This paper was released by Devesh Kapur, University of Pennsylvania and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Centre for Policy Research.
This paper analyzes two interrelated facets of Higher Education policy in India: the key distortions in higher education policies and what explains them. It first sets the stage by laying out the principal conceptual issues that need to be considered when thinking about an appropriate policy framework for higher education in India. It then examines three key distortions in Indian higher education with regards to markets, the state and civil society (philanthropy). The next part of the paper examines the political economy of Indian higher (tertiary) education and seeks to explain the ideological and political underpinnings of these distortions and how they work in practice. We conclude with some indicative some policy directions for Indian higher education. The purpose of this exercise is not to make detailed policy recommendations, but rather to flag the kinds of issues that ought to be addressed.
The key argument of this section of the paper is twofold. The first is that higher education in India is being de facto privatized on a massive scale.2 But this privatization is not a result of changing preferences of the key actors—the state, the judiciary or India’s propertied classes. Rather, this privatization has resulted from a breakdown of the state system. As a result, it is a form of privatization in which ideological and institutional underpinnings remain very weak. Instead of being part of a comprehensive program of education reform, much of the private initiative remains hostage to the discretionary actions of the state. Consequently, the education system remains suspended between over-regulation by the state on the one hand, and a discretionary privatization that is unable to mobilize private capital in productive ways. Any policy intervention, if it is to succeed will have to change this political economy equilibrium. However, vicious circles of interest will impede reform, whether of public or private institutions. We focus on the political economy not just because it explains the current regulatory regime. This political economy also explains why even conceptualization of issues in Higher Education is likely to remain distorted for some time.