The Indian Government's National Knowledge Commission has proposed comprehensive reforms to tackle inequalities in higher education.
While accepting that castes and social groups contribute to disparity in educational achievement, the NKC panel urged that factors such as income, gender, region and place of residence should also be taken into account.
The proposals endorsing India's drive to modernise its higher education system won the support of Prime Minister Mammohan Singh. He asked that the NKC take a lead in implementing the reforms.
The need to challenge disparity in education was also acknowledged by R. A.
Mashelkar, President of the National Science Academy, India, who is in the UK to discuss UK-Indian partnerships. "All factors are important in deciding the extent of disadvantages that the excluded part of the population faces."
A deprivation index was recommended as a means of dealing with differences in a student's background. The index would provide weighted scores and the cumulative score would be used to supplement a student's school examination result.
The reforms support India's fundamental Right to Education Bill, which states that central legislation is required to affirm the right and that central Government should provide additional funds arising from reforms.
Tim Gore, director of education for the British Council in India, explained the drive to enlist the help of the private sector and foreign universities to increase the number of seats in higher education. "There is a Bill to regulate foreign education provision ready to pass through Parliament. This may well provide a new opportunity for UK higher education institutions to build partnerships in India."
Other NKC proposals included increasing the number of universities by 2015, from 350 to 1,500. It also called for a rise in private investment in university education and a need to strengthen vocational courses.