NEW DELHI: The number of students enrolling for higher education appears to have shot up dramatically. According to a recent survey done by the HRD ministry, the gross enrolment ratio (GER) for higher education has shot up from 12.4 to 20.2.
Disclosing this on Monday at a conference titled, EducatioNext, organized by The Times of India, HRD minister Kapil Sibal said that the figure for India had been hovering at around 12. However, according to the survey there it has surged in the last four years. The main focus of the conference, attended by academics and education experts, was "India-The Education Superpower of the Future".
"The results of the survey are tentative and not firm, but if validated, they are very encouraging. The ratio for developed countries is in the region of 35-40. The survey results show that we are getting there. If they hold, we can expect the ratio to go up to 30-35 by 2029," he said. GER is a measure of the percentage of the relevant age group that is enrolled.
The minister said that the difference in the GER is often the difference between developed and developing countries. "The gross turnover of ideas, generated by the university system, is the real wealth of nations - often more valuable than GDP," he said.
Sibal said higher enrolment in universities is throwing up its own set of challenges. "This large influx into higher education (beyond 10+2 level) would possibly require 800 more universities and 50,000 more colleges. How can the physical infrastructure be built so quickly? Yet there can't be any delay. Even a year's delay means the child is older by a year," he said. By 2030, the number of kids vying for university education will touch 400 million, the size of the population of USA, he said.
The situation requires out-of-the-box solutions, he said. "We have come up with a five-point action plan based on the advantages of new technology. You will hear much more about this in the coming days," he added, listing out the five measures (see graphic).
These measures seek to harness the internet and cloud-computing with low cost devices like tablets, including Akash, the Rs 1,500 tablet adopted by HRD ministry for free distribution (with 50% of the cost being borne by the education institution and the other 50% by the Centre), and mobile phones.
Sibal added that 2.5 lakh villages would be connected by fibre optics to build a powerful information highway. "The last-mile connectivity would be wireless-accessed by tablets and mobile phones. Not just courses, video uploads can create virtual workshops and labs as well as self-assessment procedures," he said.
Five Changes Coming
1. Low-cost devices such as tablets and mobile phones would play critical role in education in absence of physical infrastructure
2. Proliferation of cloud-computing. This will serve 4 regions which, in turn, will serve various colleges
3. Open education resources to be expanded by providing course content through IT highway. Communications network will be built
4. Hundreds of courses will be sent out online and make it possible for students to create own combination - e.g., mathematics and music
5. Communications infrastructure to create virtual world for students to work with machines on the net or carry out lab experiments