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The lure of higher education

The union Human Resource Development minister Kapil Sibal has reported a positive development which is that the number of students enrolling for higher education has shot up.  The gross enrolment ratio (GER) for higher education has increased from 12.4 to 20.2, with GER being a measure of the percentage of the relevant age group that is enrolled. Before this dramatic surge, the figure for India hovered around 12. India is now closer to the figure for developed countries which is around 35 to 40. India is likely to reach there around the year 2029. That a larger percentage of young people in the country enrol for higher education is welcome news. There is a link between education and development, and people people with higher education in the country may not just mean more prosperity but also the success of many of the government’s development programmes and the general weal of the nation. As the human resource development minister noted, the difference in the GER is often the difference between developed and developing countries, with the gross turnover of ideas, generated by the university system, being the real wealth of nations – often more valuable than GDP. The rise in numbers of youth in higher education also demonstrates that a larger number of underprivileged people are now availing educational opportunities. Yet, there are also problems with having so many educated young people in society, which is the economy’s capacity to absorb them. It is simply no use churning out graduates and post-graduates if there are no jobs available for them after college.

It is just not the purpose of the Indian education system to service foreign economies, which is what happens when talented young people migrate in the absence of proper jobs. The situation with respect to employment and under-employment is particularly bad at present and should not grow worse in the future with the rising numbers of young people with degrees. There has, therefore, to be proper planning such that there is an expansion in the number of jobs along with the growth of the economy and the workforce. It may also be mentioned in passing that though the nations seems to be focussing in a big way on higher education, this does not mean that other kinds of education, such as vocational education, which may be more suitable to large numbers, should be ignored.
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