/08/2016 5:16 PM IST
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Adnan1 Abidi / Reuters
MBA students attend a lecture at a classroom at the Management Development Institute (MDI) in Gurgaon, 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

A lot of conversation, largely negative, is centred around private education. It would help if we understand the current state of demand and supply side.

The government is focused on increasing supply of primary and secondary education opportunities, and rightly so. However, it neither has the resources nor the will to invest in creating more higher education institutes. The new IITs, IIMs and AIIMS are cosmetic and appeal to the electorate.

As of 2013, we had 29.6 milllion students in higher educational institutions which would reach about 36.5 million students in 2016 and by 2020, we will have 48 million students. Based on our population trends and Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) targets, by 2030, we will have 88.7 million students seeking higher education. As of now, the responsibility of creating supply to meet this demand is largely fulfilled by private players. Can we abdicate our responsibility towards our aspirational youth by shackling and curbing the only source that creates such supply? Look at the numbers:

Universities

In 2010, we had 436 universities — 288 were public universities and 148 were private universities. However, many states including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and so on started encouraging the setting up of private universities. In fact, the states are aggressively marketing themselves and offering incentives. They cut across every political party.

This led to a quantum jump in private universities. In 2014, we had 777 universities — 443 public and 334 private. While private universities increased by 126% in 4 years, the public ones increased by 54%. In fact, in the last many years, we haven't seen any big university with scale, size and quality that has been launched by either the state or the central government. Careers360 estimates that by the end of 2019, we will have more private universities than public universities.

Colleges

The numbers with respect to colleges is more aggressive. In 2010, we had 26,000 colleges — about 9,000 public ones and 17,000 operated by private players. Most states haven't set up any government college for many years. By the turn of 2014, the total colleges grew to 36,000 — 10,000 in public (an incremental 1,000 colleges only), while the private colleges grew by 9,000 to 26,000 colleges. We estimate that in 2019, India would have 58,000 colleges — with just 12,000 colleges being public and 46,000 operated by private players.

So, by 2019, we will have more private universities. And even amongst the public universities, close to 79% would be private colleges affiliated to a public university. That would mean that about 85% to 90% students would be studying in a private college or a private university.

Once we acknowledge that the higher education needs of India are largely being catered to by private players, policy should focus on making them transparent and responsible while freeing the shackles under which they operate. The current policy is to regulate them without empowering them. No wonder, about 200,000 students seek greener pastures outside the country. This is brain drain as well as forex drain. The transparency that a Companies Act forces upon its members as compared to the secretive trusts must be examined. The policy must free the private sector, while enforcing transparency, accountability and responsibility.

Simply put, the debate should not be about whether we should privatise education, since 90% of it is already private. The debate should be about empowering them and forcing them to be transparent and accountable.

This is first of a series of articles on the New Education Policy that will be published over the next few days.

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