Economic growth and higher education in India and China

Author: Ranjit Goswami, RK University

In the early 1980s, India had quantitatively and qualitatively more infrastructure than China. Until last decade, India’s higher education outperformed its Chinese counterpart — both quantitatively and qualitatively — and China retained its long-term lead in primary education. But the situation is altogether different today, as China now dominates in ‘soft infrastructure’ areas too, which include higher education.

Higher Education development in India and China closely parallels their economic growth over the last couple of decades. Higher education in India struggles with moderate reactive growth, whereas China achieves higher growth and is proactive in its goals; in no small measure, this derives from the fact that the Chinese system is more directly focused on quality than India’s.

China is a unique case in higher education development. In 2010 China achieved a Gross Enrollment Ratio of 30 per cent in higher education, up from an abysmally low 3–4 per cent in 1990. India barely improved its enrollment ratio in the same 20-year period, moving from less than 10 per cent up to 15 per cent enrollment. But these figures are somewhat misleading because they do not clearly show the effects of India’s population, which is younger than China’s. Fifty per cent of India’s population is under 25 years of age and thus has not yet entered the tertiary sector. This is reflected in UNESCO figures (Fig. 2 showing primary level enrollment in India and China 160 million and 100 million in 2010 respectively, and showing tertiary level enrollment in India and China at 15 million and 30 million in 2010 respectively; and the projections do match with actual, barring primary enrollment in India, which is little less). Effectively, at primary school level enrollments, India has nearly 60 per cent higher enrollment than China, whereas in tertiary level enrollments, India has almost half of those of China.

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