Higher education: Kerala far behind TN in key enrollment rate

Kerala Higher Education Reforms Commission Proposes Drastic Structural Changes; says the state should double plan funding for universities every five years and ensure fairness across regions

One of the reasons for Kerala’s low score could be a large number of students who travel to other states or even nations for higher education. Photo: iStock

The Gross Enrollment Rate (GER) – the ratio of enrolled students to the 18-23 age group – of Kerala is 38.8%, according to the All India Higher Education Survey 2019-20. Although this figure is higher than the national average (27%), Kerala lags far behind the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu which recorded the highest GER in the country (51.4%). Kerala ranks sixth among the major states in the ratio of students enrolled in tertiary education.

The seven-member Commission for Higher Education Reforms, headed by Dr. Shyam B Menon, former VC of Ambedkar University, has submitted an interim report to the state government, making recommendations to bring about substantial changes to the higher education sector of the state. The commission sets the target to increase the GER to 75% by 2030. Interestingly, the National Education Policy (NEP) has instituted a target of 50% GER for the country by 2030.

According to the report, a copy of which The Federal accessible, at least about 22 lakh people should be enrolled to achieve this goal. This involves an additional registration of 10.62 lakh people. The number of students enrolled as per the 2019-2020 survey is 11.38 lakh considering the GER of 38.8%.

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According to the commission, some external factors are responsible for this low enrollment rate in Kerala. A large number of students travel to other states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Delhi for higher education. This could have resulted in an increase in the GER of other states, according to the commission. Also, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of students emigrating to foreign countries like Canada and Germany for higher education.

Equity between regions and social groups

The commission recommends that there is a need to address regional inequalities in access to higher education. “There is a distinct lag in the spread of higher education in the former Malabar region compared to the Cochin and Travancore regions. Rough estimates based on 2011 population data and 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 mainly based on the growth of public colleges,” the report states.

In Malabar as well, there are variations between Kozhikkode and Kasargod. The commission finds that Kasaragod is the most underserved district in Kerala in terms of 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 left the plus-2 stream and became eligible for higher education in 2019-2020. There were only 7,246 places available at higher education institutions in the district, resulting in a shortfall of 5,343 places. The commission recommends “a targeted 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 regarding

Among scheduled caste communities, Kerala’s GER was 26.7% in 2019-20 and it was ranked 11th among major states. However, the national average was lower at 23.4%. The data shows that Kerala’s lower performance was due to a very low TBS of 18.7% in SC males compared to 34.8% in SC females. This means that men prefer to go for a job rather than higher education while women opt for higher education. Among the major states, Kerala’s rank was fifth in the women’s GER and 17th in the men’s GER. According to the commission, the low GER among SC men is a major source of concern in Kerala.

There is also a difference between males and females with regards to GER among Scheduled Tribes. According to data from 2019-2020, the GER for ST males was 19.1% while for ST females it was 28.7%. Among the major states, Kerala ranked seventh for women’s GER but 17th for men’s GER.

The commission observes that Kerala could achieve the target of 75% GER by 2030 only if special attention is given to disadvantaged sections as ST and SC communities. New educational opportunities integrating the generation of skills and employment potential for disadvantaged social groups must be created, according to the commission.

The establishment of more post-registration hostels, the establishment of an SC-ST cell in the Kerala State Board of Higher Education, the establishment of an Institute of Studies and of tribal empowerment, preferably in a district with a large tribal population like Wayanad, are some of the recommendations made by the commission in the interim report submitted to the government. The commission also suggests the introduction of a constitutionally mandatory reservation for SC-ST students for admission to doctoral programs, both by supervisor as well as by department, and, if necessary, even on a supernumerary basis.

Separation of powers

In the current scenario, the union is the most powerful organ of governance of a university in Kerala. The union is more of a political body made up of members who are somehow affiliated with the parties in power. The commission is synonymous with the reduction of the powers of the union.

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The commission recommends that there be a separation of powers between the administrative and academic aspects of governance. “There is a need to establish the primacy…of academic governance structures in a university. Resolutions passed by the Academic Council do not have to wait for union ratification and approval. The domain of the union, which is the supreme policy-making authority in the governance architecture of the university, should be clearly limited to the deliberation and approval of policy proposals,” the report states.

Improving public spending

In 2019-20, the total government expenditure on education in Kerala was Rs 22,318 crore which constituted 2.6% of the state GSDP. The total expenditure on higher education in 2019-20 was Rs 5730.8 crore which is only 0.7% of Kerala’s GSDP. The data sheds light on the reasons for Kerala’s inadequate performance in the field of higher education.

According to the Reforms Commission, the total additional expenditure required would be around Rs 15,356 crore to achieve the target of 75 per cent GER by 2030. Rs 21,087 crore. The state will have to increase spending on higher education by 14% each year over a 10-year period. The commission hopes this is an achievable goal “with careful budgetary management, mobilization of additional resources and political will”.

Sallie R. Loera