Three key takeaways from AISHE report 2021-22

The Union education ministry’s annual All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report for the academic year 2021-22 highlighted a 4.58% increase in higher education enrollment and a steady improvement in female admissions. The report covers 1,162 universities, 45,473 colleges, and 12,002 stand-alone higher education institutions across the country. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) saw a hike from 23.7 in 2014-15 and 27.3 in 2020-21, to 28.4 in 2021-22.

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The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) saw a hike from 23.7 in 2014-15 and 27.3 in 2020-21, to 28.4 in 2021-22.

The ministry has been releasing AISHE reports since 2011.

The GER is the ratio of people enrolled in higher education to the population in the age group of 18-23 years. Under the National Education Policy 2020, the government aims to raise the GER by 50% by 2035. Female GER increased to 28.5% in 2021-22 from 27.9% in 2020-21 and 22.9% in 2014-15. “Female GER continues to be more than male GER for the fifth consecutive year since 2017-18,” the report said.

Here are three takeaways:

Narrowing gender gap

The representation of women in higher education is at its all-time high with 20.7 million in 2021-22, and, in fact, women constitute 48% of the total overall enrollment. Female enrolment has increased from 20 million in 2020-21 and 17.4 million in 2017-18 — an 18.7% increase in enrolment in the past five years.

Since 2014-15, the share of female enrolment is 55% of the increase in overall enrolment (9.1 million), the AISHE report noted. What this means is that there has been a higher increase in female enrolment as compared to male students.

University Grants Commission (UGC) chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar said this signifies a paradigm shift in access to higher education for female students. “It shows that the Indian education system aims to empower women to create their own paths in their career journey. Initiatives like targeted scholarships, girls’ hostels, and flexible learning options have undoubtedly played a crucial role in promoting this environment of inclusivity,” he said.

At the Ph.D. level, female enrollment comprised 47% of the total 212,000 students. In fact, female enrollment has doubled in PhDs from 47,717 in 2014-15 to 98,636 in 2021-22, the report stated.

“This surge in interest for research, particularly among women, gives great hope for the future of Indian academia and innovation. Encouraging a vibrant research ecosystem through grants, scholarships, and mentorship programs will be crucial in sustaining this momentum,” Kumar said.

Sonal Kapoor, founder director, Protsahan India Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), said, “It’s encouraging to witness more young women embracing STEM disciplines in higher education, signalling a trend towards gender inclusivity in traditionally male-dominated fields. However, the true measure of progress lies not only in enrollment numbers but also in the translation of these educational achievements into meaningful career opportunities and economic independence for young women.”

Increase in representation of SC, ST, and OBC students

The survey also highlighted an increase in enrolment of Schedule Caste (SC) students to 6.6 million in 2021-22 from 5.89 million in 2020-21 and 4.6 million in 2014-15. The enrolment of students belonging to the Schedule Tribe (ST) increased to 2.7 million in 2021-22- from 1.9 million in 2017-18 and 1.6 million in 2014-15.

The enrolment of SC female students has increased to 3.1 million in 2021-22 from 2.9 million in 2020-21 and 2.1 million in 2014-15. This shows that there has been an increase of 51% since 2014-15. In the case of ST female students, enrolment has increased to 1.3 million in 2021-22 from 1.2 million in 2020-21 and 747,000 in 2014-15. “There has been a significant increase of 80% of ST female students since 2014-15,” the report stated.

The enrolment of students from Other Backwards Communities (OBC) also increased to 16.3 million in 2021-22 from 14.2 million in 2019-20. “There is a notable increase in OBC student enrolment since 2014-15 of around 45%. In the case of OBC Female students, enrolment has increased to 78.19 lakh [7.8 million] in 2021-22 from 52.36 lakh [5.2 million] in 2014-15. There is an overall increase of 49.3% in OBC female student enrolment since 2014-15,” the report added.

“The 65.2% jump in ST students, coupled with a sharp rise in SC and OBC representation, highlights the government’s commitment to bridging the equity gap and ensuring educational opportunities reach all corners of society.

Targeted outreach programmes, affirmative action policies, and dedicated scholarships have paved the way for this positive transformation,” said UGC chairperson Kumar.

However, the recent spate of suicides, particularly of Dalit and ST students in higher education institutions like the IITs, has thrown the spotlight on the systemic changes that need to be made. In a recent article in HT Premium, Biyas Muhammed, an alumnus of IIT Madras and IIM Kozhikode, and co-founder of social sector startup Nayaneethi Policy Collective, wrote: “The skewed social demographics of faculty and students as well as the ill-informed prejudices on reservation (whether caste, backward community, gender or disability) have compromised the well-being of students from marginalised identities on the campus. Thus, institutional interventions that cater to the needs of underprivileged students in academic and non-academic spheres have to be strengthened — reservation alone is not enough.”

The upward trend in the representation of minorities

According to the report, the number of minority students enrolled for higher education in India has increased by 9.5% in the 2021-22 academic year compared to the previous year. The estimated enrolment of students belonging to minority communities in higher education institutions rose to 3 million from 2.7 million in 2020-21. In 2014-15, there were 2.1 million minority students enrolled in higher education institutions in India.

However, it’s noteworthy that in 2020-21, the representation of minority students had decreased to 2.7 million from 2.9 million in 2019-20.

Out of total minority enrolment in 2021-22, 2.1 million students or 70% belong to Muslim minority and 905,159 (30%) are from other minority communities including Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain and Zoroastrians (Parsis).

Shahid Akhter, a member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, said that several efforts have been taken by the government to create awareness among minority communities to send their children, especially girls, for higher education. “The government has also started various schemes, Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship, for minority girls, which have played an important role in this direction. The government has also focussed on its efforts to streamline the minority education institutions over the last few years. A large number of madarasas have also been empanelled with universities in recent years. Besides, there is an overall societal shift that has happened over the years creating awareness among minorities. We believe that this percentage will further increase in coming years,” he said.

Kapoor said that the increase in enrollment among minority students is a noteworthy development, reflecting an expanding access to higher education among marginalised communities. “To further enhance inclusivity and address systemic barriers faced by marginalised SC and OBC students, targeted scholarship programs that address broader issues such as discrimination, prejudice, and social stigma within educational institutions are critical. By creating inclusive and supportive learning environments, we can ensure that all students have equal opportunities to succeed and thrive in their lives,” she said.

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