Magazine article Times Higher Education

A Tough Target to Chase: Feature

Magazine article Times Higher Education

A Tough Target to Chase: Feature

Article excerpt

A subcontinental giant has plans to create capacity for an extra 10 million students in five years, with particular emphasis on quality of education. How? John Morgan reports from India.

It is a hot Wednesday night in New Delhi and the Rajasthan Royals are taking on the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League - the world's richest cricket tournament.

Every time a Royals batsman - stars including Rahul Dravid and Shane Watson among them - turns away from the television cameras, the back of his helmet reveals the name of the team's "official knowledge partner", Amity University, to tens of millions of Indians watching the play-off at home. In the midst of a full-on advertising assault from providers of smartphones, financial products and cement, the private university's brand holds its own, also flashing up regularly in the corner of the TV screen right next to the score.

Meanwhile, the front page of The Times of India, the nation's most popular English-language newspaper, is dominated by higher education. There is a story about students who had to race across Delhi to sit their papers after being locked out of their university's examination venue, plus adverts for private institutions GD Goenka University and Lovely Professional University, the latter welcoming Shri Pranab Mukherjee, India's president, to its third graduation ceremony. Page three features an article about the University of Delhi's controversial switch to four- year degrees, two more adverts for private institutions and a public notice from Amity stating that it "does not accept donations/capitation fees for admissions ... If anyone makes such a demand, kindly report immediately" - a reference to the widely frowned-upon (but prevalent) practice of students and parents being forced to pay a sum that is not advertised in the prospectus in exchange for a university place at a private institution.

It is clear that higher education is high on the agenda in India, the world's largest democracy. In a growing country of 1.2 billion people, home to a third of the world's poorest, education - or the lack thereof - can make an enormous difference to people's lives and is the subject of intense competition.

Faced with this growing appetite for learning, the Indian Planning Commission's 12th Five Year Plan - the nation has been committed to socialist-style central planning since independence - has set a target to create capacity for an extra 10 million students over the next five years on top of the existing 25.9 million in the system in 2011-12.

India's economic growth is slowing - gross domestic product increased by 5 per cent in 2012, down from a peak of 9 per cent in 2007. The commission expects higher education to do some heavy economic lifting, and demands job-ready graduates and research universities with global status. Over the next five years, it says, "an overriding emphasis will be given to quality - as further expansion without quality improvement would be counterproductive for the future of India".

But plenty of governments aspire to such goals. Is India doing anything more than dreaming?

Even by the standards of India's chaotic roads, on which hooting your horn every 20 seconds or so is seemingly obligatory, Bangalore's traffic jams are something special. They are the product of exceptionally fast population growth in the city: it expanded by nearly 50 per cent between 2001 and 2011 and is now home to almost 10 million people. This rapid increase has been driven in large part by Bangalore's information technology boom, led by businesses such as the multinational Infosys, one of India's largest publicly traded companies. Large numbers of wealthy young IT professionals live in the city, which is also favoured by entrepreneurs. The roadside hoardings advertising luxury apartments are aimed at them, including one that cuts to the chase: "Where you live says who you are."

One of the city's most notable graduate employers is Shell, which has based one of its three global technology centres in Bangalore (the others are in Houston and Amsterdam). …

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