The news report that enrollment in higher education has touched 33.3 million in 2014-15 and pushed up gross enrollment rates to 23.6% points to the giant strides made in this sphere over the last one decade. Low enrolment rate in higher education, which refers to the percentage share of the young in the 18-23 age group that are enrolled in higher education, has been a major bugbear that has riddled policy makers for a long time. To put the recent gains in perspective it is sufficient to note that the number of student enrolled in higher education in India is now close to the population of Canada and higher than that of countries like Saudi Arabia, Peru and Afghanistan.
This is a significant achievement since the gross enrolment rate in higher education was in single digits till 2003-04. But between 2004-05 and 2009-10 the gross enrolment rate went up from 10% to 15%. Official statistics show that the biggest gain was made in 2010-11 when it soared up to 19.4% in just one year. The gains has been more limited in the recent years with gross enrolment rate going up by 4.2 percentage points to 23.6% between 2010-11 and 2014-15.
But it is not just the surge in gross enrolment rates which is impressive. Numbers also show that the genders disparities in gross enrolment rates has also been reduced in more recent years. While the gross enrolment of men in higher education has gone up by 15.5 percentage points to 23.6% between 2001-02 and 2014-15 that of men has improved by 15.2 percentage points to 24.5% while that of women has picked up by 16 percentage points to 22.7%.
However there is substantial disparity between higher education enrolment rates across the states. Among major states Tamil Nadu stopped the list with higher enrolment levels topping 44.8%. Others crossing the forty percent mark were city/states like Delhi (43.3%), Puducherry (45.8%), and Chandigarh (55.6%). Other major states which have high enrolment rates in higher education include Andhra Pradesh (29.9%), Himachal Pradesh (38.4%), Uttarakhand (34.9%), Manipur (38.5%) and Telangana (39.9%).
The states logged at the lower end of the enrolment spectrum were also many. They included Bihar (12.9%), Jharkhand (13.4%), Chhattisgarh (14.4%), Tripura (16.4%), Assam (16.8%), West Bengal (17.1%), Odisha (17.5%), Madhya Pradesh (19.6%) and Rajasthan (19.7%).
What is more interesting is that while the gender parity index was only 0.83 at the all India level in 2014-15 the enrolment of women exceeded that of men in 13 of the 36 states and union territories. The most important states/UTs where women enrolment exceeded that of men included Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Punjab, Uttarkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
There seems to be considerable disparities between the levels of enrolment in higher education and infrastructure facilities across the different states. Numbers show that there were 757 universities across the country in 2014-15. Of this the largest component was the state government owned universities which numbered 316 and constituted 42% of the total universities in the country.
The second biggest component was private universities which numbered 176 and constituted 23% of the total universities in the country. The other major components were private deemed universities and institutes of national importance which numbered 79 and 69 respectively constituting 10% and 9% of the total universities in the country.
States with the largest number of state government owned universities were Gujarat and Karnataka with 25 each, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 24, West Bengal with 22 and Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu with 20 universities each. In the case of private universities the largest numbers were in Rajasthan where there were 32 followed by Uttar Pradesh with 20, Gujarat with 18, Himachal Pradesh with 17 and Haryana with 16.
However, a better indicator the infrastructure facilities for higher education is provided by the number of colleges per lakh population in each state. Numbers show that the highest number of colleges per lakh population were in states like Telangana (57), Karnataka (47), Andhra Pradesh (46), Kerala (40), Himachal Pradesh (40), Maharashtra and Haryana with 35 each.
Colleges per lakh population in these states were not only much larger than 27 at the national level but also stood out when compared to the laggard states. The states with the lowest number of colleges per lakh population included Bihar (7), Jharkhand (8), Delhi (9) and West Bengal (9). However, Uttar Pradesh the most populous states showed a relatively better performance with 24 colleges per lakh population which is closer to the national average.
To sum up the trends in the last one decade show that the substantial progress in improvement of gross enrolment in higher education has been achieved with some gains in improving gender parity. However, the improvements have been skewed with a few leading states providing for a substantial part of the improvements and many of the poor states lagging far behind.