Higher education: Kerala far behind TN in key enrolment ratio

Higher education reforms commission of Kerala comes up with suggestions for drastic structural changes; says state should double the plan funding for universities every five years and ensure equity across regions

College campus
Among reasons for Kerala's low score could be a large number of students going to other states, and even nations, for higher studies. Pic: iStock

The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) — the ratio of enrolled students to 18-23 age group — of Kerala is 38.8 per cent, according to the All-India Survey on Higher Education 2019-20. Though this figure is above the national average (27 per cent), Kerala stands far behind the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu which recorded the highest GER in the country (51.4 per cent). Kerala is in the sixth position among the larger states with regard to the ratio of students enrolling for higher education.

The seven-member commission for reforms in higher education, headed by Dr Shyam B Menon, the former V-C of Ambedkar University, has submitted an interim report to the state government, making recommendations to bring substantial changes in the state’s higher education sector. The commission sets the goal to enhance the GER to 75 per cent by 2030. Interestingly, the National Education Policy (NEP) has instituted a target of 50 per cent GER for the country by 2030.

According to the report, a copy of which The Federal accessed, at least about 22 lakh persons would have to be enrolled to achieve this target. This implies an additional enrolment of 10.62 lakh persons. The number of students enrolled as per 2019-20 survey is 11.38 lakh, given the GER of 38.8 per cent.

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According to the commission, there are some external factors that cause this low enrolment rate in Kerala. A large number of students go to other states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Delhi for higher studies. This might have resulted in an increase in the GER of other states, according to the commission.  Moreover, in the last few years, there has been a surge in the number of students migrating to foreign countries like Canada and Germany for higher education.

Equity across regions and social groups

The commission recommends that there is a need to address regional inequalities in access to higher education. “There is a clear backwardness in the spread of higher education in the erstwhile Malabar region compared to the Cochin and Travancore regions. Rough estimates based on population data from 2011 and the number of colleges in 2019-20 show that the average population (all age groups) per college was 135,619 in Travancore, 135,961 in Cochin and 185,521 in Malabar. While private colleges have played a catalytic role in Travancore and Cochin, higher education in Malabar is primarily based on the growth of government colleges,” the report says.

Within Malabar too, there are variations when it comes from Kozhikkode to Kasargod . The commission finds that Kasaragod is the most poorly served district in Kerala with respect to the average population per college, followed by Malappuram, Kannur and Palakkad. The average population per college in Kasaragod is poorer than the State average, which is 217,100 while the state average stood at 153,860.

In Kasaragod, 12,589 students passed out of the plus-2 stream and became eligible for higher education in 2019-20. There were only 7,246 seats available in the higher educational institutions in the district, resulting in the deficit of 5,343 seats. The commission recommends ‘a focused effort to increase the spread of colleges in the Malabar region, especially in the more backward districts like Kasaragod, Malappuram, Kannur and Palakkad’.

Withdrawal of SC-ST students concerning

Among scheduled castes communities, Kerala’s GER was 26.7 per cent in 2019-20 and it was ranked 11th among the major states. The national average was, however, lower at 23.4 per cent. Data show Kerala’s inferior performance was because of a very low GER of 18.7 per cent among SC men, compared to 34.8 per cent among SC women. This means that men prefer to go for employment rather than higher studies while the women go for higher studies. Among the major states, Kerala’s rank was fifth in female GER and 17th in male GER. The poor GER among SC men is a major source of concern in Kerala, according to the commission.

There’s difference between men and women with regard to GER among the scheduled tribes too. According to the 2019-20 data, the GER for ST men was 19.1 per cent while for ST women it was 28.7 per cent. Among major states, Kerala ranked seventh in female GER but 17th in male GER.

The commission observes that Kerala could achieve the targeted 75 per cent GER by 2030 only if special focus is given to the disadvantaged sections as ST and SC communities. New educational opportunities incorporating skill generation and employment potential for the under privileged social groups have to be created, according to the commission.

The establishment of more post-matriculation hostels, creation of an SC-ST Cell in the Kerala State Higher Education Council, the establishment of an institute for tribal studies and enablement, preferably in a district with a large tribal population like Wayanad, are some of the recommendations given by the commission in the interim report submitted to the government. The commission also suggests introduction of constitutionally mandated reservation for SC-ST students for admission to PhD programmes, both per supervisor as well as per department, and, if necessary, even in a supernumerary manner.

Separation of powers

In the current scenario, syndicate is the most powerful body in the governance of a university in Kerala. The syndicate is more a political body consisting of members who are somehow affiliated to the ruling parties. The commission stands for reducing the powers of the syndicate.

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The commission recommends that there should be separation of powers between the administrative and the academic strands of governance. “There is a need to establish the primacy… of the academic governance structures in a university. The resolutions adopted by the academic council need not wait for the ratification and approval of the syndicate. The domain of the syndicate, which is the paramount policy making authority in the university’s governance architecture, should be clearly restricted to the deliberation and approval of proposals regarding policies,” the report says.

Enhancing public expenditure

In 2019-20, the total public expenditure on education in Kerala was Rs 22,318 crore, which constituted 2.6 per cent of the GSDP of the state. The total spending on higher education in 2019-20 was Rs 5730.8 crore, which constitutes only 0.7 per cent of the GSDP of Kerala. The data throws light on the reasons for Kerala’s inadequate performance in the field of higher education.

According to the reforms commission, the total additional spending required would be about Rs 15,356 crore for achieving the goal of 75 per cent GER by 2030. In other words, from the present Rs 5,731 crore, the public spending on higher education must rise to about Rs 21,087 crore. The state will have to enhance the expenditure on higher education by 14 per cent every year over a period of 10 years. The commission is hopeful that this is an achievable target “with some careful budgetary management, extra resource mobilisation and political will.”

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