The All-India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-20, released on Thursday, showed that Tamil Nadu’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) crossed the 50% mark — nearly double the country’s overall GER.
Tamil Nadu’s GER growth was steep from 42% in 2012-13 to a nearly 10 percentage points increase in 2019-20 to 51.4%. In contrast, India’s GER, during the same period, grew by close to six percentage points, from 21.5% to 27.1%. The State’s GER is only next to Chandigarh (52.1%) and Sikkim (75.8%).
While Tamil Nadu is certainly ahead by a wide margin in terms of enrolment in higher education, compared to almost all other States, a closer look shows that the sharp increase in recent years can be partially attributed to the decline in population in the 18-23 age group due to a declining birth rate.
According to the report, GER is arrived at by adding the total number of students enrolling in various levels of higher education, including diploma, postgraduate diploma, undergraduate, postgraduate, doctoral and certification programmes, and calculating their ratio to the total population in the 18-23 age group.
In Tamil Nadu, according to AISHE reports of previous years, the population in the age group has declined consistently. The decline between 2012-13 and 2019-20 was by (-)10.4%, from 76.5 lakh to 68.5 lakh. India’s population in this age group, meanwhile, grew marginally by 1.3% during the same period.
The sharp increase in the State’s GER being influenced by a decline in population becomes evident if the growth in the actual number of students getting enrolled is considered.
Tamil Nadu saw roughly 32.14 lakh students getting enrolled in 2012-13, which increased by 9.5% to 35.2 lakh in 2019-20. This was accompanied by a 9.6 percentage-point increase in GER.
Meanwhile, the number of students getting enrolled in India increased by 27.8% in the same period, from 3.01 crore to 3.85 crore. This was accompanied by just a 5.6 percentage point increase in GER.
Tamil Nadu also witnessed a decline in the total number of students getting enrolled twice in the past eight years, in 2015-16 and 2018-19. The last two years also witnessed a decline in the growth rate in enrolment, particularly among women and the Scheduled Castes (SC).
Though the State has done relatively better in enrolling SC and Scheduled Tribe students, their respective GERs were 39.6% and 40.7%. The GER of women has, however, improved considerably, standing at 51%.
M. Vijayabaskar, part-time member of the State Development Policy Council and Professor at MIDS, said the declining growth rate in enrolment compared to India was due to the “base effect”, as the State had already enrolled over 50% of those in the eligible age group.
“Once the enrolment numbers increase beyond a point, the growth rate will naturally decline,” said Mr. Vijayabaskar, who recently co-authored the book The Dravidian model: interpreting the political economy of Tamil Nadu.
However, he said the State should be more worried about the employment of those graduating. “We need to look at the percentage of youths who are in the ‘neither in employment, nor in training’ category, and also the quality of employment the people are getting,” he said.
“That, along with the significant disparities in the quality of education available, are the key challenges,” he said.