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Evolution of Higher Learning and Research in Post Independence India

Evolution of Higher Learning and Research in Post-independence India
Evolution of Higher Learning and Research in Post independence India

Evolution of Higher Learning and Research in Post Independence India: Our country has always been identified as knowledge hub since the beginning of human civilization. Indian higher education system has been witnessing metamorphic changes and challenges through the years, i.e., from the ancient Gurukul system to the modern technology-based learning system have changed the life of millions of people.

This is evident from centres of learning which existed in the 7th century BC were the Buddhist monasteries and in the 3rd century AD was Nalanda (Perkin, 2006). Few of these centres were very large having several faculties. Invasions and disorder in the country have extinguished the ancient Indian education system. Britishers brought western and secular education, with an emphasis on scientific inquiry, to India.

To eradicate such prevailing systems in the pre-independence era. Many commissions were set up to propose recommendations to make a change in the educational system.

UNIT X – Higher Education System (Click below on the topic to read the study notes)

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Evolution of Higher Learning and Research in Post Independence India

After independence, India legally delegated all powers regarding education to the provincial governments which laid more stress on the objective of increasing access than quality. As per the recommendation of the Sarkar Committee (1945), higher technical institutes were formed based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the four regions of India.

This resulted in the setting up of the five Indian Institutes of Technology at Kharagpur (1950), Bombay (1958), Kanpur (1959), Madras (1960) and Delhi (1961). The All India Council for Technical Education was set up in 1945, to oversee all technical education (diploma, degree and post-graduate) in the country. Under the able leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Government of India set up the University Education Commission (UEC) under the chairmanship of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in 1948.

The UEC discussed all aspects of university education, and based on its recommendation, the University Grants Commission (UGC) was set up in 1953 for the coordination of development and maintenance of standards in higher education. UGC became a statutory organization by the act of parliament in 1956.

Since then, UGC has been effectively contributing to the Indian higher education system, framing appropriate policies needed to reform and revamp the higher education system. The Nehruvian Period (1947-1964) was more focused on large-scale industrialization which thereby gave impetus to the growth of higher technical institutions, but with Indira Gandhi taking over in 1964, the focus shifted to poverty and rural issues and the same tone is seen to be reflected in education as well.

Set up in 1964, under the chairmanship of D.S. Kothari, the Education Commission (Kothari Commission) submitted its report in 1966 which set in motion the National Policy on Education (NPE) in 1968, still considered to be a landmark event in the history of India. The NPE became the basis of reforms that helped strengthen the higher education system in India.

Another important development that followed was the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, (as a part of the Centralization Agenda of Indira Gandhi during internal Emergency) which made Education a concurrent subject in Indian Constitution, that is, now education became a joint responsibility of the central and the state governments, while earlier it was solely in the hands of the state governments.

All this while, the Planning Commission (established in 1950 by Nehru) with the Prime Minister as the ex-officio chairman, has formulated its five-year plans and the chief recommendations (with respect to higher education) of the first six five-year plans are presented in the following table.

Five-Year Plans covering the period 1951-1985

(Focused on Evolution of Higher Learning and Research in India)

Five-Year PlanMajor strides in the area of higher education
First FYP (1951-1956)✔ UGC was set up in 1953 for proper funding, development and quality maintenance in higher education

✔ Five Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) were started as major technical institutions.

Second FYP (1956-1961)

✔ With an overall shift in focus from agriculture to manufacturing, more stress was laid on setting up of technical and professional institutes to produce skilled manpower

✔ The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was established as a research institute

✔ Eleven Rural Institutes were established to educate the rural youth

Third FYP


✔ Rapid increase in the number of universities and colleges led to the deterioration of quality. Thus, UGC tried to introduce reforms in the institutions through improvement in the teacher-pupil ratio, introduction of post-graduate courses, improvements in libraries, laboratories and other infrastructures

✔ Larger facilities were provided for diverting students to vocational and technological education

Fourth FYP (1969-1974)

✔ Main emphasis was on consolidation and improvement of higher education through the strengthening of staff and library and laboratory facilities.

✔ Affiliated colleges which provide education to more than 88 per cent of the university students were helped.

✔ Assistance for fuller development given to a few colleges selected on the basis of their achievements, existing facilities and potentialities.

Fifth FYP (1974-1978)

✔ Fostering equity by providing additional facilities to weaker sections of society and the backward areas

✔ Expansion of facilities through evening colleges and correspondence courses

✔ Strengthening post-graduate and research by developing centres of advanced study

✔ Introduction of programmes of faculty development, like summer institutes, seminars and orientation programmes.

Sixth FYP (1980-1985)

✔ Low emphasis on expansion

✔ Greater priority to improvement of quality of higher education

✔ Regulation of admission

✔ Stress on equity by assisting the disadvantaged groups

✔ Restructuring of courses for practical orientation and greater relevance

As may be noticed above, the shift in focus from agriculture to manufacturing in the Second Plan led to a parallel shift in emphasis from elementary education to higher and higher technical education. This trend continued for quite some time, until the mid-1980s when the bias against school education was recognized.

Thus, came the watershed year 1986, when PM Rajiv Gandhi-led Government of India decided to launch the long-pending revision of the 1968 National Policy on Education in order to prepare India to face challenges of the 21ST century.

The National Policy on Higher Education (1986) translated the vision of Radhakrishnan Commission and Kothari Commission in five main goals for higher education, which include Greater Access, Equal Access (or Equity), Quality and Excellence, Relevance and Value-Based.

The NPE of 1986 revamped the higher education system by its recommendations of expansion of Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs), development of autonomous colleges, redesigning of courses, enhancing quality research, training of teachers, increasing coordination between national and state-level bodies, fostering mobility between institutions.

In 1992, the policy was revised by a committee under Janardhana Reddy, recommending planned development of higher education through different measures. The Action Plan of 1992 included schemes and programs which were directed towards the expansion of intake capacity in general, and that of the disadvantaged groups such as the poor, SC, ST, minorities, girls, the physically challenged persons, and those in the educationally backward regions, in particular. The Schemes/Programmes were designed to improve the quality through strengthening academic and physical infrastructure, to promote excellence in those institutions which have exhibited potential for excellence, and to develop curriculum to inculcate right values among the youth.

Summary and journey of Higher education from 1986 to 2015

Five-Year Plans covering the period 1986-2014

Five-Year PlanMajor strides in the area of higher education
Seventh FYP (1985-90)✔ More stress on speedy implementation of various reforms already initiated

✔ Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) was established✔ Emphasis on quality and equity

Eighth FYP (1992-97)

✔ After a period (1989-91) of political instability, this plan highlighted several weaknesses such as substandard institutions, outdated curriculum, lack of research

✔ Focus on integrated and cost-efficient higher education without compromising excellence and equity✔ An information and library network “INFLIBNET” was proposed.

Ninth FYP (1997-2002)✔ Focused on the deterioration of quality, the resource crunch and the problems of governance in higher education

✔ Stress on enhancing access and equity ✔ Target to grant autonomous status to 10% of eligible colleges

Tenth FYP (2002-2007)

✔ Target to raise the enrolment in higher education of the 18-23 year age group from the present 6 per cent to 10 per cent by the end of the Plan period through strategies of increasing access, quality, adoption of state-specific strategies and the liberalization of the higher education system

✔ Emphasis on the relevance of the curriculum, vocationalization, and networking on the use of information technology

Eleventh FYP


✔ As a wake-up call to prolonged neglect of higher education, the GOI set targets for the massive expansion

✔ Also, inclusion and rapid movement in quality by enhancing public spending, encouraging private initiatives and initiating the long-overdue major institutional and policy reforms✔ Improve quality by working on a detailed reforms agenda including a) admission, curriculum and assessment; b) accreditation & ratings; c) teachers competence and motivation; and d) restructure affiliated colleges and research for policy formulation.✔ Establish 30 new Central Universities, 16 in States where they do not exist and 14 as World-Class Universities, 8 new IITs, 7 new IIMs, 10 new NITs, 3 IISERs (Indian Institutes of Science, Education and Research), 20 IIITs and 2 new SPAs (School of Planning and Architecture)

Twelfth FYP (2012-2014)

Planning Commission has been abolished in 2014 to usher in the NITI AAYOG

✔ Plans for inclusive expansion brought in under the RUSA (Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan) which would include up-gradation of autonomous and A-rated colleges into universities, increasing the intake capacity of existing higher education institutions, encouraging existing universities to start undergraduate programmers or integrated UG-PG programme; and creation of small, affiliating College Cluster Universities at the regional level

✔ Other steps would be to promote equal access to quality

(Focused on Evolution of Higher Learning and Research in India)

Current Scenario of Higher Education in India

Higher Education sector has witnessed a tremendous increase in the number of Universities/University level Institutions & Colleges since Independence. The number of Universities has increased 50 times from 20 in 1950 to 993 in 2019. The sector boasts of 50 Central Universities of which 43 are under the purview of Ministry of Human Resource Development, 409 State Universities, 349 State Private universities, 127 Deemed to be Universities, 95 Institutions of National Importance (established under Acts of Parliament) under MHRD and four Institutions (established under various State legislations). The number of colleges has also registered a manifold increase of 84 times with just 500 in 1950 growing to 41,901 as on 31st March 2020.

At present, the main categories of University/University-level Institutions are Central Universities, State Universities, Deemed-to-be Universities and University-level institutions. These are described as follows:

Central University: A university established or incorporated by a Central Act.

State University: A university established or incorporated by a Provincial Act or by a State Act.

Private University: A university established through a State/Central Act by a sponsoring body viz. A Society registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860, or any other corresponding law for the time being in force in a State or a Public Trust or a Company registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956.

Deemed-To-Be University: An Institution Deemed to be University, commonly known as Deemed University, refers to a high-performing institution, which has been so declared by Central Government under Section 3 of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Act, 1956.

Institution of National Importance: An Institution established by Act of Parliament and declared as Institution of National Importance.

Institution Under State Legislature Act: An Institution established or incorporated by a State Legislature Act.

Important Institutions dealing with Higher Education

The following institutions or organisation are responsible for Higher education (also, School Education) and research in India.

University Grants Commission (UGC)

The University Grants Commission is a statutory organization established by an Act of Parliament in 1956 for the coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of university education. Apart from providing grants to eligible universities and colleges, the Commission also advises the Central and State Governments on the measures which are necessary for the development of Higher Education. It functions from New Delhi as well as its Seven Regional offices located in Bangalore, Bhopal, Delhi, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Pune.

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi

NCERT is an organisation set up by the Government of India, with headquarters located at Sri Aurbindo Marg in New Delhi, to assist and advise the central and state governments on academic matters related to school education. It was established in 1961.

Inter-University Centres (IUCs)

The UGC establishes autonomous Inter-University Centres within the university system under Clause 12(ccc) of the UGC Act. The objectives for setting up these centres are:

  • To provide common advanced centralized facilities/services for universities which are not able to invest heavily in infrastructure and other inputs.
  • To play a vital role in offering the best expertise in each field to teachers and researchers across the country.
  • To provide access to research and teaching community to the state-of-the-art equipment and excellent library facilities which are comparable to international standards.

The Nuclear Science Centre at New Delhi (now called Inter-University Accelerator Centre) was the first research centre established in 1994. As of today, six Inter-University Centres are functioning within the university system, which is as follows:

Councils for Higher Education and Research

1. Indian Council Of Social Science Research (ICSSR), New Delhi

The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) was established in 1969 for promoting social science research, strengthening different disciplines, improving quality and quantum of research and its utilization in national policy formulation. To realize these objectives, the ICSSR envisaged development of institutional infrastructure, identifying research talents, formulating research programmes, supporting professional organizations and establishing linkages with social scientists in other countries. The ICSSR provides maintenance and development grants to various Research Institutes and Regional Centres across the country. Regional Centres have been set-up as extended arms of the ICSSR to support research and development of local talents and its programmes and activities in a decentralized manner.

Since 1976, the ICSSR has been carrying out surveys of research in different disciplines of social sciences.

With a view to give special emphasis to the promotion of social science research in the North Eastern Region, initiatives have been taken in the ICSSR to support research proposals and other activities.

2. Indian Council Of Philosophical Research (ICPR), New Delhi

Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR) was set up in 1977 by the Ministry of Education, Government of India as an autonomous organization for the promotion of research in Philosophy and allied discipline. The ICPR was born out of the conviction that Indian philosophy tradition deserves to have an exclusive and special agency in the country.

The Council has a broad-based membership comprising of distinguished philosophers, social scientists, representatives of the University Grants Commission, Indian Council of Social Science Research, Indian Council of Historic Research, Indian National Science Academy, the Central Government and the Government of Uttar Pradesh. The Governing Body (GB) and the Research Project Committee (RPC) are the main authorities of the council. These bodies are vested with well-defined powers and functions.

3. Project Of History Of Indian Science, Philosophy & Culture (PHISPC)

PHISPC was launched in the year 1990 under the aegis of Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR) with the basic objective of undertaking inter-disciplinary study so that inter-connection between Science, Philosophy and Culture as developed in the long history of Indian civilization, could be brought out in detail. From April 1, 1997, PHISPC was officially de-linked from Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR) for a greater autonomy to complete the project by the stipulated period and is now affiliated to Centre for Studies in Civilizations (CSC). Government of India has recognized CSC as the nodal agency for the purposes of funding the ongoing research project, PHISPC.

4. Indian Council Of Historical Research (ICHR), New Delhi

Indian Council of Historical Research is an autonomous organization which was established under the Societies Registration Act (Act XXI of 1860) in 1972. The prime objectives of the Council are to give a proper direction to historical research and to encourage and foster objective and scientific writing of history. The broad aims of the Council are to bring historians together, provide a forum for the exchange of views between them, and give a national direction to an objective and rational presentation interpretation of history, to sponsor historical research programmes and projects and to assist institutions and organizations engaged in historical research. It has a broad view of history so as to include in its fold the history of Science and Technology, Economy, Art, Literature, Philosophy, Epigraphy, Numismatics, Archaeology, Socio-Economic formation processes and allied subjects containing strong historical bias and contents.

The ICHR has established two Regional Centres, one at Bangalore and the other at Guwahati with a view to reaching out the far-flung areas of the country.

5. National Council of Rural Institutes (NCRI), Hyderabad

The National Council of Rural Institute is a registered autonomous society fully funded by the Central Government. It was established on October 19, 1995, with its Headquarters at Hyderabad. Its main objectives are to promote rural higher education on the lines of Mahatma Gandhi’s vision for education so as to take up challenges of micro-planning for the transformation of rural areas as envisaged in National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986. In order to achieve its objectives, the NCRI has been identifying various programmes for providing support and financial assistance, to be taken up by suitable institutions including voluntary organizations.

Refs: Sen, D. (2016). Higher education policies: The Indian experience since Independence. Higher education, 1(10).

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