(Last Updated on : 04/06/2013)
India has a long and venerable history in the field of higher education. In ancient times, the country was known to have been home to the oldest formal universities in the world. The more striking of these ancient universities were Takshila (now in Pakistan), Nalanda (in the modern state of Bihar) and Ujjaini (in modern Madhya Pradesh). These were famous in the prehistoric world and attracted students from all parts of India, Central Asia, China and South-east Asia. The Hindu-Buddhist university of Takshila, the oldest, was probably established in sixth century B.C.. Unfortunately, Takshila University was destroyed by the White Huns (Ephthalites) around 460 A.D. In 1193, Nalanda University was sacked and totally destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji. This event not only ended the university, but was also followed by a rapid decline in the practise of Buddhism in India. In 1235, Sultan Iltutmish completely destroyed Ujjaini, a major centre for mathematics, literature, philosophy and astronomy. History of higher education in India had thus begun its journey quite with a bang, which had to face temporary hindrance in the form of outside invasion. It is significant that at exactly the same time, half-way across the world, Oxford University was being established.
The following centuries saw a few centres of Islamic and Hindu learning emerge. However, India did not produce another world-class university for several hundred years. Just like in any other sphere in daily life, it was only during British colonial rule that formal university education was revived. Modern colleges were set up in Agra, Nagpur, Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in the early nineteenth century. This introduction of Western learning, made accessible through the knowledge of English, was a very important factor that allowed the emergence of India's middle class. And this so termed 'middle class' would go on to produce legends after legends when it came to history of higher education in India. In 1857, three federal examining universities on the pattern of London University were established in the three main British-controlled cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The existing colleges were affiliated to these universities. Over the next several decades, more universities were founded and by 1947 there were 25 universities in the country.
Post Independence, history of higher education in India went through phases of rapid expansion. The number of universities in the country leapt from 25 in 1947 to 348 in 2005. Enrollment rose from 0.1 million in 1947 to 10.5 million in 2005. In present times, the country's higher educational institutions have an enrolment of 10.5 million students and turn out 2.5 million each year. Approximately 45 per cent of the students pursue degrees in the arts, 20 per cent in sciences and 18 per cent in commerce. The remaining 17 per cent are enrolled into professional courses like law and medicine. The sheer numbers may seem enormous, but that appears pretty small for a country of India's size.