AISHE 2021-22: Marginal Increase in Higher Education Enrollment in India Raises Questions on True Inclusivity

Examining the Real Impact of Higher Education Enrollment Numbers in India
AISHE 2021-22: Marginal Increase in Higher Education Enrollment in India Raises Questions on True Inclusivity

New Delhi- In the wake of the recently unveiled All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) for the academic year 2021-2022, the discourse on the state of higher education in India has taken center stage. Released on January 25th, the survey indicates a marginal increase in enrollment, with notable strides in female participation, Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) representation, and growth among minority communities.

While the University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairperson applauds these figures as a triumph of inclusivity, voices from student-led associations challenge the narrative, raising concerns about the ground realities and the potential limitations of relying solely on enrollment numbers to assess true inclusivity. This divergence of views sets the stage for a nuanced examination of the complexities surrounding higher education in India.

The Mooknayak talked to multiple student unions about their opinions on the survey, statement, and the actual ground reality in the universities. A common point highlighted by all the student leaders was the fact that the survey of 2021-2022 is bound to show some increase as the Covid-19 pandemic would have impacted the enrollment numbers in the 2020-2021 survey.

We reached out to Baadal from Delhi University, who is the President of Bhagat Singh Chhatra Ekta Manch. He stated, “These are not the actual representations of parameters that can be used to see if students from marginalized sections are having better access to education or not. We took admission in our institutions after looking at the fee structure of the first year, but it has been increasing ever since. It is becoming difficult for students, especially the ones from marginalized sections, to continue their education.”

The National Testing Agency (NTA), which on 30th December started the registration for the Common University Entrance Test for post-graduate programmes (CUET PG), 2024, has increased its fee by Rs 200 for all categories. The student leader opened up about it by saying, “Registration fees for the Common University Entrance Test have been increased by 25%. If they are saying enrollment has increased, we need to have a look at the class background of the students who are coming in. There is a visible class disparity, especially when we talk about Delhi University. This is not a symbol of progress. On the ground, the picture is completely different, and we believe this is not a victory for students.”

He continued, “We see students struggling to pay their fees and to survive every month. We do not have proper accommodations. The rent of PGs near institutions has increased drastically after the pandemic. Many colleges under DU do not have hostels or proper canteens.”

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Ashutosh Boddh, president of Bhim Army Student Federation (BASF), raised a question, “Considering the broader perspective, it's evident that minorities, Dalits, Bahujans, and women collectively represent a significant portion, estimated at around 85%, of the population. However, despite this substantial demographic presence, the data underscores the persistent exclusion of many from marginalized backgrounds from both school and higher education institutions. This prompts a critical inquiry: if men from certain caste-class privileges can readily access education, why do marginalized communities continue to face significant disparities and remain significantly underrepresented in educational institutions?”

The BASF leader further brought in the widespread religious celebrations that took place in central universities, which are otherwise supposed to be secular spaces. He remarked, “On 22nd January, almost every other institution was saffronized. A friend of mine opened up to me about feeling unsafe on campus due to the overtly dominating imagery of caste and religious pride. Is that what ‘inclusive spaces’ are supposed to feel like?”

Boddh added, “Not Found Suitable’ tag is being used against teachers from minority communities to remove them, and the seats are being de-reserved. I would also ask for the same survey to talk about dropout rates as well so that we can get the full picture.”

What Story Does the Data Tell?

The Government of India's Ministry of Education released the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2021-2022 on 25th January. Since 2011, the Ministry has been conducting the AISHE, which encompasses all Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) across the country registered with AISHE. This survey gathers comprehensive data on various aspects, including student enrollment, faculty members, infrastructure, among others.

In the academic year 2021-22, the total enrollment in higher education reached nearly 4.33 crore, marking an increase from 4.14 crore in the previous year. This reflects a notable rise of approximately 91 lakh from the enrollment figures of 3.42 crore recorded in 2014-15.

Female enrollment in higher education also experienced growth, with numbers reaching 2.07 crore in 2021-22, compared to 2.01 crore in 2020-21. Since 2014-15, female enrollment has increased by around 50 lakh, reflecting a significant rise of 32%.

The enrollment of Scheduled Caste (SC) students stood at 66.23 lakh in 2021-22, showcasing an increase from 46.07 lakh in 2014-15, marking a growth of 44%. Among SC female students, enrollment rose to 31.71 lakh in 2021-22 from 29.01 lakh in the previous year, and from 21.02 lakh in 2014-15, signifying a substantial increase of 51%.

Similarly, the enrollment of Scheduled Tribe (ST) students increased to 27.1 lakh in 2021-22 from 16.41 lakh in 2014-15, reflecting a growth of 65.2%. Notably, the enrollment of ST female students witnessed a significant surge, reaching 13.46 lakh in 2021-22 from 12.21 lakh in the previous year, and from 7.47 lakh in 2014-15, marking an increase of 80%.

The enrollment of Other Backward Class (OBC) students also saw an uptick, reaching 1.63 crore in 2021-22 from 1.13 crore in 2014-15, reflecting a notable increase of approximately 50.8 lakh or 45%. Similarly, the enrollment of OBC female students rose to 78.19 lakh in 2021-22 from 52.36 lakh in 2014-15, demonstrating an overall increase of 49.3% since 2014-15.

In terms of minority student enrollment, figures rose to 30.1 lakh in 2021-22 from 21.8 lakh in 2014-15, indicating a growth of 38%. Female minority student enrollment also increased to 15.2 lakh in 2021-22 from 10.7 lakh in 2014-15, marking a rise of 42.3%.

Lastly, the total student enrollment in North East states reached 12.02 lakh in 2021-22, compared to 9.36 lakh in 2014-15. Notably, female enrollment in North East states surpassed male enrollment, reaching 6.07 lakh in 2021-22, compared to 5.95 lakh for males.

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