The Indian higher education sector has undergone massive expansion, though not uniformly, during the six and half decades following independence. There were only 0.26 million students in higher education in 750 colleges and 30 universities in India in 1950–1951. This has increased to about 20.29 million students in 35.5 thousand colleges and 700 universities in 2012–2013. With this, India has grown into one of the largest systems of higher education in the world.
The overwhelming increase in the higher education institutions (particularly after the post-liberalization period) is mainly due to the intervention of the private sector. Considering the inability of the government to invest further in technical education, and given the growing demand for engineering graduates, opening up of institutions became an inevitable choice. The enrolment in higher education in India went up by four times, whereas in engineering education it increased by nine times during this period.
But there is a significant change in the character of private partners in higher and technical education in India. In the 1950s and the 1960s, people with some money used to donate their money to public institutions or set up philanthropy-based private schools and colleges; today, though, those with even a small fraction of that money prefer to set up a private, self-financing college or university. The investment in higher education institutions is found to be the most rewarding, yielding quick and very high pay-offs, with minimum risk. The philanthropy and charity motives of investing in higher education have been replaced with profit and commercial interests.
Many private institutions in technical and engineering education though described de jure as charitable or not-for-profit institutions, are de facto profit-making institutions. These institutions have largely contributed to vulgar forms of commercialization in technical education in India. The unregulated and unbalanced growth of the private sector in engineering education has resulted in the decline in the quality of teaching and learning imparted in these institutions.
With the current pro-private policies and programmes, the technical education sector in India is drastically being transformed into a commercial business activity. Privatization and commercialization of technical education being two sides of the same coin, it is difficult to distinguish between these two either theoretically or empirically. Both are based on the same principle of making and maximizing profits, and thus, the privatization will ultimately lead to commercialization.