The government has set itself an ambitious target of raising gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education to 40% by 2024 from about 26% at present. The only way it can achieve this is by opening colleges in backward districts and getting those in the socio-economically vulnerable categories to enrol for higher studies. The ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has proposed to invest Rs 30,338 crore to achieve this over the next five years.
In its vision plan for 2019-24, the ministry says it needs to address the “geographically and socially skewed access to higher education institutions in India”. For instance, while the overall GER is 25.8%, for SCs it is 21.8%, and for STs it is even lower at 15.9%. And if you do a global comparison, India fares quite poorly. Just among BRICS nations, India is slightly ahead of South Africa and way behind Russia (81.8%), Brazil (50.5%) and China (50.0%).
Enrolment has grown at a slow pace in the last 10-15 years, higher education among STs in particular lagging behind. Identifying the major challenges, the report, ‘Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme’, states that “empirical evidence points towards the persistence of economic, social, locational, and regional disparities in access to higher education. The higher education system and institutions have to recognise and adapt to meet the demands from diverse communities of students.”
The document offers a four-pronged strategy to raise GER to 40%. For starters, “8,000 Samras hostels (in build-own-operate model) would be set up to accommodate 16 lakh students from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds with no access to higher educational institutions in their vicinity to continue education. Scholarships for 16 lakh students to meet hostel expenses will act as a support mechanism for students.”
For a GER of 40%, presuming that about 20% (around 5 lakh annually) of the SC/ST students would require hand-holding before admission in the higher educational institution, the MHRD report proposed setting up of finishing schools at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore over a period of five years. “Model degree colleges and new colleges set up in backward areas will have the provision of a bridge course (on the same pattern as finishing school) in the first year of the degree to impart mathematical and soft skills to them to enhance employability.”
There’s also renewed focus on open and distance learning (ODL). Within ODL, the pass percentage of SC/ST students is around 20%. The report observed the present rule of fee waiver to SC/ST students (other than in technical and professional programmes under ODL) goes waste as there is no incentive to successfully complete the programme. The vision document recommended that students get a 50% waiver in tuition fee at the time of admission. To “incentivise students to pass the end-semester/year-end examination, it is proposed to launch a scheme named Success Rewarded (SURE), under which the entire tuition fee with an upper ceiling of Rs 10,000 a year should be paid to the student as a reward for passing the exam.”
In order to expand access to cater to geographically underserved areas, the ministry proposes upgrading 500 degree colleges in backward blocks to vocational degree colleges (VCD) by integrating a vocational stream to start BVoc programmes. The calculation is that 200 students will enrol in each of these colleges every year – so, one lakh students will get enrolled in the 500 colleges each year.