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India’s education industry is booming. But it’s growing in a lopsided way, economists, politicians and education experts said at a Stanford conference June 4.

Higher education has become increasingly expensive and private. Most students are concentrating their studies in specialized fields like business and engineering. There are too few universities and too many teaching vacancies in a country that’s expecting an 18 percent increase in the number of students enrolled in college by 2020.

“We’ve had rapid growth over the last 25 years,” said Naushad Forbes, director of Forbes Marshall, an India-based steam engineering company. “But the growth we’ve seen has been unbalanced. That’s thrown out a whole range of problems that need to be addressed.”

India’s education system was one of several topics discussed during a two-day forum on the country’s economic reform. And it’s at the core of the nation’s economic success.

“If you want to create national wealth, we must get enough people into the education system,” Kapil Sibal, India’s minister of Human Resource Development, said at the event hosted by the Stanford Center for International Development. “We must ensure that everyone goes to school. If you have enough numbers of children going into primary and secondary education, you’ll get the critical mass you need going into universities.”

N. K. Singh, a member of India’s parliament, said politicians are struggling with several pieces of legislation aimed at improving the country’s schools and universities.

“We need a rapid overhaul of teacher training and expansion of capacity,” he said.

But as India builds more universities and tries to attract more students and faculty to fill them, the country must be mindful of the need for variety.

“Our best chance for getting world-class universities is to grow our institutes of technology and science into full-service universities,” Forbes said. “We have to keep adding to fields in the humanities and social sciences.”

While it may seem natural to make educational investments in highly specialized fields like technology and business management, forsaking a well-rounded approach to learning would be a mistake.

“If you look at economic growth, things like improved efficiency in retailing are extremely important,” said Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel Prize winner and professor emeritus of economics and operations research.

“You need good people at every level,” he said, leading into a joke laced with irony. “Putting all of them in finance, like we do in the United States, has turned out to be a terrible disaster.”

The Stanford Center for International Development is a center within the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR)

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Also on Stanford Knowledgebase:

  1. India’s Economic Growth is Missing the Poor
  2. Shelton Challenges U.S. Business and Education Leaders to Transform Schools
  3. New Horizons and Old Problems Define Education

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