India signs $300 mn loan agreement with World Bank for MP education project

India on Tuesday signed an agreement with the World Bank for a $300 million loan for Madhya Pradesh Higher Education Quality Improvement Project that would help improve learning outcomes for over 3 million students in Madhya Pradesh.

The $300-million credit, agreement for which was signed by government of India, government of Madhya Pradesh and the World Bank on Tuesday, will be utilised in select government-run higher education institutions in Madhya Pradesh, particularly for the benefit of disadvantaged groups.

The project will also help increase the overall effectiveness of the higher education system in Madhya Pradesh.

The credit agreement for the project was signed by Raj Kumar, joint secretary, Department of Economic Affairs on behalf of the government of India; K K Singh, principal secretary, Department of Higher Education, on behalf of the government of Madhya Pradesh and Onno Ruhl, World Bank country director, India, on behalf of the World Bank.

''The focus on improving higher education will not only help MP accelerate its social and economic development but also exemplify the government of India's thrust on increasing the supply of high skilled workers to drive the economy,'' said Raj Kumar, joint secretary, department of economic affairs in the union finance ministry.

Higher education in India has expanded rapidly. Enrollment has more than doubled from 8.4 million students in 2001 to 17 million students in 2011. Of these, nearly 10 per cent or 1.6 million higher education students are enrolled in university or colleges in Madhya Pradesh.

While the state's Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) of 19.5 in higher education is close to the national average of 21.1 per cent, in the age group 18 to 23 years, only 13.1 per cent of scheduled caste students and 7.5 per cent of scheduled tribe students are enrolled in higher education. There are major concerns over quality too. A recent World Bank study finds that employers are most likely to reject newly graduated engineers for poor technical skills. Over 77 per cent of employers in MP said weak technical skills were the most important reasons for rejecting a job applicant.

''The project will support the implementation of the government of Madhya Pradesh's vision for the higher education sector and focus on improving the quality of learning, employability and research in higher education institutions in Madhya Pradesh,'' said K K Singh, principal secretary, Department of Higher Education, government of Madhya Pradesh.
About 3.6 million students, 10,800 academic staff and 1,400 administrators and officers in nearly 200 government colleges and universities are expected to directly benefit from the project.

''By focusing on good quality education for higher learning, extending scholarships to disadvantaged students, and improving resources available for teaching, learning and research, we hope the project will help produce a labour force that has the required skills and knowledge to boost the state's economy and lift many out of poverty,'' said Onno Ruhl, World Bank country director in India.

The main thrust of the project will be to help government colleges and universities to effectively use institutional grants in improving the quality of higher education, provide equitable access to education for all and ensure better capacity utilization, as well as include activities aimed at making students more employable. The project will also help create centers of excellence in select colleges and university departments to prepare best practice teaching-learning and research in a particular area.

Other strategic interventions of the project are to provide financial support to disadvantaged and meritorious students through scholarships; upgrade qualifications and skills of new and existing faculty members through a state institute for higher education training and research; and extend technical assistance to government-run higher education institutions to gain accreditation with the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).

The project will also strengthen the governance structures of government colleges with clear mandates on governance and accountability.