Rising concern regarding the lack of credible higher education options in India has brought the sector into crisis, but as numbers of Indian students in Australia continue to decline, a partnership between both countries could be what’s needed to thwart each sector’s growing uncertainty.

For the past three decades, the Indian government has made a huge effort to boost education in the region, increasing the number of students at college or university from just 6 percent in 1983 to 18 percent in 2014.

Despite this, controversy regarding the quality of India’s educational provisions still remains; the fundamental problem being that its higher education system is dictated by a structure that emphasises quantitative extension over qualitative or administrative change.

Only 18 percent of India’s youth between the ages of 18 and 21 are currently enrolled at university, a number the government hopes to boost to 30 percent by the year 2020. In order to accommodate the expansion, there would need to be a further 14million university places to fill, extending the current 26million positions to approximately 40million.

In December 2012, the Indian government introduced a five-year higher education improvement plan to address this situation. The country joined a global movement seeking to improve higher education systems by allowing greater autonomy and accountability for the institutions themselves, while levels of government involvement would simultaneously decline.

As the Indian government remains committed to its reforms in education, Australia should be looking to expand partnerships with the region in order to address rising issues within its own HE sector.

Along with the US, the UK and Canada, Australia remains a top study destination for students across the world, but factors like the fall in the value of the Australian dollar, the  student visa crackdown, and growing reports of student exploitation in the workplace, have all contributed to the recent lack of Indian student enrolments at Australian universities. In order to restore important ties with India, Australia must boost its academic reputation among India’s most talented youth.

Between 1983 and 2013, the number of specialist engineering institutions in India grew by 20 percent a year, requiring 30 times the number of trained faculty members to meet supply and demand over the same period of time. In reality, numbers of staff merely doubled, forcing private institutions to hire staff lacking in adequate qualifications and experience.

Australia has earned a global reputation for excellence in the fields of science and engineering, with 10 institutions making the top 100 making the QS World University Rankings for Civil & Structural Engineering in 2015. If Australian universities were to partner with India’s specialist institutions in the training of these fields, Australia could once again be viewed as a desirable study destination among prospective Indian students.

Only seven Indian institutions made the top 400 in the QS World University Rankings for 2015, and none made the cut for QS’s top 100, meaning that arguably, India does not contain a single world-class university. Craig Jeffrey, Director and CEO of the Australia India Institute, argues that this is another opportunity for Australia to form important links.

“Here again there are opportunities for Australia to partner with India,” he writes for The Conversation. “For example, Monash University already has a longstanding tie-up with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, or IIT Bombay; the University of Melbourne has links with IIT Kanpur, and many others are stepping into this space.

“Using such links to encourage social science and arts teaching would be an innovative and very helpful step,” Jeffrey notes, before adding that: “Australia-India collaboration in the higher education sector is an area of enormous opportunity. Now is the time to act.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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