Punjab higher education faces enrollment decline amid youth migration trend: Analysis

The exodus has left educational institutions in Punjab with noticeably fewer students, affecting the state’s Gross Enrollment Ratio and raising concerns about the long-term effects on the local economy and society.

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The latest All India Survey on Higher Education report 2021-22, released by the Union Ministry of Education, reveals a concerning trend in Punjab’s higher education sector. 

The state, known for its vibrant youth culture, is facing a significant decline in college and university enrollments, attributed largely to the mass migration of young people to countries such as Canada and Australia. This exodus has left educational institutions in Punjab with noticeably fewer students, impacting the state’s Gross Enrollment Ratio and raising concerns about the long-term effects on the local economy and society.

Decrease

Over the past five years, Punjab’s higher education institutions have seen a drop of approximately one lakh students. This decline is reflected in the state’s GER, a crucial metric for assessing the level of higher education participation among the eligible population (aged 18-23 years). 

Punjab’s GER has fallen from 29.2 in 2017-18 to 27.4 in 2021-22, lower than the national average of 28.4. This drop is alarming, especially when compared to neighboring states such as Haryana (33) and Himachal Pradesh (43.1), and even with states experiencing similar migration trends, such as Gujarat, which has a GER of 24.

The AISHE report indicates that in 2017-18, there were 9.59 lakh students enrolled in Punjab’s higher education institutions, a number that reduced to 8.58 lakh in 2021-22. However, there’s a glimmer of hope, as the enrollment figures showed a slight improvement in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21, suggesting a potential stabilization in the migration trend.

Migration

The migration pattern, as studied by Punjab Agricultural University, highlights how the emigration boom began around 2015, with over 40 percent of migrants heading to Canada on study visas.

This trend has had a cascading effect on various levels of education in Punjab, from undergraduate to postgraduate and diploma courses. For instance, undergraduate enrollments dropped from 6.88 lakh in 2017-18 to 6.13 lakh in 2021-22, while postgraduate enrollments decreased from 1.17 lakh to 1.10 lakh during the same period.

The impact of this migration is far-reaching. Harpreet Dua, a senator at Panjab University, Chandigarh, said that the issue is not just about the decline in enrollment numbers. He points out that many youths, even after enrolling in local institutions, often drop out to move abroad. The underlying reasons for this trend are not solely academic but are deeply rooted in socio-economic factors. Young people in Punjab are seeking better job opportunities and living standards, aspects they believe are more attainable abroad.

“The slight uptick in the enrollment numbers is not because migrations have reduced but due to population increase. And this is just the enrollment. The figures on pass-outs and drop-outs are frightening. Even if youths register/enroll for the courses in Punjab, they drop out of the courses midway and move to Canada, Australia and other places abroad,” said Dua.

“The policymakers must understand that youths in Punjab are not migrating to Canada for better education or curriculum but with a plan to settle there permanently due to lack of jobs and opportunities back home. Our curriculum and course material is nowhere inferior compared to Canada or other countries but what youths want is jobs and a better standard of living. 

“The strength in the colleges and universities across Punjab has witnessed a decline of at least 30 to 40 percent, all due to migration. Punjab is in serious brain drain trouble.”

Challenge

This brain drain poses a significant challenge to Punjab. While the state’s educational content and curriculum are competitive, the lack of job prospects and appealing opportunities drives the youth to seek futures elsewhere. This trend is not only depleting the state of its young, educated workforce but also impacting the vitality and sustainability of its higher education institutions.

Nationally, the trend in higher education enrollments has been positive, rising from 3.66 crore to 4.32 crore over recent years. However, Punjab starkly contrasts this trend, with a decrease from 9.59 lakh to 8.58 lakh. This divergence raises critical questions about regional disparities in educational and economic opportunities within India.

The situation in Punjab is a microcosm of a larger issue facing many parts of the world: the migration of educated youths in search of better opportunities. This scenario has profound implications for the socio-economic fabric of the region, affecting not just the educational sector but also the future demographic and economic landscape. 

Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach, including improving local job prospects, enhancing educational institutions, and creating a more attractive living environment to retain the young and educated population.

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