Jul 23, 2013
Against a backdrop of rapid enrollment growth, declining education quality, and increasing financial pressure, India's key policy document for economic development through 2017 — the 12th Five-Year Plan — has recommended that the country's higher education institutions be granted more autonomy over curriculum, staffing, and programs offered. RAND researchers developed a course of action to help India implement policies and reforms that link education quality to funding in a way that will hold the country's newly autonomous institutions accountable for their performance, encourage greater innovation, and contribute to national goals.
Thamizhpparithi Maari, Wikimedia Commons
India's higher education system is one of world's largest, enrolling nearly 22 million students in more than 46,000 institutions. The system's rapid and recent expansion has increased concerns about declining quality, however. Reinforcing these concerns are poor infrastructure, underprepared faculty, unwieldy institutional governance, and other obstacles to innovation and improvement. Funding has been a continuing challenge, with public investment unable to keep up with expanding enrollment numbers and an inefficient process for allocating funds across the system.
India's key policy document for economic development through 2017, the 12th Five-Year Plan, suggests that the country's higher education institutions should be granted more autonomy over curriculum, staffing, and programs offered. In return, these institutions would be more accountable for their performance and subsequent funding levels. This recommendation reflects a worldwide trend: By creating policies that explicitly link quality and funding, other countries are encouraging their institutions to pursue innovative strategies to improve quality. But transitioning India's higher education system to a decentralized model will require substantial shifts in the way the system is governed and funded.
India's national government currently plays a "command and control" role in the higher education system. Under government oversight, the largest state universities set the curricula, determine course offerings, administer exams, and grant degrees, while smaller affiliated colleges teach students according to these standards and requirements. The 12th Five-Year Plan proposes a "steer and evaluate" role for the government that allows a greater degree of self-regulation — and enforces higher levels of accountability — across the system's institutions. As in other countries, these reforms could include approaches that link quality measures to funding rates, grants for innovation and improvement in teaching and research, and requirements that institutions meet minimal accreditation and quality standards before they can receive public funding. Many countries also publish data on student outcomes to encourage students to spend tuition money on high-quality institutions.
To help identify how such policies could support higher education quality improvement in India, RAND researchers reviewed documents and policies from countries that are similar in terms of size, governance structure, or higher education system quality. The study revealed a connection between successful autonomous institutions and measures of quality that are closely aligned with national goals for higher education. However, simply establishing policies linking quality and funding is not sufficient to ensure a high-quality education system. A range of other supports, such as developing a pool of well-qualified faculty and strengthening quality assurance bodies, are needed for these policies to succeed. Furthermore, improvement measures should be applied to both public and private institutions, and they should be transparent and accessible to all stakeholders to encourage quality-based decisionmaking. Consequently, additional resources will be needed to support these stakeholders as they transition to their new governance roles.
Taking into account lessons from similar countries and the unique challenges facing education reform efforts in India, the research team developed a course of action to guide India's higher education system toward the "steer and evaluate" model proposed by the 12th Five-Year Plan.
India's higher education system is in transition. Instituting policies that explicitly link funding to quality will help guide and incentivize the country's newly autonomous institutions as they collectively pursue national objectives and improve overall education quality. But it will be important for India to approach these reforms carefully to ensure their success over the long term.