INDIA: Higher education survey will inform policy

India will for the first time undertake a comprehensive survey to map access, equity and quality in higher education in order to better inform higher education policies and debates.

The pan-India census will plot the lives and performance of all attached to the higher education sector and will map who is in college and who has been left out and why, which students earned a scholarship, which candidates graduated and from where, and how many students are studying abroad.

The education ministry felt the need to create a 'robust' databank to get the real picture of the higher education sector before it could plan the way forward. The survey, officials felt, would help design the course of action for higher education.

The ministry, which has projected a gross enrolment ratio in higher education of 30% by 2020, from around 12% now, is preparing to conduct the survey in higher education and technical institutions, statutory councils for higher education, state institutions and academic as well research labs across the country.

"The government is spending a lot more on higher education but issues of access and quality remain. We only have a small proportion of students accessing higher education. We need a detailed analysis of student and institution profiles, their problems and issues so that money is directed in the right way and is not invested based on political lobbying," a senior ministry official said.

The database could also play a significant role in supporting research in higher education, which is scarce, said Professor Yash Pal, the chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

"The survey should not only throw up numbers but also give qualitative data. Whether there are enough scholarships, how easy it is to access loans, what is the number of teachers in various institutions and whether positive discrimination has worked are some areas that need a lot of research," Pal said.

"The survey method should integrate means to get data on these issues."

Since 2009-10, India has increased its higher education budget by 40%, taking the total to around US$3.1 billion. Eight new Indian institutes of technology, 12 new central universities and seven Indian institutes of management have also been established in the last two years.