Shift Track

17 Oct

The other area where a government stranglehold critically damages India’s growth prospects is higher education. That was shown up dramatically last week, with students who were turned away from Delhi University for not meeting the draconian cut-off requirements of some of its programmes – winning admission as well as handsome scholarships to top-rated Ivy League universities in the US. With an increasing number of students looking for greener pastures abroad – student visa applications to the US increased by 20% over the past year – it’s becoming increasingly urgent to stem the flight of young talent. India’s growth story is unsustainable if the current scenario persists. Meeting India’s skills shortage is as critical as remedying its infrastructure shortage. This is underlined by even Indian call centre companies – operating in a sector where India is supposed to hold a competitive advantage – outsourcing increasing shares of their business abroad.

With existing universities overwhelmed, there is a strong case for the private sector to shore up higher education. This could be part of a two-pronged strategy with the government focussing on primary and secondary education, and private players leading in higher education. For such a strategy to bear fruit, it is imperative that restrictions to profit-making are removed. This would not only attract investment to the sector but also boost competition, thereby ensuring quality and accessibility. Partnerships with foreign varsities are also vital to boost research and skill development. The recently announced India-US higher education platform is a step in the right direction. But most of all, education must be treated as a key infrastructure sector for fulfilling the objective of a knowledge economy.

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