China vs. India - a battle of the brains

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Mumbai_2In this brave new world of knowledge-driven economies, it is a battle of the brains. And in perhaps the biggest battle of them all—China versus India—a winner is emerging. If you guessed India, I’m sorry, you get the consolation prize. China is far outstripping India in the race to expand tertiary enrollment. Data collected by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics indicate that in 2006, China achieved a gross enrollment ratio of 22 percent, compared to only 12 percent in India. Granted, raw numbers don’t take into account variations in the quality of education. Nevertheless, India is clearly a laggard at 12 percent—and perhaps even less than that, according to data from the Program for Research on Private Higher Education.

What could explain India’s poor marks? One part of the explanation is India’s ambivalent relationship with the private sector as a provider of higher education. While private higher education has grown rapidly in India, both in terms of number of institutions and enrollments, many barriers still remain. According to the Program for Research on Higher Education, there is

...a huge problem for countries like India where conviction remains widespread that education is a “public good” and should be “free.”

Coupled with this opposition to tuition is ambivalence toward the outside world. Foreign universities have taken steps to enter the Indian market, but the legal environment is vague, at best. Opponents of private education (and of foreign providers) raise legitimate concerns about guaranteeing the quality of education provided. Yet it seems that this could be dealt with appropriately through various quality assurance mechanisms, either through university associations or government regulation. The following are questions I will try to address in future posts: how should India expand access to higher education? What role can the private sector play? How should India deal with foreign providers of education? In other words, how can India compete in the battle of the brains?

PLUS: In case you missed it, just a few weeks ago the IFC held a conference on private sector involvement in education.


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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