Focus on Quality in Higher Education in India

AuthorAsha Gupta
Publication Date01 Mar 2021
Focus on Quality in
Higher Education in India
Asha Gupta1
These days we find a lot more focus on ‘quality’ in the field of higher education
than ever before. In fact, it is the concept of quality that makes higher education
‘higher’. Earlier, the pursuit of higher education was elitist. The focus used to be
on ‘knowledge for the sake of knowledge’. However, with the massification of
higher education in the wake of knowledge-based and technology-driven modern
economies worldwide, we find the focus shifting to employability of the students
in rapidly changing world of work. The quality education implies not only equip-
ping the students with requisite knowledge and skills for their chosen career field
but also to prepare them for lifelong learning. It is expected to train the students
to think and act critically beyond university in the interest of society and human-
kind. The present article focuses on the changing perspectives of the quality in
higher education in India. The methodology adopted is analytical, comparative
and empirical.
quality, equality, employability, lifelong learning, evolving concept, role of NAAC
The Context
India has the credit of running the second largest higher education system in the
world in terms of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). As of 1 June 2020, India
has 54 central universities, 411 state universities, 123 deemed to be universities, 361
private universities, 81 institutions of national importance and 708 autonomous
colleges and a large number of affiliated colleges and vocational institutes. In 2018,
the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) was supposed to be 26.3 per cent, including
vocational and online higher education. India is planning to have 5 per cent GER by
2035 ( At the time of Independence
Indian Journal of Public
67(1) 54–70, 2021
© 2021 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/00195561211007224
1 University of Delhi, New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Asha Gupta, Convener, University of Delhi, IPSA RC 39 on Welfare States and Developing Societies,
New Delhi 110021, India.
Gupta 55
in 1947, it had only nineteen universities and the literacy rate was just 12 per cent.
It is both surprising and shocking that despite multi-fold increase in the number of
HEIs since Independence, not a single HEI in India could make it to the top 300 list
prepared by the 2021’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings
(Basu, 2020). The Indian Institute of Science Bangalore got the top rank among
Indian HEIs followed by IIT Ropar and IIT Indore. The Times Higher Education
Supplement (THES) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) are supposed to be the
topmost institutions reputed for global rankings worldwide. The University of
Oxford retained the top position for the fifth consecutive year (ibid.).
Though higher education has played an important role in the economic growth
and national development in India, the focus had been more on school education
and literacy in view of very poor literacy rate at the time of Independence
(just 12%). The total enrolment in 1950–1951 was just 0.21 million (Sreenivas &
Babu, 2015, p. 33). No wonder, after Independence the focus of the government
was on enhancing ‘access and equity’ in higher education rather than on ‘quality
and relevance’. In 1960s, a few Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and later in
1990s, a few Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) were set up as the symbols
of Indian pride, progress and excellence, but they were like oasis to meet the
burgeoning demand for professional and quality education betting an emerging
economy and developing society. Most of the HEIs were found plagued with low
quality, poor infrastructure, too much gap between demand and supply, inadequate
faculty, outdated teaching methods based on rote learning, too much focus on nal
exams than actual learning, lack of autonomy, research facilities, too much
bureaucratisation, politicisation and so on (Gupta, 2008).
Earlier, the universities were elitist because very few had access to higher
education. The ‘distinctiveness and inaccessibility of an Oxbridge education’ was
perceived as a quality. In fact, the universities were supposed to embody quality
without any need to demonstrate it to the outside world (Church, 1988). Earlier,
the concern for quality was usually linked with the prestige of an institution and,
in the absence of any dened parameters, it was almost impossible to determine
quality in quantiable terms. But now with the emergence of globalisation and
market economy, there is a lot of pressure on the HEIs to prove their worth in
terms of quality and ‘value for money/time spent’ in pursuing higher education
and/or professional training from various stakeholders, including students, faculty,
administrative staff, governing bodies, funding agencies, future employers,
accreditors, media, politicians, local and central government, multinational
corporations or transportation corporations! Seeking legitimacy through quality
validation has become a fashion or a fad these days in the realm of higher education
in India and abroad (Stensaker, 2007, p. 3).
Under the management idea, quality is seen as ‘an icon, a selling point for
increasing number of goods and services’ (Tuckman, 1994, p. 742). Though the
concept of quality has very different meaning in the context of higher education,
it has crept into its realm as a means towards legitimation (Meyer & Rowan,
1977). By adopting the management idea of quality, some HEIs try to show how
‘modern’ and ‘advanced’ they are in terms of the latest social and international
norms. Sometimes they adopt the idea of quality voluntarily; sometimes it has

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