The Future of Higher-Ed Brands in India?

Ashutosh Wakankar June 11, 2017

In the last decade, India has witnessed a sudden surge in the number of higher education brands, with 1,000 colleges being set up every year since 2000. Between 2007 and 2009, 7,206 colleges were set up across the country, with Karnataka alone opening 350 colleges in one year – that adds up to almost one new college, every day.

This staggering data throws a new light on the intense competition in the higher education sector. The rapid addition of capacity has significantly brought down both costs and quality, pushing institutions to work twice as hard for half as much recognition.

The Old Order of Scarce Seats

The old sought-after schools, set up mostly by the Government or by missionary organisations, continue to maintain their appeal. These higher education brands, which include the likes of St. Stephen’s, St. Xavier’s, NLS, NID, NITs, IITs, IIMs, etc., enjoy decades of reputational advantage and continue to maintain an annual cut-off range that is above 95%. According to a recent article, the combined capacity of these sought-after institutions is approximately 100,000 seats, while the number of students in the market is over 30,000,000. For the top IITs, the selection rate lies at 0.01%. By contrast, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) selection rate is 8%. (The Hindu, June 16, 2017, Access to Excellence).

The Emerging Stars

However, a middle ground is fast emerging, thanks to the handful of new age institutions that are addressing this scarcity of quality in higher education. Ashoka, Shiv Nadar, Flame, VIT and similar universities have displayed a keen understanding of the changing aspirations of the youth. They are building institutions that not only acknowledge and accommodate these aspirations but actively encourage them. These higher education brands are redefining what it means to be institutions of excellence.

New Rules for a New Generation

One of the fundamental differences between yesterday’s higher-ed reality and today’s is the shift in focus from hard, tangible assets to soft, intangible ones.

If the older institutions are all about big, centrally located campuses, imposing buildings, and traditions as markers of status, the new ones are about focusing on digital infrastructure, branding, IP, and research.

The new-age brands are plugging into a new mindset, one that is more liberal and individualist in nature. While the older schools talk about heritage, tradition and institutional ambition, the new ones promote innovation, creativity and a more individualistic idea of what it means to be successful in life.

If the older institutions are like monuments – monolithic, stable, deeply entrenched, timeless and unchanging, the new ones are trying to be like movements – contemporary, interactive and vibrant.

The Changing Definition of Success

These new age institutions are defying the old order and forcing a new kind of conversation. It is a conversation where the role of the institutions is to empower students to shape the world they live in rather than force them to fit into an established order. Admission into the heritage-based institutions is an automatic entry into an elite club and the status it bestows. However, studying at any of the new age institutions means that the status needs to be earned through a more individualistic expression of creativity.

There are lessons to be learnt

As of now, both are coexisting, but the world is changing fast. One needs to look no further than categories like banks and premium schools to see the shift that has taken place within a generation. Today, international schools are highly sought-after, as compared to the centrally located, older institutions. In banking, the PSUs who have struggled to the move towards a digital, branch-light model are rapidly getting marginalised.

The future of higher education is a new kind of excellence- an excellence that is not driven by the scarcity of seats, but by the abundance of opportunities expanded by redefining what success means in a globalised, interconnected world.