Book review: Pawan Agarwal, Indian Higher Education: Envisioning the Future

Published date01 June 2021
Date01 June 2021
AuthorKandi Kamala
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Indian Journal of Public
67(2) 265–274, 2021
© 2021 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/00195561211016278
Book Reviews
Pawan Agarwal, Indian Higher Education: Envisioning the Future.
New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2009, 480 pp., `895.00.
Higher education in India, recently pitchforked into policy significance, finds a
contemporary manual in the book reviewed here. It provides an overview of
various aspects of India’s higher education policy, while delving into the wider
contexts of change. In the ‘Introduction’, the author regrets that ‘rather than prag-
matism, it is populism, ideology and vested interests that drive policy’. Ideology
is a bad word, while pragmatism that grants primacy to the immediate-over the
long-term vision is the supreme virtue. This is the undertone of the entire book.
What is the driving force behind the so-called pragmatic policymaking? Is it not,
to a great extent, the power of the ‘vested interests’, Agarwal bemoans in the same
sentence. The reviewer wonders if he would dismiss as ‘ideology’ a basic premise
of the Yashpal Committee report that says, ‘Revitalising the idea of university in
an entirely new egalitarian context is the need of the hour’. Overall, the book is a
highly useful compilation of valuable information, but somewhat flawed by a
limiting vision.
The chapters deal with structural issues, access and equity concerns, private
higher education, financing and management, workforce development, research,
regulatory tangles and the need for quality management. Agarwal’s principal
tool throughout is empiricism, where data provides the basis for formulating
and implementing policy change. He does not seem bothered about existential
concerns related to higher education’s constitutive value. Higher education, to
him, is instrumental because it ‘provides a workforce to a technologically-driven
knowledge economy’ (p. 168), and hence is essential to economic growth and
Conversely, the poor quality of higher education will result in skill shortages
in the economy and will affect productivity negatively. His argument, therefore, is
that ‘there is need to enlarge the adaptive capacity of the higher education system
so that it is more responsive to the changing world of work and meets the diversi-
fied needs of the economy both domestic and global’ (p. 242). In short, higher
education is about economic growth, quality of life and social opportunity.
A sobering reality is the data on India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) (ratio
of persons of all ages enrolled in higher education with respect to the total popu-
lation in the 18–23 years age group). India’s GER in higher education is only

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