Transformation of Indian higher education

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Dr Rajan Saxena

By Dr Rajan Saxena
Vice Chancellor

Disruptive changes in economy, society and technology are today transforming India at a rapid speed. The government, programmes and policies are aimed at changing social behaviour and creating new value paradigms. The Government of India’s programme “Beti Bachao Beti Padoyo” or “Save the Female Foetus and Educate Girl” is one such initiative. Government directives to the regulators to be less intrusive in the functioning of higher education is yet another example of paradigm shift. The government is today committed to develop 20 world-class universities from public and private sector. The technical education regulator also plans to give complete autonomy to 10% of top tier institutions in engineering, management, and computer science. It has also developed a national ranking framework based on international parameters while considering national realities. Accreditation and ranking have now become critical for the survival of an institution. All these changes will transform Indian higher education making it world-class.

The India scenario can be understood through the lens of demographic, socio economic, technology and geopolitical developments. It is the interplay of all these factors that make India one of the most happening places in the world. The following sections briefly outline some of these trends which are visible in India.

Demand forces
Changing demographic structure

No discussion on India can start without understanding the changing demographic structure. Many a time it is said that India’s advantage lies in its demography. India is today one of the youngest nations in the world; with 41% of the country’s 1.2 billion population in the age group of 25 to 54 years and another 18% in the age group of 15 to 24 years. Together, these two age groups account for 60% of India’s population thus making it the youngest nation. To this, if one were to add another 7% of the population in the age group of 55 to 64 years, India not only becomes a young nation but also a market for a range of products and services including education. Young today is not just a function of age but of mind. Increasingly, people in their 60s feel as young as in 50s. Hence, people in this age group are as much a learner and interested in upskilling and acquiring higher education as those who are in the age group of 15 to 30 years. Young India today is aspirational and want to acquire luxuries in a much shorter span of time than the earlier generation. Education today is an enabler in changing the standard of living. This is true for urban and rural India.

Growing urbanisation has also contributed to the increase in demand for higher education. Enrolments in higher education, for example, have grown from about 11 million in 2002 to about 35 million in 2014–15, and is expected to touch 42 million by 2020. The growing trend in enrolment in higher education is shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Higher education enrolment in India (in millions), Source: Higher Education in India: Moving towards global relevance and competitiveness 2014


The demand for professional education in India has also significantly grown over the years.

All these changes make India the biggest provider of skilled manpower to the world economy, as shown in Figure 2. This demographic structure and growing enrolment in higher education will also power country’s growth thus making it world’s third largest economy by 2030.

Figure 2 , Source: Higher Education in India: Moving towards global relevance and competitiveness 2014



India is also significantly affected by global technology changes. It is also a leader in technology developments especially in frugal manufacturing technologies. Mobile internet, cloud computing, big data, analytics, artificial intelligence and social networks are today redefining work places in India. Technology is impacting industry competitiveness, organisational structures, jobs and skills. Many skills acquired by students in their programmes soon outlive requiring continuous up gradation. This has created a momentum of change in education planning, especially in the context of professional education. Engineering schools in India have had a serious challenge in their curriculum planning. Among many factors that have contributed to making this challenge a complex one is the new economy which requires a different set of skills like complex problem solving, negotiation, emotional intelligence, managing uncertainty judgement and decision making rather than just the technical skills like engineering design. Since machine is today able to do what the traditional engineers were able to deliver, the need to relook at curriculum in engineering education is felt at the regulator and industry chambers level too. FICCI, in partnership with Newton Bhaba Fund and Royal Academy of Engineering UK, has initiated a mega research and training project in engineering education in India. One institution which has been selected is Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) Mukesh Patel School of Technology Management and Engineering (MPSTME). In partnership with Cranfield University in UK and industry, MPSTME is engaged in developing futuristic curriculum framework and faculty development. It is hoped that this research done in partnership with industry will help create a new curriculum, pedagogy and work ethos among engineering colleges in India which in turn will help engineering graduates to become more globally employable.

Geopolitical development

Geopolitical developments are rocking the world and in turn affecting the image of nation states. A major development relates to visa restrictions in USA and Britain. This has affected student choices for these countries as education destination. In the context of UK, non-EU applications to study in UK has seen a 6% decline in March 2016. Tighter visa regime for international students in UK has also made UK a much less preferred destination. BREXIT and Trump today provide an opportunity for countries in Asia, including India, to emerge as a hub for global education. In order to make India a global education hub, Government of India has announced a policy framework for partnerships between foreign and Indian universities. Since 2016, FICCI’s Higher Education Summit is organised in partnership with Ministry of Human Resources Development and Ministry of Commerce. This reflects subtle change in the government thinking in respect of higher education. It is today believed that higher education has export potential. Government is keen to attract foreign students. This also is bound to have an impact on the image of Indian institutions, especially those that are accredited by NAAC at level “A” and above, like NMIMS which is accredited at A+ level. The demand for internationally accredited programmes and institutions is also likely to go up. GMAC, with support from government of India, has launched a Study in India portal which is linked to its global website It is a website which is most commonly referred to by all MBA aspirants in the world. This is the first time that Indian management schools are being showcased to the world market. Ten top management schools, which include IIMs, XLRI, NMIMS, Great Lakes and ISB are part of this project. This will hopefully make Indian management schools a preferred choice for international students.

Thus, demand for higher education today is influenced by the disruptive changes in India thereby creating an exponential growth in higher education institutions and programmes. Today, each state in India is creating an attractive legislative framework to encourage higher education in their geography. Structural reforms are also planned by government of India like the one on world-class universities and graded autonomy for institutions.

Supply forces are also changing

Just as the demand for higher education is changing and growing, there is also a change occurring in the supply forces. Indian institutions are transforming. Given the above changes in technology leading to new organisational realities, it has become imperative for institutions to prepare students for a volatile future. Skilling and continuous upgradation and flexible programme design have therefore assumed significance in academic planning. New generation universities and institutions like Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Manipal, UPES, Thapar, Shiv Nadar are investing in establishing labs and workshops which help prepare students for the new world. For example, NMIMS has established Automation Lab at Mukesh Patel School of Technology Management and Engineering (MPSTME) and a Bloomsburg Lab at its School of Business Management (SBM). The Automation Lab equips students with the skills in sensorics, pneumatics, robotics and hydraulics. This institution also develops their skills in artificial intelligence and data analytics. The Bloomsburg lab, on the other hand, develops complex problem-solving and decision-making skills of management and economics graduates. It also develops their critical thinking skills besides developing their data analysis skills. Bloomsburg lab is today available at just a few management schools in the country.

New generation programmes

The last decade has also witnessed the launch of new generation programmes. For example, the five-year integrated programme in engineering and management has gained prominence. Programmes like MBA Tech and MBA Pharma Tech have been introduced by NMIMS in the last one decade. Likewise, there has been a growth in the five-year law programme which integrates two bachelor’s degrees, one in humanities/ social sciences and the other in Law. This is evident by the growth in number of National Law Universities established by Government of India in different states which offer these programmes. Many private universities like OP Jindal University, NMIMS and Symbiosis also offer these programmes. Since the future belongs to big data, business analytics and data sciences many institutions, including NMIMS, have launched bachelor’s and master’s programmes in data analytics. New generation programmes today have a better acceptability than the conventional ones as they are perceived to have more value to the students than the conventional ones.

Industry partnership

Institutions are also establishing collaboration with industry for programme design, preparation of students for jobs and making them relevant to the changing times. To encourage such collaborations, FICCI has created a structural framework in National Knowledge Functional Hub which has industry and institutions working together on programme design as well as faculty and pedagogy development.

To encourage entrepreneurship and a culture of innovation in India, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of Atal Innovation Centres. These centres are required to establish incubators or accelerators and could be established by educational institutions or a private enterprise. The government is committed to provide financial support up to INR 100 million to the institution in the form of grant. Eight institutions have been selected in the first round, including NMIMS Mumbai, Shiv Nadar University, Noida, Bimtech Noida and ISB Mohali.

This initiative of the Government of India is expected to encourage entrepreneurship in the country.

Quality enhancement

Quality improvement in higher education on a sustained basis is a priority both for the government and institution. In the last five years more institutions have opted for national accreditation by NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Centre) or NBA (National Board of Accreditation). As of November 2015, 171 universities were accredited by NAAC. International accreditation has also gained prominence in India. VIT in Vellore, for example, has been one of the first engineering colleges to be accredited by ABET. Likewise, IIM Calcutta is accredited by AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA. NMIMS Bangalore and Hyderabad campuses are accredited by AMBA. Likewise, ISB, IMT Ghaziabad and T. A Pai Management Institute are accredited by AACSB. AMBA has accredited about a dozen institutions in India. All these accreditations are making institutions more and more globally competitive.

Hence, the demand and supply forces today are transforming higher education to make India a global hub for talent development. The culture of accreditation is today encouraging the development of research culture in institutions. Almost all institutions in India have grown from a teaching institution, as it was an urgent need of the country to educate young boys and girls. Research and innovation has now become a part of an institutional agenda because accreditation agencies demand research output. Government of India is also encouraging the development of research and innovation culture in institutions. Agencies like DST (Department of Science and Technology) and DBT (Department of Biotechnology) have been forthcoming in funding the research initiatives of institutions. India is poised to be a global hub in the near future not just for education but also for research.

NMIMS – A transformation journey

The transformation journey of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) illustrates growth, innovation and passion for institution building. NMIMS was established in 1981 as a management institution recognised by the then Bombay University. It was established by one of the oldest public charitable trust and society, namely Shri Vile Parle Kelavani Mandal (SVKM). It is a Trust which today owns and manages 33 Institutions in Mumbai, Dhule, Navi Mumbai in Maharashtra, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Indore. It educates 65,000 students in its schools, colleges and university. Soon after its establishment, NMIMS emerged as one of the leading management schools in India. The very first national ranking of business schools in 1995–96 ranked NMIMS 8th among 150 business school at that time in India. Since then NMIMS has maintained this position among the top 10 management schools in India. Encouraged by NAAC accreditation in 1999 and the contribution it had made to management education, research and training, NMIMS applied to the government of India for university status, which was conferred on it in 2003 under UGC Act section 3. Since then, NMIMS has diversified and established schools in engineering and technology management, pharmaceutical sciences, architecture, biological and chemical sciences, commerce, economics, law, design and liberal arts. From just about 20 faculty members, it today has over 650 fulltime faculty, more than 50% of whom have doctoral qualifications.

The success factors that have contributed to making NMIMS as one of the outstanding institution of higher learning in India are:

  1. Innovation – The university leadership firmly believes that the only way to retain relevance in education is by continuously innovating in programme design, pedagogy and assessment. New programmes like MBA Tech, MBA Pharma Tech, M Tech Decision Sciences and MBA Law are some examples of innovations in programme design. Further, substantive changes are made in programme curriculum every three to four years. In addition to these, incremental changes are continuously made thereby making programmes contemporary and relevant. For example, in MBA Tech, real estate management was introduced as one of the verticals. This recognised the growing importance of real estate construction and management.
  2. Embedding quality in all programmes and processes: Even as the institution grew, the institutional leadership ensured that quality was not compromised. Hence, special care was given to admission, academic and examination processes and faculty recruitment. The result of this became abundantly clear when NMIMS would receive about 70,000 applications for admission to the Business School’s MBA programmes even when the capacity was restricted to 500. At no point of time the institution compromised on the quality of students, and therefore did not expand the capacity in a mindless manner just to admit all students applying to the institutions. The same was true for other schools where the demand outstripped the supply. The admission test NMAT conducted by GMAC for the Business School and NPAT by NMIMS for undergraduate programmes are psychometrically validated and set a benchmark in admission testing in India.
  3. Inclusive Education: A large segment of population has remained on the margin of socio economic development in India. One such group is the tribal population and girls particularly in rural India. To reach out to this segment of population, NMIMS established a rural campus at Shirpur which is in North Maharashtra. This campus offers degree programmes in engineering and pharmaceutical sciences. In addition, the campus also offers a vocational diploma in textile engineering. This diploma programme attracts a very large number of tribal and rural boys and girls with meagre incomes. NMIMS offers them free ship and prepares them for a job in a textile firm. This has helped them improve their standard of living. They have become change agents in their community.

Further to encourage women students to join the MBA programmes, NMIMS board of management has decided to offer 30% of its capacity to female students who qualify the admission test.


India is today at a cusp of a major transformation in higher education. Innovation, quality enhancement, enlarged access to education institutions and a pursuit of national and international accreditation will make Indian institutions most sought after. Technology will help Indian institutions reach out to the world market. While national institutions will be an important player it is the top private institutions like NMIMS, Manipal, BITS Pilani, Amrita Ashok etc that will emerge as significant players in world education market.

Dr Rajan Saxena is vice chancellor of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) since 2009 and a former director of IIM, Indore, SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, and dean of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai. He has over 44 years of professional experience in management education, research, consulting and institution building. Dr Saxena’s teaching and research interests are marketing strategy, services marketing and customer relationship management. He is widely respected in India as a marketing educator and institution builder. He has consulted over 50 Indian and multinational companies and published over 60 articles, and authored two books titled Marketing Management and International Marketing Concepts, Cases and Text, both published by McGraw-Hill. He has been conferred several awards by different organisations and media, which include Dr Suresh Ghai Memorial Award (2013) and the BERG Education Award (2014).