Curriculum challenges in the Indian Higher Education system

By Riya Jain & Priya Chetty on January 4, 2023

The Indian higher education sector shows a promising outlook for the next decade. The government has laid out ambitious goals to transform education in India. It aims to increase enrolments, which presently hovers at 27%, to 50% by 2035. However, these goals cannot be achieved unless we confront the problem of outdated curriculums which have impaired higher education insitutions’ ability to match industry standards. Numerous studies talk about this problem in the Indian context.

What is the curriculum problem in Indian higher education institutions?

The pace of technological and societal change has increased in recent years, which means that the information and skills that were relevant in the past may no longer be as applicable today. Additionally, higher education institutions find it difficult to keep up with these changes in a timely manner, which can lead to their curricula becoming outdated. Moreover, curricula are often developed by committees or academic departments, which can make it difficult to implement changes quickly. Finally, there may be institutional or financial barriers to updating curricula, such as the need to purchase new materials or the reluctance to change established programs.

The objective of this article is to review key studies describing curriculum-related problems in the Indian higher education sector. We performed a text analysis of 49 key research papers on the issues and challenges in the Indian higher education sector published after 2018. The purpose of the text analysis was to identify the common terminologies used for presenting the problems with the curriculum. NVIVO software was used for this examination and analysis revealed the following word cloud.

Word cloud for Indian higher education system challenges
Word cloud for Indian higher education system challenges

The words ‘vocational’, ‘industry’, ‘technology’, ‘integration’, ‘quality’, ‘traditional’, ‘outdated’, ‘standards’, ‘opportunities’, ‘flexibility’, ‘interdisciplinary’, and ‘jobs’ were the most commonly occurring in the studies pertaining to issues in higher education curriculums. A detailed examination of these issues is shown in the figure below.

Nodes compared by the number of items coded
Nodes compared by the number of items coded

Skill development is not prioritised

In the post-industrial era, the skillset obtained by an individual during their university or college was relevant for their lifetime i.e. suppose a civil engineer is trained in courses then that engineer during his entire life would work in manufacturing facilities. But now, continuously evolving technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence create the need to use operating and business models for changing workforce requirements. A vast majority of Indian institutions have not yet integrated them in their curriculums. Human skills like negotiation, communication, critical thinking and relationship building are also some key skills required for career building; thus their integration into the curriculum is a must.

About 72% of the students also believe that faculties need training for delivering technology-based lectures. This has resulted in reducing the Indian curriculum benchmark against global standards and the failure of students to survive the competitive marketplace. For instance, QS World Rankings for top universities in 2023 revealed that the first Indian university to feature the list is IISc Bangalore at rank 155. Only 9 Indian universities made it to the ‘top 500 universities in the world’ list (Altbach, 2022).

Lack of diversity in higher education curriculums

Diversity in the Indian higher education curriculums is important because it can provide students with a more well-rounded and comprehensive education. It exposes students to a wide range of subjects, disciplines, and perspectives, which can help to broaden their horizons and provides them with the skills and knowledge needed to think critically and creatively, solve problems, and adapt to changing workplace situations.

A good example of a diverse curriculum is multidisciplinary courses. Multidisciplinary courses draw on multiple disciplines or fields of study in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of a particular topic. They can be found in a variety of fields, such as the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, and professional fields such as business, education, and engineering. For example, a course on global health that draws on disciplines such as public health, medicine, sociology, anthropology, and political science in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of global health issues and challenges.

However, there are barely 2 universities in India offering multidisciplinary courses. This lack of diversity could limit students’ exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking. The National Education Policy 2020, therefore, outlines them as one of the goals.

Vocational courses are sparse

In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, the government has no role in deciding curricula. Universities are free to decide their course offerings, pedagogies and contents. However, in India, regulatory bodies like AICTE and UGC oversee universities’ functioning. They have focused on quantity rather than the quality of course offerings, preventing universities from exploring other areas of interest like vocational courses (Tobenkin, 2022). Vocational courses are designed to prepare people for specific trades, crafts, or professions. They focus on teaching practical skills and knowledge that can be applied directly in the workplace, like welding, carpentry, automotive repair, cosmetology, nursing, and computer programming. Therefore, one of the goals of the NEP is to emphasise vocational courses in order to boost employability.

Lack of quality research in the Indian higher education

India’s lack of emphasis on research & development is well known. For years it has caused deterioration in the quality of research which has a spillover effect on the effectiveness of course curriculums. The growing number of predatory or fake journals is a testament to this fact; India is home to the greatest number of predatory journal publications in the world (Sinha, 2019). (Jayanth, 2019) called it a “mushrooming business” due to the convenience it offers to researchers, PhD scholars and Masters’ students:  publication within a few days, without any peer review and fact-checking. The main reason for this was identified as the UGC’s mandatory requirement of having at least two publications in order to be awarded a PhD degree. Due to poor quality of research, Indian higher education has faced negative impacts like the spread of misinformation and the use of flawed or unreliable sources in course materials. Poor quality research also makes it more difficult for educators to effectively design and teach courses, and develop effective teaching strategies and materials. This negatively impacts student learning outcomes.

Curriculums lack flexibility and uniformity

As explained before, the Indian higher education system is very rigid. Higher education courses here are highly structured, with a set curriculum and course requirements that students must follow. This makes it difficult for students to tailor their education to their individual needs and interests. Another reason for the lack of flexibility is the focus on rote learning and memorization rather than critical thinking and problem-solving. However, there is also a lack of uniformity in the quality of courses due to private institutions which function independently of agencies like the UGC. They have their own unique approaches to teaching, making it difficult for students to have a consistent educational experience and for employers to know what to expect from graduates of different institutions. Other reasons for the lack of flexibility include:

  • Lack of elective options which are courses that students can choose to take in addition to their required courses. This makes it difficult for them to specialize in a field.
  • Lack of experiential learning like internships, apprenticeships, and other hands-on learning opportunities which help develop practical skills
  • Limited access to online education, makes it difficult for students who cannot attend a traditional brick-and-mortar institution to access higher education.

Curriculums are outdated and inadequate

In addition to the lack of emphasis on skills and flexibility in curriculums, Indian universities are slow to adopt new technologies and teaching methods (Times of India, 2021). One of the reasons for this is the limited financial and human resources available at their disposal. Technologies like IoT (Internet of Things) save costs in the long run, increase productivity, and improve quality and efficiency. They reduce the need for human intervention in mechanical processes like data and knowledge transfer. Other examples are Learning Management Systems (LMS), virtual classrooms, online course materials, educational software, educational apps, and Virtual/ Augmented Reality which allow users to interact with digital content in immersive, interactive ways. In education, they can be used for simulations and virtual field trips.

In addition to this, Indian universities must also battle societal attitudes in India that place a greater emphasis on traditional academic subjects and less on practical, hands-on learning, making it harder for them to keep curricula up-to-date.

Lack of faculty support in the Indian higher education

Sometimes faculty resist modifying the syllabus because they need to constantly update their skills too. This is because of (Tagg, 2012):

  • Time and resources: Implementing curriculum changes can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially if it involves developing new course materials or learning new technologies. Faculty members resist change if they feel they do not have the time or resources, especially because they are too involved in administrative (non-teaching) activities.
  • Familiarity and comfort from teaching a particular curriculum for a long time makes them resistant to change.
  • Concerns about quality: Faculty members may be concerned that constant curriculum changes could lead to a decline in the quality of education being provided. They worry that changes are being made for the sake of change, rather than because they will actually improve the educational experience for students.
  • Loss of autonomy: Faculty want to be a part of the decision-making process. They dislike loss of autonomy and a feeling of being disempowered.

Due to this, universities are resorting to newer ways of updating curricula, i.e. by including the local community. For example, the Zoology department of Mumbai University recently included Zoology students designing in the curriculum as this would make students choose what they want to study (Ravindran, 2022). Large-scale changes are taking place too, with the NEP 2022 laying policies for the inclusion of many skill-based programs and 4-year undergraduate programs wherein skills enhancement is the main priority. However, unless the above problems are addressed, Indian higher education institutions will fail to meet the needs of the job market and enhance students’ educational experience.

References

  • Altbach, P. G. (2022). India’s higher education is opening up . But is it ready ? University World News.
  • Jayanth, A. (2019, December 9). Mad rush towards predatory journals. The Hindu.
  • Ravindran, N. (2022). Is India ’ s Higher Education Outdated ?
  • Sinha, P. (2019, January 21). Indian academics lead the world in publishing in fake journals – tarring the whole education sector. Scroll.
  • Tagg, J. (2012, January). Why Does the Faculty Resist Change? Change The Magazine of Higher Learning, 6–15.
  • Times of India. (2021, May 27). “India very slow to adopt newer tech when compared to nations like US, Australia.” The Times of India.
  • Tobenkin, D. (2022). India’s Higher Education Landscape. NAFSA.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).

 

I am a master's in Economics from Amity University. Having a keen interest in Econometrics and data analysis, I was a part of the Innovation Project of Daulat Ram College, Delhi University. My core expertise and interest are in environment-related issues. Apart from academics, I love music and exploring new places.

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